Newman’s Own Foundation Forms Native American Nutrition Cohort

Paul Newman, the late actor, founded Newman’s Own Foundation about 35 years ago. I remember watching “Cool Hand Luke” and Newman’s role as a prisoner confronting the system and wondering, “Is this ‘Luke’ role giving the world a peek into his real character?” And last month, as I prepared to attend the new Native American Nutrition Cohort established by Newman’s Own Foundation, I realized Paul Newman was just that — a revolutionary person who started a movement by selling a salad dressing and using the profits to help and inspire people to do great things.

As I thought about Mr. Newman’s legacy, images of the Native organizations, communities and people that Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) has assisted, with the support of Newman’s Own Foundation (NOF), came to mind. With the Foundation’s support, PWNA has provided resources and assistance to Native communities, increasing access to fresh food, delivering nutrition education and preserving ancestral knowledge and practices related to food. This work is more than “feel good” service; it is life changing and sometimes daunting.

According to recent data, 23% of Native households don’t have access to adequate nutrition, due to lack of money or other resources. Insufficient access to fresh and healthy food options leads to health issues. Native Americans have the highest prevalence of diabetes of any ethnic group in the U.S., and up to 50 percent of AIAN (American Indian and Alaska Native) children are overweight or obese by the time they turn 10.

On May 8, 2018, Newman’s Own Foundation kicked off the Native Nutrition Cohort in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Honored to be representing PWNA, I spent two days with NOF staff and an esteemed group representing eight other organizations that are regionally and nationally recognized for their food sovereignty work in Indian Country. The welcome and blessing by Tewa Pueblo Governor Everett Chavez, meet and greet, agency presentations and discussion of topics such as health and racial equity raised awareness of the potential for this peer learning forum to have far-reaching impact on Native nutrition, as well as our work and respective organizations.

As a collective, we recognized many of us in the cohort are serving the same communities, which are addressing challenges of food insecurity and food deserts, as well as heightened socio-economic challenges, and yet we have been working in silos. Each organization shared stories of inspirational members in Native communities who are activating and expanding nutrition initiatives, yet we have not been sharing these successes and best practices with each other. As our focus turned to defining the cohort’s goals over the next three years, these threads were “weaved and braided” into our scope of work. We identified topics and areas of work for the cohort, ranging from maintaining and supporting Native ancestral practices to contemporary issues embedded in federal policy.

The first gathering of the Native American Nutrition Cohort closed with a spirit of collaboration and shared purpose. All of the cohort members are enthusiastic about taking this journey in the hopes that it leads to greater health impact, reduced food insecurity and stronger self-sufficiency in Native communities.

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