Jon Greendeer served as the President of the Ho-Chunk Nation from 2011 to 2015 with the hope of encouraging tribal members to seek small, healthy changes in their own personal lives to see big results down the road. For this reason, he ran on a “Healthy Government” platform to personify the sovereign nation so we could heal and advance our programs and livelihood.
Greendeer said he lost more than 130 pounds by being loyal to the nutrition and exercise guidelines from the Ho-Chunk Nation Diabetes Prevention Team, which he now oversees as their Health and Wellness Coordinator. He also dropped the alcohol, tobacco, soda, and other sugar sweet beverages from his lifestyle. In essence, he began to, “Think Indigenously,” “I wanted to live the lifestyle that our culture teaches us. Our traditional beliefs always have us putting our kinship and land before ourselves.”
“We are still the population with the highest level of Diabetes and smoking-related illnesses. It becomes a bit of a paradox between much of what we say in our customs and ceremonies and what we do in real life,” Greendeer said. “Our Tribal governments are almost personified as a human body. For our ability to go forward, we must address things that are ailing us.”
Greendeer said to consider Tribal Governments as “human,” “We should look at our government as taking energy in, whether it be work or resources and making sure things are functional or usable. You cannot go out and buy a $220 pair of running shoes and expect to win a marathon. We can be attracted by the latest innovations, but we need training time.”
After serving as the President of the Ho-Chunk Nation from 2011-2015, he went on to oversee the Ho-Chunk Heritage Preservation Department. There, Greendeer began delving into ways of preserving and storing language, phraseology and the fundamental principles, “At the same time, I was continuing to push the envelope on health with the real focus being on Indigenous foods and systems – the gathering, preserving and learning the stories behind those meaningful diets and habits.”
As a Health and Wellness Coordinator, Greendeer is also looking at ways to expand how the disease is combatted and monitored beyond tracking fat intake, LDL’s, etc., “For Indian Country, frilly charts do not sell. That is not the type of curriculum that makes a good, ‘real-life’ program. Instead, I am working towards incorporating more Traditional Indigenous foods into diets."
"Outside of our Outlook and Google calendars, we need to look at the ‘Traditional’ calendar of when the rice is falling or when the Sumac is ready. When we start to think with all those things in mind, we recognize we are part of the ecosystem and have an impact upon it,” he added.
This Indigenous Thinking applies to the work Greendeer is also managing – distributing food that is being sent out by the Hunger Task Force based out of Milwaukee, Wis., “It is a fast, intense effort. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) purchases the food or the Hunger Task Force agrees to use some of the dollars from the USDA and producers ship, on a semi, their goods such as dairy, protein and produce.”
“While some of it is math, there is a lot more to off-loading a semi with 120 boxes on palettes that are frozen or need cooling. About 90 percent of the food products are dairy, lean protein and produce,” he said. “We receive food by noon on Thursdays and do repacking and at 5 a.m. in the morning on Friday, we start loading trucks from areas such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Green Bay and Madison. We have 11 different sites that we orchestrate out. Then we start the distributions after 10 a.m. on Fridays. It’s all time sensitive because it’s warm out.”
Greendeer said Ho-Chunk Nation Volunteers and some workers help with the front-line distribution of food from the Hunger Task Force, “When the volunteers come in, nurses provide screening and are given PPE and gloves. The system is laid out to reduce contact and make sure they are not creating a community that would be susceptible to transferring the virus.”
As of the writing of this story, Greendeer noted they have been informed the last food shipment will run this week. However, that time period may be lengthened, “We will soon find out if this program will run through July. If we do find out it is being extended, we will need to make efficiency changes here internally. There is also the chance of burning out workers. We certainly appreciate the food and will not turn it down, but we do not have the ability to store everything either.”
Since the program started on May 29 (their first food distribution day), Greendeer shared they have put out 70 tons of food. He said to stop and seriously think about that amount of food in just 20 days. Food sovereignty and “Thinking Indigenously” becomes more important now than ever.
Want to learn more from Jon? You are in luck. Click on one of the podcast links below and listen to Matt Denetclaw’s interview with him.