Enduring Legacies Native Case Studies

Case Study

When Our Water Returns: The Gila River Indian Community and Diabetes

Author:Jovana J. Brown

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The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) of Arizona has the highest rate of diabetes in the world. Before white settlement of their homeland in central Arizona, their ancestors had an abundant water supply and a flourishing agricultural lifestyle. In the late 19th and early 20th century, non-Indian water use completely cut off their water supply. This depletion led to many years of starvation and then to a diet of highly processed foods that some say is responsible for the obesity and diabetes in the GRIC. After many years of negotiation, a water-rights settlement has been reached to return water to the ownership of the Gila River Indian Community. Research has shown that a diet that resembles the one that their ancestors ate when they were an agricultural people combined with increased physical activity can reduce the rate of obesity and diabetes. Will the return of their water enable the GRIC to return to their past agricultural practices? Can the members of this southern Arizona tribe again raise the kinds of crops as they did in the past? Can their previous healthy lifestyle of generations ago be restored?

Updated: September 29, 2009