By Joseph Robertia
Obesity, diabetes and digestive issues are few of the numerous maladies that can result from dietary habits, and in Alaska, perhaps no cultural group is more susceptible than Natives.
“Now in the grocery stores, there are potato chips, Coca-Cola, alcohol. It’s not at all like the foods from the world they’ve come from,” said Barry Creighton, who serves on the board of directors for Alaska Mental Health and Peninsula Community Health Services.
Creighton also is an elder member of Ionia, a Kasilof community where members live by a different structure and sense of time than mainstream Americans, with a macrobiotic diet being a cornerstone of their approach. Ionia partnered with the Alaska Sobriety Movement to offer a Healing Our Future three-day workshop over the weekend to exchange ideas relating to diet as a cornerstone of health.
“A lot of what we do has resonance with the Native world,” Creighton said, explaining a little about the Ionia lifestyle. Members begin their day by sitting in a circle, with all ages talking to each other, sometimes for more than two hours.
“No subject is too mundane,” Creighton said. After 30 years of these daily, group-therapy-type meetings and sustained participation with the Alaska behavioral health system, Ionians have developed ways to address numerous forms of mental health illness as a community, he said.
“This is what Natives have been doing for 6,000 years — the village, taking care of the family, taking care of the individual,” he said.
Ionians also operate on a different perception of time. There are no clocks in Ionia, and members don’t feel compelled to adhere to strict schedules.
“I’ll talk to someone for 24 hours if they need it,” Creighton said.
Diet also sets Ionians apart from the convenience-focused approach of eating fast food, highly refined and processed ingredients, and egregious amounts of sugar and salt.
“For some people, it’d be easier to change their religion than change how they eat,” Creighton said.