Inspiration for new types of grocery stores to improve our health and reawaken our "Blue Zone"
In the not too distant past, it was very common for many tribal elders to live to be over 100. In my Navajo culture, centenarians were celebrated and 102 years of age was a virtue to strive for and a blessing to bestow on friends and loved ones. This is why we use 102 yucca stems in our Winter Shoe Games. The term Sa’ah Naghai Bik’e Hozho, a termed used in our songs in the blessing way - Hozhoonji which we use to restore harmony between and individual and the universal energy, is an aspiration for Navajos to achieve happiness through a good, wise, and healthy long life reaching the ultimate white hair stage.
In his book, Blue Zones, Daniel Buetner studies places in the world where people are living the longest and continue to be healthy at the end at over 100 years of age in mind, body, and spirit. He has identified a set of habits and factors that can help society re achieve that quality of life. The principles are very similar to what we Natives are taught such as to always naturally move, to pray early and to have divine thoughts, to have purpose and intent, to be responsible for self and community, to respect and utilize elders, to celebrate laughter, to have clans and lift each other up. In the past when we had many centenarians, Tribes were taught the virtues of running, working hard, keeping home clean and in order. One was supposed to provide for family, grow their own food, have sheep, learn to harvest wild foods, build a home, get firewood, and so forth. My grandfather Dine Yazzie herded sheep all his life and lived to the ultimate age of 103 when he finally passed in ultimate happiness. From years of experience, I estimate he herded sheep almost every day an average of over 5 miles combined with many other chores around the home. We once had a ceremony for him in his 90s and I witnessed that his physique was that of a young man still.
There are many other principles such as growing your own food, eating primarily a vegetable based diet, having family around and keeping our kids close to home, knowing the medicines and being in tune with the natural environment, speaking with blessings, enjoying the fruits of our labor, taking care of our home, knowing the ceremonies and songs, and so forth.
For the last 100 years, like all over the world, many of our tribal ways that ensured such a healthy life have been eroded due to many causes ranging from uprooting, acculturation, focus more on western type economies, loss of family structure and ceremony and ties to the earth. As such, we are faced with some of the highest rates of every kind of challenge ranging from diabetes to heart disease and depression.
For many years, I have been organizing efforts to help our people and started work in creating a farmers market and working with our tribal farmers in the Tuba City area to showcase a blue zone direction. Before embarking on this initiative, I took some elders and my family to to visit the American blue zone community of Loma Linda, which seems to be the only blue zone from a developed country. I wondered how such a community located on the outskirts of the metropolis of Los Angeles could be a blue zone with all the corporate dominance, pollution, and constant barrage of marketing.
In our visit and from follow up research, I have witnessed something very unique. First, Loma Linda is the headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which ensures that values that support blue zone life are incorporated into daily life practice such as having a vegan diet, limiting meats, coffee and alcohol, being out in nature, being around other positive people that share in the values, having spirituality. All these values have led to one of the highest percentages of folks living over 100 anywhere in the world. On average, Seventh Day Adventists live 10 or more years longer than typical Americans. I even heard about a medical doctor was still moving his lawn and working on his fencing at 100 with the capacity to still conduct heart surgeries. But what i saw went beyond just this. They limited outside corporate influence, there are few malls or typical grocery stores and chains. In their place are local independent grocery stores with local branded food items. The cafes serve locally or 7th Day Adventist sourced and healthy foods. The whole idea of the place is around good health. The church runs several medical schools all over the world in support of good health. They typically have group nature outings and a shabbats vegan style dinner where everyone brings a healthy dish. Many garden and follow a healthy lifestyle. If you have read this far, I know this is just a quick summary but hopefully you get inspired to further research their strategies.
To re-affirm and build upon my prior work, I went back to this wonderful blue zone this past weekend. At this point in my life Im seriously contemplating investing into a traditional foods cafe that serves our ancient healthy foods along with the best of the globe. I also recently agreed to serve as vice president of the Navajo Regenerative Economy Cooperative that includes projects such as Navajolamb.com and Navajo Beef. I needed to visit this place to research, write, and once again be inspired. I was very thankful to bring along a special friend who also shares a passion for health and longevity. We hiked, went sight seeing, and enjoyed local food and of course the grocery stores.
When one visits one of the independent grocery stores, a feeling comes over you that this is what a true tribal grocery stores would feel like. There are no meat options other than some fish and tuna. Yet there are plant based hamburgers, sausages, hot dogs, the right kind of pastas, many vegetables and fruits, all there jumping up at you. With my friend's and family's support, I have taken up a 90% vegan diet. I have never felt better nor had more energy and focus at the end of the day. With few sources of these types of food for the population, for a long time, the 7th Day Adventist church has had to create the sources and the products. They did not let challenges stop them from making their vision reality.
How are we as tribes going to create a vision based on our past life success in today's fast paced world? We as tribal people used to celebrate our own centenarians in every one of our families. We grew and hunted, farmed, cultivated, shepherded, lived a harmonious, active, and proud lives. With the right inspiration, partnerships, investments, we should be inspired by our brothers and sisters of Loma Linda in the 7th Day Adventist Church. I for one plan to go back many times to learn, create partnerships, get inspired to make positive change for myself, family, community and our tribes. I hope that you would join me in the journey of health and lets celebrate growing to be over a 100 years old together. Ahxehee (Thank you)