Public Health Research

New Research on Columbia Basin Tribal Foods sheds new light on traditional diet.

Researchers hope to provide convincing evidence to promote a resurgence of Native foods and a healthier lifestyle.

Our tribal diet, culture, and ceremonies have been centered around natural foods for centuries,” explains Stuart Harris, a Cayuse Indian and OSU graduate. “We’ve lived with a balanced, time-tested diet of meat, fish, vegetables, plants, and berries.”

A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), Stuart says Western influences have changed tribal diets across the country. “Until now, we have not studied the nutritional values of our traditional foods, but with this research, we hope to provide convincing evidence to promote a resurgence of Native foods and a healthier lifestyle.”

He’s referring to a new research project – a tribal and OSU-funded collaboration including the CTUIR Department of Science & Engineering, OSU’s Department of Public Health, the NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences Center, and Linus Pauling Institute in which Native foods are being tested for antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and macro and micro-nutrient content. This biochemical analysis of berries, roots, and plants will also shed light on the impact of environmental contaminants in tribal diets and traditions.

Linus Pauling researcher Debbie Mustacich and public health professor Anna Harding are principal investigators on the study, the first to comprehensively determine the nutrient and antioxidant profiles of Columbia Basin Native food plants. It’s a community-based participatory research initiative, bringing scientists and local community members together to investigate issues of importance to the CTUIR.

“We also developed a unique material and data sharing agreement that is particular to this project but that can be used as a model for other university–tribal research collaborations and that protects tribal sovereignty,” says Anna. Stuart hopes the project will encourage young tribal members to become scientists.

6 replies on “New Research on Columbia Basin Tribal Foods sheds new light on traditional diet.”

It is NOT the first time traditional native american foods have been analyzed at OSU. See OSU Extension Circular 809, July, 1972, if you can find a copy. If not, as lead author, I have one. Granted, it was a cooperative venture with the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation at that time, as opposed to the new venture with CTUIR. However, I suspect similar traditional foods were used.The data was also published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Undoubtedly, today’s technology will permit additional analyses to those available almost 40 years ago. Too bad institutional memory gets covered in the sands of time!

Jean, I would love to have a copy of the report that you completed in 1972, and a copy of the journal article that was published. I suspect that the current analyses will be different than those that were previously done, but we would be very interested in seeing that study and comparing notes with the current work. Thanks for bringing this to our attention! Please email me directly or call at 541-737-3830 to let me know how I might be able to follow up with you.

Best wishes,

This report is available at the following URL.

Several years ago I was around when another faculty was cleaning file cases and just happened to see her tossing the original photos from the project. I took them from the trash basket, scanned them and sent them over the the Warm Springs Reservations. I have just finished cleaning up the files and such and am taking those plus some scanned pictures Mary Kelsey had of the Warm Springs Root Festival in to the new Multicultural librarian in OSU Archives. Earlier I took an original copy of the bulletin into archives. I will send a note to Anna Harding.


I am excited that this is being done. While earning my MPH degree from PSU, I did an internship with OPAHEC that placed me on CTUIR. For my project I examined the traditional diet (Columbia Plateau Native Nutrition Wheel: Traditional Foods – Contemporary Diet). One of my sources of information was the Warm Springs document cited about.
It was clear to me while doing my project that a current nutritional analysis of the indigenous foods is necessary to evaluate the impact of their consumption in light of current eating patterns.

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