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Native nutrition: Film focuses on drive to return to indigenous peoples’ diets

Karen Cantor has finished her latest documentary.

It’s taken years, and Cantor can’t wait to premiere “Return.”

“Return” is a story of hope and action lighting a path to health for all Americans.

The film follows six courageous women from tribes across the continent reconnecting with the earth by harvesting, preparing and celebrating their food.

Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, these Native American women regain sovereignty over what they eat, empowering others to do the same.

The lead character is Roxanne Swentzell of Santa Clara Pueblo.

“In some ways, I fell into this project,” Cantor says. “I moved to Santa Fe in 2010, and I became aware of the Native American presence. If I go back many years, I did a lot of studying on how people lose their cultures. Then I came across Roxanne and what she’s doing with food. We are all becoming more aware of what we eat.”

Cantor filmed a lot in Santa Clara Pueblo and followed Swentzell and her mission with food.

Swentzell’s efforts to reclaim ancient food ways are echoed across the continent by Tlingit, Muckleshoot, Oglala Sioux, Menominee, and Seneca women.

Cantor says her work is about empowering people to overcome their current circumstances through eating as their ancestors did – nutritiously and locally.

The film also offers an approach to confronting the diabetes epidemic in Native American communities.

Cantor says this story needs to be told, because when Native Americans were herded onto reservations and deprived of their traditional foods, the were forced to eat rationed bleached flour, unhealthy fats, and sugar with few alternative and healthy options for cooking.

Today, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, Native American and Alaskan Natives adults are twice as likely as non-Hispanics to struggle with diabetes and with the associated maladies of heart disease and stroke.

Health experts attribute the higher disease rates in indigenous communities to cultural disruption, poor education, poverty, inadequate access to health services, and economic adversity.

Cantor began to tell the stories of the women from New Mexico, South Dakota, Alaska, Washington, New York and Wisconsin.

“Truth is, the answers are very much in our own backyard,” she says. “It’s a short film, and I want as many people to see it. It doesn’t demand an hour of time, only the opportunity to be heard.”

Before the screening, there will be a dinner called “Strength of the Sisters.” It is being prepared by Chef Ray Naranjo. The menu includes:

Three Sisters of the Pueblo World, which is blue corn, Anasazi beans, Hopi squash; representing the water, which is pan-roasted trout, with blueberry spinach salad; representing the land, braised bison with bitter roots and underground corn; representing the sky, which is cedar-smoked turkey with its food and handpicked native tea with agave nectar and white chocolate and corn.

More information can be found at