10404 - Ojibwe People and the Sugar-Disease: Making sense of diabetes in the context of indigenous modernity

My present research project is concerned with Ojibwe culture and diabetes in the context of indigenous modernity. It draws on earlier research and on thirteen years of recurrent ethnographic fieldwork in the Ojibwe community of Lac Courte Oreilles in Northwestern Wisconsin. Published in my 2011 book, this earlier work explores the complexities of indigenous modernity using the concept of knowledge culture. Indigenous modernity is a form of modernity that relies on culture as knowledge, and on a multiplicity of indigenous media practices. Therefore, I look at the social interaction and the practices of meaning-making in tribal media and other institutions. My current research on diabetes compliments this approach by focusing on the body and the emotions. The main questions is, what is the role of culture in Native responses to a dangerous disease? Diabetes figures prominently in mainstream public discourses about Native genetic otherness, life-styles, self-care, risk, and the normal body. However, its emergence in Native communities, I argue, is the result of a complex social and cultural process with an eminently important historical dimension. In the historical memory of my Ojibwe informants, diabetes first appears with the import of “commodities”, especially white flour and sugar, which came as part of governmental annuity payments for the cessation of Indian lands. Thus, it can be seen as a result of the twisted trust relationship between the U.S. government and Native nations. Today, it deeply affects tribal communities. It disrupts people’s everyday lives and jeopardizes their intimate relations to self and others. My paper, however, also explores how indigenous management of diabetes contributes to the consolidation of indigenous modernity: The complex responses to the disease by individuals, families, and tribal health care professionals concerning food, emotions, and body practices, can be seen as part of an emergent modern tribal health culture.

Palavras-chaves: Indigenous modernity, Knowledge Culture, Media Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Diabetes

Autores: Bender, Cora (University of Bremen (Germany), Germany / Deutschland)


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