The Australian Indigenous Health Project

Some-of-the-ladies-being-cheeky-Groupshot-HFHMany of you reading this know, I spent the month of July touring throughout Australia on what was called The Paleo Way tour. Following the tour I had the extraordinary privilege to spend some quality time in Australia’s Outback— more specifically, Uluru.

Uluru was at one time referred to as Ayers rock, but then rightfully renamed with its original name given by its original stewards, the Aṉaŋu people. I wrote more about my time in the Outback in my last blog post.

While there I saw a great many Aboriginal people. Many were simply going about their business, shopping in the local market and traveling to and from the local village where they live (off limits to tourists), called Mutitjulu. Others actually work in tandem with the Park service, functioning as expert guides and/or providing education about the history and way of life of their people. Others still are fortunate enough to be artistically gifted and sell their wares (mostly paintings, baskets and carvings) throughout the park where tourists frequent. Few are entirely fluent in English, and those that do speak English often mix their native tongue in with English words in a way that makes it very hard to have an easy conversation. The Aṉaŋu guides working for the Park service seemed to me to be the most readily fluent.

The state of health among Australia’s Aboriginal population that I was able to witness was beyond deplorable. Obesity there is virtually ubiquitous and I watched many individuals walking with considerable difficulty simply because of this. Many are missing multiple teeth. Never have I seen a more blunt example of “manifest destiny’s” fait accompli. The local grocery market is overflowing with anything but that which I would personally identify as “food”. There was little recognizable happiness in the faces of many of the Aboriginal people that I encountered, and it was plain to see just how different their lives must be compared to the time (while many were still living off the land) when Weston Price visited these communities in the 1930’s. Back then; Dr. Price was overwhelmingly impressed with the health, strength and vigor of the Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal ManPhoto of an Australian Aboriginal man, circa 1901
Aboriginal hunter1922 photograph of an Aboriginal hunter (from the National Museum of Australia)

 

For as long as I can remember, I have felt a love, passion and special allegiance for indigenous cultures. I have been passionate about what they knew that could teach us more about who and what we are—and also how to live in sustainable symbiosis with the world around us. When I first arrived at the mode of thinking I now passionately promote about diet and health from an evolutionary perspective, I immediately recognized that the population that would stand to benefit most from this information would be indigenous people groups. It has been a bit of a dream of mine to find a way to share some of this information with people groups who we modern Europeans owe the most (and whose traditional history and spiritual wisdom means so much to me).

As far as I’m concerned, the deepest genocide committed by European encroachment upon native aboriginal people groups throughout the world was not by guns— but through food. There can be no faster way to conquer and destroy a people than through drugging them with nutrient- and spiritually-devoid, addictive foods (and food-like substances) and simultaneously destroying their health. Traditionally, all indigenous peoples recognized the inherent sacred connection between themselves and the animals they hunted and accepted the meat from their hunts as a sacrament of power. The famous Lakota holy man, Black Elk once aptly commented on the white man’s food. When he saw the sad and passively resigned state of the livestock white men casually slaughtered for food he commented, “How can there be any power in a food like that?” —Little did he know what else was coming. His heart would have shattered.

A REMARKABLE CONNECTION – SERENDIPITY!

A remarkable connection

A trained medical doctor named Kama Trudgen (pictured above, on left) recently contacted me. She lives in a remote Indigenous Community in North East Arnhem Land, Australia. The particular Aboriginal people group she works with there are the Yolngu. She was representing a program she helped create called “The Australian Indigenous Health Project”. She knew of my work speaking in Australia about nutrition from an evolutionary perspective she shares and decided to reach out. I’m so glad she did!

She said, “I did some reading about your work, and it just felt like your approach and ideas were consistent with what we are doing, and that you would understand this and might connect with it!” She also said, “It feels like everyone is still caught in the low fat paradigm, and its killing people, especially here!”

After acknowledging our common ground she proceeded to tell me her story. Here it is, in her own truly inspired, and eloquent words:

“I am trained as a medical doctor, and am now doing additional studies in Natural Medicine/Nutrition, where my real passion lies. My husband and I do community development work here, and we have had the unexpected joy of stumbling upon an incredible breakthrough of Hope for the Health of this community.

After my hospital years I got halfway through general practice training, and was working in an Aboriginal Medical Centre in Darwin, and my husband was doing consultancy work in Arnhem Land, and we realised we both needed to get outside the system to be able to meet people where they were at and come alongside them. So we left our nice secure jobs and started this work…

My husband and I moved to Galiwin’ku five years ago to start a community development project that was all about grass roots empowerment, supporting local people to achieve their own goals and endeavors. (Though) I am a trained medical doctor; I have a real passion for nutrition and preventative medicine. I always hoped that I could support people with health related goals, but we were focused on being responsive, and not directing agendas and ideas, so we continued to help with those enterprises we were asked to help with, whatever they involved. In the meantime we were learning language and building up relationships and connections in the community. In that time I observed a lot about people’s health behaviours, diet, lifestyle, and about the projects that were going on in the community aimed to improve health, but failing.

After being here about 4 years (the end of 2013) a dear friend named Dianne who I call ‘Mother’ in the Yolngu kinship system asked me to help her with her health. We talked a lot, but the information was not connecting. When she got sick, I felt like I just had to show her, and that’s why I offered to cook for her, and it’s like it just came alive for her, and she was suddenly starving for more information. Before this she literally did not believe me that eating differently would change how she felt at all!

Dianne had been wheelchair bound with unstable ischemic heart disease and uncontrolled diabetes. With some simple nourishing foods on board, she went from being unable to walk short distances without feeling extremely breathless, to experiencing a new level of energy and vitality. She rapidly lost weight, her blood sugar levels normalized, and she was able to walk up hills with ease. Empowered to understand she could transform her own health, she was hungry for more information and tools to continue this new way of living.

Dianne’s recovery was so profound that other community members saw it as evidence for the first time that proper nutrition was powerful and effective! Before this experience Dianne literally did not believe me that eating differently would change how she felt at all! The current generation of Yolngu people have literally only known this state of ill health. White flour, sugar, powdered milk, black tea and soft drinks are the staple diet now. Nutrition programs in the community are still promoting artificial sweeteners and low fat processed foods as “healthy” options.

The current generation has literally only known this state of ill health.

I had no idea that this simple offering of mine (to cook for her) would change her life, and lead to a chain reaction that is spreading Hope across this remote community.

Chronic Disease is responsible for 80% of the mortality gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians. We know this is preventable, but Yolngu people do not. As my amazing Yolngu Mother has now discovered: “Before colonisation we trusted that the food from the land was good for us. When Balanda (white man) food was introduced to us we believed it was good too…Yolngu have started eating more and more Balanda food, without having the knowledge about how it should be eaten…High rates of chronic disease are killing my community. People have chronic disease because of poor nutrition.”

I am now supporting an incredible group of women from this community, as they rediscover their lost vitality and are empowered to take back control of their health. They want to take this all the way, and create a local Health Retreat where people can experience the power of real foods, and combine this with their own traditional methods of healing. As a first step they want to travel to an established health retreat. They are all dealing with chronic diseases themselves, and they know they need to conquer their own health first before they can be catalysts for healing in their community. They want to experience, learn and build their capacity, and bring this back to their community.
Basically what I have been promoting is to completely empower the Yolngu traditional diet. This consists of fresh locally caught/hunted seafood, wallaby, magpie goose, turtle, fruits/berries, some root vegetables etc., etc. Sadly people love these foods, but don’t value them, and have become highly dependent on the local store. There is actually research that shows that people’s health is inversely proportional to the distance they live to a shop- eek! The majority of the population is now living mainly on white four and sugar and black tea, often with margarine and syrup and soft drinks. So, I am trying to help people now to work through what on earth they can eat (if they can’t go hunting) and they cut out these foods. There are huge challenges here, as often alternatives are not available in the local store (although they are working with us slowly to try and resolve this). Also they need the skills to understand and make the choices about foods that are in packages. The simple rule I have been saying is to eat food the way God made it- so that includes all their traditional foods, plus fruit, veg, meat (free range if possible), eggs, nuts, seeds. I am trying to get people to avoid wheat/gluten all together. I encourage coconut oil and organic butter, coconut milk and yoghurt.

I am now supporting an incredible group of women from this community on a journey to rediscover their lost vitality and be empowered to take back control of their health by returning to Real Foods.

Yolngu still maintain much of their own language and culture, but colonisation is actively still occurring before our eyes, usually through people and programs trying to “help”. The health crisis is only going to get worse before it gets better, with chronic disease affecting younger and younger people, as the current generation have known nothing but processed food from since they were in the womb. (There are still some people alive today who as children were living here before any significant contact with white people, who had a completely traditional lifestyle for part of their life).

Yolngu people are not used to a society full of lies in the form of advertising. They don’t understand why foods would be sold if they are bad for you. And to confuse things more there are still Dieticians, etc. running programs for this community promoting artificial sweeteners and other processed rubbish as “healthy” foods.

Sticking with the “system” and its recommendations is so safe and easy, as you don’t have to think, challenge, cause a stir. –Pity it is so often wrong. I must admit I have had some fear and trepidation as I have started to encourage, for example, the use of coconut oil and other quality saturated fats here…

I wanted to send you a short clip of Dianne, my amazing Yolngu mother, but alas it’s not working on the Internet, so I will have to put the transcript below. It is Dianne speaking a few years ago, about what life is like for Yolngu people. Dianne is just the most incredible woman. Yolgnu are disempowered on so many levels, including a crippling welfare dependency. I know I am biased by personal passion here, but without the foundation of health, how do a disempowered people group find the strength and courage to overcome this. To be honest I was quite stunned to discover in the changes of the few women working closest with me, that what is often labeled as Yolngu being lazy and unmotivated, is actually malnutrition. They literally don’t have energy!”

JG-My-HOpe-For-Health-BW

Kama’s ‘Mother’, Diane said:

“Here we are living in a state of disempowerment. Gone is our inner strength. There is our strength–held by strangers. We are walking around like dead people. That is how we are living now. In this situation we are animated by a foreign culture. Our wills are compelled, directed by foreigners. But we do not posses the inner power, to raise our own will to action for ourselves. We are living in dependency, we are dependent on others. People coming from distant places. And so we are dependent. We are living like that— while our elders were living with inner confidence and resolve. –With life, like with real life. Then a person thrived. Such a time is finished, struck down. We want support. We want…Where is there…..From where will it come…..support? Where can we really find support for us? This is the kind of support we require. A spirit lifting person. Restoring, giving purpose and meaning to life. Empowering.”

Kama went on to say,

“I know the reality is that most of us are actually “walking around like dead people”, as she describes Yolngu, and we need to truly be learning from each other across cultures to actually realise this. What is happening in Yolngu communities in Australia is like a giant magnifying glass, where everything that is screwed up about our system is concentrated and horrifyingly visible.

What we don’t realise in the Dominant Culture is that the system that disempowers Yolngu also disempowers us.

Health is the little piece of the puzzle that I want to contribute to. I feel that Yolngu rediscovering their health will be powerful not only for their own people, but for us all!”

Astonishingly articulate, remarkable, passionate…and right on the money.

Kama and I have been in considerable contact of late and she consented to having some of what we discussed privately over email shared with all of you. What you have just read was selectively condensed from several email correspondences we have recently shared. Kama is an extraordinary human being and her work is perhaps even more important than she realizes. To me the success of this program has clear potential implications for many other similar communities throughout Australia.

One doesn’t typically hear words like: “I am a trained medical doctor” and “passionate about nutrition and prevention” in the same sentence. I am deeply impressed. It actually tells me a lot about Kama. She no longer practices conventional medicine, as she has found food to be the true, more powerful healing medicine.

By now, many of you reading this are undoubtedly as convinced as I that Kama’s work needs to be supported. She sent me the following link (below the photo) to the crowd-funding page she and her husband created for this project. Kama works strictly as a volunteer with this and her husband is paid a meager half salary for what he does. This is a labor of love and of passion for doing the right thing, in the right way, for people group that deserves more than any other to be helped in this way.

I have provided the link here and hope that all of you will find it in your hearts to contribute at least something to this worthy cause. I, myself hope to travel to this community early next year to meet with an offer what support I am personally able. –And yes, I have contributed to this fund, myself.

Be sure to watch this incredible short video!

Kama says:

“These women want to take this all the way, and create a local Health Retreat in Arnhem Land where Yolngu people can experience the power of real foods, and combine this with their own traditional methods of healing. A place where people can receive education about nourishing foods in their own language, as well as skills to cook and understand food labels. As a first step they want to travel to an established health retreat, Living Valley Springs. They are all dealing with chronic diseases themselves, and they know they need to conquer their own health first before they can be catalysts for healing in their community. They want to experience, learn and build their capacity, and bring this back to their community.

Please partner with us on this incredible journey!

Please follow this link, hear their story, their dream, and please Donate to help their first step! We need to raise these funds before the 8th of December, so please jump on board for this exciting ride!” ~Kama Trudgen

ANY amount you are able to contribute would be a miracle for Kama and the Yolngu people. The way I see it, any work committed to restoring the foundational/traditional health of Aboriginal people goes a long way toward healing the soul of the world.

support now button

kama and friend

Kama and Dianne

Kama with her ‘Mother’, Dianne

 
“Here in Galiwin’ku Yolngu are suffering. There are funerals all the time. Life expectancy is short for Yolngu. So many people, both young and old are affected by Chronic Disease. This is getting worse…We don’t want to continue in this way, going through all this pain and suffering. We want a different future for this community…We want you to partner with us in nurturing and celebrating Life and wellbeing. We want Yolngu to have a quality and enjoyment of life that other Australians enjoy. My experience has shown us that with deep knowledge and experience this is possible.”

~ Dianne Biritjalawuy

Please help these women get to Living Valley Springs Health Retreat and bring Hope to this community to overcome its current health crisis!

support now button

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Comments

  1. says

    I also follow a ketogenic diet and am owner of Encore Pilates in Darwin. Understanding health from a movement perspective is healing in itself. I would love to come and visit your community and host a workshop to get this community moving and reconnecting with their bodies.
    Let me know if you are interested and we will get the ball rolling.

  2. Theresa says

    My partner is Torres Strait Islander and has chronic kidney disease, diabetes 2 and is on dialysis. He is loosing his vision due to diabetes but is having surgery. We are both interested in healthy eating to get back on track. Look forward to hearing from you. Theresa

  3. Kate Holmes says

    This is an amazing step towards helping indigenous people get their lives back. I live and work in the APY lands and witness this issue every day. I would love to be able to help people learn this lesson on how important food is to their health. It would be great if your group of woman could pass this on to other communities too as i see the importance of people learning these lessons from other people who have gone through the same issues they have. Good luck to you and all the ladies. May you become a community of people who own their health x

  4. says

    This is an amazing, inspiring project. Such wonderful work by just 2 people, many hands, more people working with them would make a remarkable difference to the efforts of Kama and her husband.
    My passion is showing and teaching people how to live “Happier, healthier, stronger” thru nutrition meditation and other modalities plus exercise.
    I have a health and wellness centre in Perth. It would be an absolute pleasure to support and work with these communities to help them restore health ,harmony and empower each person to live their lives in full health.
    Gwenda

  5. says

    Wow l literally just flew home from Uluru when l read this. I have created a raw vegan/Paleo healthy dessert range using all the amazing indigenous herbs and fruits that l have just been taught how to cook with. 25yrs in the wellness industry as a trainer and spa director and now a professional health coach/author. Such an amazing course would love to offer my services in anyway you see fit. Love the rippled effect.

  6. Andrew says

    Kama is a true hero. I can confirm that many Aboriginal people throughout Australia are either overweight or unhealthily scrawny. One major problem with the Aboriginal population not mentioned here is alcohol abuse which has been a devastating issue since the arrival of Europeans. Flour & sugar were staple rations for white people living in remote areas in the pioneering days & unfortunately the Aboriginal community ended up eating that same poison. The only reprieve was some fresh meat & maybe some vegetables. Its ironic that huge sums of federal & state money are pumped into Aboriginal projects & schemes & yet Kama has to use crowd funding to raise funds for something that will do far more good than some government indigenous “health” program. Here’s a copy of an interesting paper about the traditional Aboriginal diet, much of it about the Yolngu: http://www.culturalsurvival.org.au/ref_docs/In%20search%20of%20the%20Traditional%20Australian%20Aboriginal%20Diet.pdf

  7. admin says

    From Kama Trudgen:

    WOW! We did it!
    Living Valley Springs Here We Come- we are soo excited!!

    I have cried soooo many happy tears during this campaign.
    I have cried that people have stood up and said that this Matters! That the Health of Indigenous Australians Matters. That Remote Australian Citizens deserve access to Life Saving Information and Opportunity. That Women banding together to be Empowered and Transform their communities Matters.
    I have cried that this has Bridged Divides, enabling people from so many walks of life to connect over the suffering that comes from chronic disease, and the Hope of finding a way forward.
    I have cried that people who have discovered the power of Real Foods want to band together and give that same gift and knowledge to people far away who they have never met.
    I have cried at the truly overwhelming generosity of some organisations and individuals, putting their faith in us and this vision- Vicki and Nourishing Australia, Tanya and Jeremy, Chris Curtis, Food Matters, Glenda, Trish, Monique, Ian. There are too many people to name!
    I have cried when people have donated $10 or less, as i know money is so tight for so many people, and there are so many important causes out there, and the fact that people want to give what they can to be part of this counts every bit as much as the largest donations.
    I have cried at the incredible gestures that people have made, using whatever means they have, big or small, to help share this story. And I have marveled at the power that has resulted from these simple acts.

    Thankyou Hala for taking the time to share the idea that Nora Gedgaudas might be interested in this work. Thankyou Faye for your wisdom in encouraging me to follow through with that connection (always trust Faye Wenke!).

    THANKYOU Nora for wholeheartedly embracing this vision, and carrying us from strength to strength! This would never have happened without you!! I have no words!

    Thankyou Nic Robinson and Pete Evans for sharing the incredible Facebook community that you have created to nurture health and connectedness- its working!
    Thankyou Luke Pearson and Indigenous X for creating a powerful platform that meant more of the world could discover how incredible Dianne Biritjalawuy is.
    Thankyou every single person who has tweeted, face-booked, emailed, blogged and shared this story in any way (including market stalls!). I certainly have a new respect for social media.
    Thankyou to Kate and the beautiful souls from Wollongong University for the gift that you imparted to us, that is so much more than just money.
    Thankyou Marjory Quinn and the beautiful community of Essendon Baptist Church.
    Thankyou to Xavier Rudd, Brooke and the Organic Sisters, and Wake Up World.
    Thankyou Mum for shouting about this from the treetops! Thankyou to our beautiful neighbour Kerry who first sparked the idea that people might actually support this cause!?
    Thankyou beautiful Kylie for all your support.

    Thankyou to every person who has encouraged us and offered your skills for the huge journey ahead.

    Thankyou Sinem and Damien from Our Generation Media. You helped Biritjalawuy and i to believe that this was important. You turned our scrappy footage into a powerful clip that could communicate this vision, and helped take this story to the world.

    Thankyou to the whole Why Warriors team for all that you are and all that you do for the empowerment of Yolngu people. Your passion, commitment and integrity are next to none!
    Thankyou to my amazing, precious boys Tim and Eli.
    The biggest thankyou goes to the incredible Dianne Biritjalawuy- for transforming her own journey into a gift for her whole community and beyond! That’s what changes the world!

    We are standing together. This is so beautiful. This is so powerful. Thankyou for being part of this!

    On a slightly less emotional note, for those of you who have claimed gifts/perks…….
    – I will be getting your e- Christmas cards out to you as soon as i can via email.
    *****Please email me your snail mail address’, for mailing of cards and photos and books. Please include your name and the email address you used to pledge*****
    – Expect photos and cards after we have traveled to the retreat- as we want you to see those pictures!

    We are planning to make the trip early next year- possibly in March. We will keep you posted……

    Wishing you all the richest blessings for the Christmas season! May you and your families have abundant Hope and abundant Health!
    Much love from Arnhem Land,
    Kama Trudgen

  8. Jean says

    I’m ashamed to say that as a relatively young naive health promotion graduate I was responsibly for disseminating health department and Heart foundation ‘resources’ to communities (developed with input from indigenous aboriginal health workers who absorbed the low fat mantra). What I find so ironic is how rather than look to traditional diets for the answers the official government and Heart Foundation resources focused on higher carbohydrate low fat foods. Living in the outback and remote communities where often there was no fridge but a local shop, hard to get the fruit and veggies but easy to get the low fat pies and sausage rolls. Oh I could go on. I wonder how much damage we did. These beautiful people hold the answer to their health problems themselves. They only need look to how things were before we white fellas came along. Eat real foods, is the answer to almost every health problem, rather than processed low fat high sugar rubbish. The introduction of the breakfast cereal and so forth is the worst thing that ever happened. Even now, when I see news articles of a teacher or someone else doing ‘breakfast club’ in remote communities at school, and standing proudly by their low fat milk, white bread and vegemite and cereals, I want to cry. Where is the eggs, the meat? the choline for the brain…. the natural fats…

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