Puget Sound Traditional Food and Diabetes

Collaborative research between tribal members, health care workers and archaeologists




Diabetes facts







Diabetes is a crisis in many Native American communities. Does archaeology have a solution?


The Puget Sound Traditional Food and Diabetes Project will, for the first time, use archaeological and historic data to develop a long-term picture of Native American diet in Puget Sound, and be a source of information about the potentially therapeutic value of traditional foods. There is a pressing need to address diabetes education in Native communities, which currently suffer from disproportionately high prevalence of diabetes, a generally late diagnosis of the disease, and the high incidence of related complications. 


Since 2003, the Tulalip Tribes, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Suquamish Indian Tribe, King County, and the Burke Museum have been working with archaeologists, historians, health scientists, and educators to research the content and nutritional value of past Puget Sound diets, and develop engaging educational/outreach materials about diet and diabetes relevant to Puget Sound Native communities.


Archaeological data can help us to understand the traditional Native American diet in the Puget Sound area. Past excavations have recovered animal bones, plant remains, hunting equipment and food processing tools. However, much of this information is located in highly technical archaeological reports, which are difficult to find, understand and interpret without archaeological training. Project partners are working to study, interpret and summarize the existing data on pre-contact diet from this region, and to present this information in a way that would be accessible to any audience. One result of this project will be an inventory of the kinds of animals and plants eaten by native peoples in different locations and time periods. These findings will illuminate the variety of animals (shellfish, fish, birds, mammals) and plants used in the deeper past.


These results may be of interest both to diabetes researchers seeking a greater understanding of native people’s dietary history, and to tribal members wishing to incorporate more traditional foods into their diet. Along with information from traditional stories and historical documents, this data will form the basis of education programs and future research aimed at reducing the rate of type 2 diabetes in Puget Sound Native American communities and improving the overall community health.


Initial support for this project was provided by a grant from the Institute for Ethnic Studies in the United States (IESUS), with additional support from participating project partners and Northwest Archaeological Associates, Inc.