There is a wisdom in ancient health and lifestyle traditions that has unfortunately been cast aside, leading to deterioration in the overall wellbeing of many aboriginal communities. Dr. Kama Mico, Co-founder of Under the Shade, has been exploring root causes of health crises in a number of indigenous people groups.
Today, Kama shares what she’s witnessed first-hand among the indigenous people of Elcho Island — an embracing of overly-processed, “modern” food ways that has made them sicker. Many of us all over the world have also adopted these changes to our detriment. Kama reminds us that we can all return to more natural dietary choices — eating food from nature, instead of food from factories, for example — to reclaim our health and vitality. And she shares stories and lessons learned from the (ab)original peoples that can help us live our most vibrant lives today, wherever we are.
Visit her website: undertheshade.org.au
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Lessons from (Ab)original People
Australia’s Aboriginal people are considered the world’s oldest living culture. There is a wisdom in their health and lifestyle traditions that has unfortunately been cast aside and overshadowed by the dominant culture. Our guest is Dr. Kama Mico, a medical doctor passionate about community development and preventative health.
She stepped outside the Western model of healthcare to focus on a deep exploration of the root causes of health crises, especially those in remote communities. She spent eight years living on Elcho Island, a remote indigenous community in Northeast Arnhem Land, Australia. Kama’s work focuses on using experiential education and the framework of traditional diets to empower people to reclaim their vitality.
She’s the Cofounder of Under the Shade, an organization committed to providing transformational, educational opportunities for indigenous and non-indigenous people. Kama shares what she’s witnessed firsthand among the indigenous people of Elcho Island. In particular, she talks about the detrimental effects of modern, advanced foodways that were introduced to the community from the dominant culture.
We discuss how to learn from the wisdom of the Aboriginal peoples without romanticizing it or giving it simply a token acknowledgment. Kama talks about changes she’s noted that have helped people reclaim their health and vitality traditions, particularly moving to food from nature rather than food from factories.
She shares lessons learned from the original Aboriginal people groups for guidance on how to live our best, healthiest, most vibrant lives. Before we get into the conversation, I want to invite you to become a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation. You may have read this for some time without joining hands with us.
I can’t begin to tell you how important it is to collaborate and engage with this community of like-minded people who are advancing the ideas of healthier living through ancestral traditions. Join us. For readers like you, you can join for only $30 a year. Use the code POD10 when you go to WestonAPrice.org and click on the Become a Member button. Join us and you will be a part of the important work of education, research and activism. Thank you in advance.
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Welcome to the show, Kama.
Thank you for having me.
I had to come here to meet you because what you’re doing is fantastic. You work with a group that supports indigenous people in their rediscovering their own health traditions. Is that right?
Yes. It is a privilege to be part of redirecting people back to the wisdom they already contain and that they’ve got the answers. We all need to be learning from them.
Tell me what propelled you into this health and wellness space with indigenous people.
I have always been pretty passionate about health and wanted to land in that space. I could see that the main issue going on with indigenous people was much more about empowerment. If you don’t have a degree of personal control and a belief in your ability to impact the world, you don’t have anywhere to start with building your health and wellbeing.
In that frame, it’s not possible to force a message on someone until they’re ready to receive that. It did take five years of being involved in community development work before that unfolded for me. That was exciting when that did. You can see the benefit of investing in the relationship and being available and responsive. You create pathways that enable deep transformation to happen.
To be clear, you were working on Elcho Island with Yolngu people in a whole different sphere. You were trying to empower them to start small businesses, which is awesome, but what was happening? Why do you feel you weren’t making any inroads?
The focus of the initial community development work I was involved in was being available for things that people are wanting to initiate and develop themselves. That certainly often looked like small business, but the starting point was a step back from that. It was about the things that people are motivated and trying to initiate themselves and being held back by barriers, and how I can be part of the solution of breaking down those barriers so that people can birth the things that they’re passionate about and that is being birthed from the inside of them.
It was horrific to see the impact of this epidemic of chronic disease in the community. Anything people were trying to do for themselves was disastrously impacted by the serious health issues going on. The death rate is horrific. Funerals are constant. People who are trying to do things are constantly being affected by a constant flow of funerals, ill health, and loved ones they need to care for. It’s a massive issue for anybody trying to achieve anything. You’re not just dealing with the practical issues. You’re dealing with this phenomenal weight of grief that is a perpetual part of life there.
You’re trying to work with these people. They keep getting sidetracked either by their own health problems or the death or health problems of loved ones. It’s staring you right in the face. This needs to be addressed before anything else.
At the same time, it was not an issue that people were seeing any pathway forward in or even knowing how to find a pathway forward in. It’s not as if it was something that people were directly asking for help with. It took me quite a while to be convinced of how in the dark people were about why everybody was dying.
Being someone who’d been on a substantial health journey myself, there were so many factors that were obvious and clear to me from my experience and knowledge. That’s experience and knowledge that hasn’t been part of the worldview of these people. They were completely in the dark and disempowered by our lack of access to information about why people were dying.
You looked into the Weston A. Price Foundation for your own health concerns to address some fertility issues and other things. It shocked you and turned your world around. Even though that was the case, as you tried to share that information, it was like you were getting a deaf ear from the community. What happened next?
I was able to stumble upon the work of Weston A. Price when dealing with heartbreaking health issues myself, trying to get through pregnancies. It certainly was a life-changing shift in the way I ate and thought about answering questions about health and finding pathways and wisdom. It made so much sense to me.
It was an amazing thing to discover in the context of living in a remote community, where it was so easy to test those hypotheses there. You could very easily access knowledge about how people used to do things. You could see all those principles alive in this traditional culture that Weston A. Price was talking about. You could so easily see how far people had come from those principles and the devastation as a result of that.
The journey that I went on myself was very much something happening in my personal space, not my professional space. It wasn’t something I expected to be sharing in my work. It was beautiful when a dear Yolngu friend got very sick and I decided to share our family’s food with her. That had a profound effect on her health and led to an amazing chain reaction in the community. It was an opportunity to bring awareness to this issue of nutrition. It highlighted a few powerful pointers that we’ve been able to take and run with to impact this.
Let’s go deep into that experience because I want people to hear the details. You were hoping people would start changing and yet nothing was happening. How did this woman seek you out? What happened with Diana?
People who lived traditionally experienced vibrant health.
Diana’s a good example. She’s a dear friend. She knew I was passionate about health and I had a medical background. She’s someone I had many conversations with about health and different things you can impact your health with. It was all talk and not something that ever impacted her life or led to her considering making any changes in anything. She became acutely unwell with ischemic heart disease and diabetes. She was wheelchair-bound. I was concerned for her.
It was from that space that she was willing to go on a journey with me and try a different way of eating. I don’t think either of us expected it to have the impact that it did have. It was wonderful to see the power of giving that experience to somebody as a gift. It was an opportunity for her to experience that you can feel different and that lived knowledge in your body matters. It makes that information real. When it gives you energy and vitality, you have more ability to process that and make changes in your life.
She went from being in a wheelchair to being able to walk up the highest hill in her community.
She took on those principles for herself. She became hungry to understand what had happened because she could see that the only thing that had changed was what she was eating. She was then desperate to learn how to cook and what the story was here. We were able to dive into the Weston A. Price story together, which was so powerful in her context because that’s real live information for people.
They know how people used to live traditionally and that people were in vibrant health. They’re confused about what’s changed and what’s led to the crisis they’re in and they’re grappling for information. To be able to connect some of those dots was amazing. To not only see the power and value of that traditional culture, but draw out the principles in that.
It’s not just about returning to that way of life specifically, but drawing the value and principles out of that can be applied in any context, whether you’re in the bush or in the store. To see how empowering that was, was amazing. She took on those principles herself. After many months, she was able to walk big hills. The fact is that that was a transformation that people in the community saw. They witnessed that change. She became an evangelist for that. It had a chain reaction where other people were drawn into wanting to go on a journey like she’d been on.
I love this story because you’re not telling the traditional people to eat some specific way like, “Let’s follow this trend and go gluten-free.” You’re inviting them to go back to their own roots.
It’s wonderful to be able to cut across any of the politics and complexity of all of that. There are so many different frameworks to eat out there. It becomes so hard for people to navigate and know how to make choices. It’s quite simple for a Yolngu person to be able to reconnect with how Yolngu people have always eaten.
There’s nothing political or complicated about that. There are principles in that that can be drawn out. It was a particularly beautiful thing to be in that context and had a wonderful journey myself where these principles had been able to transfer my health and enable me to have children and to give that back to people groups that have been stewarding that knowledge for millennium feels right. That’s how that should be.
It’s so true that there is so much wisdom we are looking in textbooks and scientific papers to try and find wisdom for how to live. We’ve got these amazing living examples from all over the world. That’s what I love about the work of Weston A. Price. It’s not a cookie-cutter thing that’s saying, “There’s one way to eat, the one diet that’s right.” It’s saying, “God made this amazing world full of diversity.”
There are so many different expressions of that, but there are principles within that that are true anywhere. It’s those principles that have been tested over time that we can draw on and see them in so many different contexts and the fruit of those. That seems a powerful, grounded way to make decisions to me.
Me, too. What’s cool is those principles can be applied whether we live in a city or on some remote island. It doesn’t matter where we live. We can live according to those principles. Specifically, with the Yolngu people you’ve worked with, what are the challenges they face in trying to eat more traditionally?
There is a lot of layers to that. People need to have an understanding to be making these choices. It makes sense that people are not looking to nutrition as the corporate in their current health crisis. In the traditional context, food was considered good. If it isn’t good, it’s not food. You can enjoy the abundance that nature provides. That’s not something you need to put lots of rules and barriers in place. There’s a beautiful freedom to enjoy nature’s abundance. It’s not on people’s radar that you would be creating food deliberately that is bad for you and bringing it to the community to be sold to make money.
Another layer to that is the story of colonization where a dominant culture has come in and presented itself as being superior and traditional culture is primitive and backward and not relevant. People are not looking at their traditional culture as being valuable and holding the answers. They are certainly being told that answers lie in this new, super stronger culture that’s easy to be associated with their food. Their food must be better and superior. That’s not being seen as a culprit.
It’s important to put in context that Yolngu people are being disempowered on every level. That applies to their health as to anything else. People are being put in a context where they do not realize their personal power. They do not realize that there are areas that they have control over and that they can impact and change an outcome in. It’s very easy to externalize the reasons why things are not going well.
Information gives you the power and responsibility to be able to make choices. Without that information, you don’t have the opportunity to take that responsibility. It’s wonderful to be able to give people an experience that can cut across that. Once you’ve lived something in your body, you can’t un-know that because you’ve lived it. That doesn’t make it easy to always make the right choices, but you have a choice.
Information only goes so far. It’s head knowledge as opposed to heart and body knowledge.
It’s the most amazing process to witness when you can take someone through a process. I’m a little bit hooked on the process. You feel like you can talk to somebody as long as you like and it’s not going to make any impact. If you can show somebody and let them live it, then they’re in a position to be able to decide. They’ve experienced it.
Information gives you the power and responsibility to make choices.
How can all of us help people experience it more?
The work I’m passionate about is making that process available to indigenous people. I feel passionate about giving back to these people that have stewarded this knowledge. I feel passionate about building the connections that we are all part of the same story. We do all need the same things. When we can be in a context together where we’re exchanging information, we can find empowered ways for all of us.
There is so much value in a traditional culture that we need. There is so much information that Yolngu people need in order to find pathways forward. I find it devastating that these cultures are being annihilated from preventable chronic diseases before our eyes. We know what can be done about this. We need to be caring. We need to be valuing these people groups before it’s too late.
I’m very passionate about making this available. The model I use is with a health retreat. You have an educational experience that kick starts that process for people and puts them in a position where they’re empowered with knowledge that they can then work out how to implement that in their own community in ways that are meaningful to them and breaking down the barriers with people to make lifestyle change once they’re motivated on that journey themselves rather than those solutions being created from the outside.
In our Western context, a lot of times, we try to argue people into thinking about food. People are always like, “How can I talk to my vegetarian cousin?” People are freaking out, thinking they can somehow persuade them with the latest documentary or podcast. In truth, if we had more opportunities for people to experience the benefits of real traditional foods, we wouldn’t have to argue a bit, would we?
Yes. It’s about experience. It’s also about grounding things in frameworks that make sense. The principles in this are very simple and logical. We are made to be eating food that God made, not factories. It’s simple. It makes sense to people, but it’s not what’s presented. We get presented with so much more complexity.
When we were having lunch, the girl sitting next to us was reading some book. I didn’t see the title, only the subtitle. It was something like, “The latest scientific evidence for a diet that will alleviate anxiety and depression.” I was like, “I hope she was reading to our conversation about traditional foods.”
We want everybody to learn about the power of traditional foods. I love that in a context that it isn’t just about food. It’s about frameworks that are very simple and direct us back to the way we were made and how we were made to be in the world and the environment and how we were made to be relating to each other. They’re all part of that same picture.
Coming up, Kama elaborates on what she has witnessed among the people on Elcho Island and how we, too, can reclaim our vitality through proper nourishment and returning to ancestral health ways.
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Dr. Price had the very attitude you were talking about. He didn’t come to the traditional indigenous people around the world because he wanted to simply take from them. He wanted to recognize their superiority and wisdom and hold it high as a standard for everybody. I like that you are about giving back and empowering these traditional communities.
It is so real because I’ve lived that in so many ways. I’ve seen how we come in with solutions for these traditional people groups. When you take the time to see what was already there in place that we’re cutting across, you realize we need to be learning from them, not the other way around. That’s very sobering.
We are made to be eating food that God made, not factories.
It’s important to make that shift where we realize that traditional knowledge is not something that we should be romantic about, that needs to be preserved in a museum. It’s something real and powerful and exactly what we need, to see the power of that exchange, that there’s value on both sides, that we are not saviors coming in with solutions, that we both deeply need each other in different ways and from different vantage points.
It’s the same story we’re all part of. We’ve got different pieces of that puzzle. If we can come together, we’re all greater for it. That’s not a token acknowledgment of traditional knowledge. It’s seeing this as real valuable stuff. That’s very real and powerful because those principles transform my health and enable me to have children.
That’s a very tangible thing for me, but there are so many examples I’ve lived and experienced. It’s not a token acknowledgment of traditional culture. These are the missing pieces that our culture needs. It’s tragic that we hold keys to the information that people need as well to be able to turn this epidemic around that they’re battling.
How can we be involved in this important work?
That’s exciting because it’s a privilege to have something to offer people in that. Many people care about indigenous people and the injustice of what’s going on, but they don’t know how they can help or get involved. It’s so wonderful to be part of something that is positive and transformative in a space that is often so negative and hopeless. This is real and powerful.
We have an amazing pathway that we’ve been given and are passionate about folding out. We want people to be on that journey with us. Another thing I value so much from what I’ve lived and learned with indigenous people is that it’s always about relationships and joining together. Right from the start, this work would not have been possible without individuals donating their resources, money, and skills. That’s what’s made it possible.
We are passionate about maintaining that model. This is about people coming together in a movement and a journey. It’s so exciting whenever we get to include people in that story. We need people to be supporting us financially to make it possible, particularly at this stage where we’re looking to make this work available to different people groups who’ve been seeing what’s been happening with Yolngu people and wanting to have the same opportunities in their own communities. We’re excited about that opportunity to share it and give that opportunity more widely.
When we have retreats, we need volunteer practitioners. What makes this work possible is people donating their skills. It’s a life-changing experience for people and an exchange that you get into. We also have a beautiful opportunity. We partner with an amazing naturopath, Helen Padarin, running together retreats, which are an opportunity for dominant culture people to participate in retreats alongside indigenous people and sponsor the indigenous person to participate. That’s a life-changing opportunity to journey together and dive into that deep exchange together.
It would be lovely if, in other parts of the world, people could replicate what you’re doing. You’re open to them connecting with you and learning more and seeing how we can do this, right?
Yes. We know that these principles are true anywhere. What’s happening to indigenous Australians is happening all over the world. We are passionate about finding ways with what we’re learning can be bearing fruit all over the place. Please be in touch with us, because we’d love to be involved in this bearing fruit all over the world.
It reminds me of what Suzanne, a woman from the Iningai people, was telling me. She said, “We’re all so mixed up.” She didn’t mean crazy. She was saying we’re also mixed together race-wise. In other words, we’re one big family. Why not pull together for better health for everyone?”
I so passionately believe that we will achieve health by coming together, stop seeing us separate and divided, and seeing the value that we can all bring. It’s been life-changing to be able to share so much life with the Yolngu people. It takes your blinkers off so that you can see things you didn’t see about yourself. You can realize perspectives that were not there. It’s mind-blowing and liberating. I want others to be able to have opportunities to be part of that journey.
Tell me one moment when the blinders or the blinkers came off for you. When you were saying, “I was thinking this for them,” I realized, “This is true for me.”
I remember a life-changing moment when my dear friend, Diana, who started this work with me, was sharing about the experience of the Yolngu people. She described it that the Yolngu people were walking around like dead people. That was a confronting thing to hear because I believed her. I couldn’t challenge that. That is what I had seen and witnessed.
She described people being animated by a foreign culture that was determining how people should act and move. It wasn’t there in a spiritual power that was motivating their actions. I initially felt sympathy for the Yolngu people that that was their plight. It took me some time of reflection to realize that I was part of that story, too. That wasn’t the case just for Yolngu. That was the case for all of us. I was walking around like a dead person, too.
It was confronting to see and realize that I wasn’t separate from these people that I thought I had come to serve. That’s certainly been life-changing to see the ways where I did have blinkers on and was not questioning the way I did things. Decisions about how we eat are often one of those, a small example of those things we’re not questioning, and looking to a deep foundation for the choices we’re making where we’re following the structures put in front of us by other people.
One of the reasons we have this show is we’re trying to wake people and ourselves up. Talking to people like you is one way in which we do that. Thank you. If the listener could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
It’s easy for us to overcomplicate things without health and think that there are complex formulas we need to follow. One of the most life-giving things has been to see, “We should be eating food that God made.” I like being able to return to that principle when I’m talking to people. If it’s something that you caught, picked, or was out there in nature, then you don’t need to be too worried.
We’ve got different pieces of that puzzle, and if we can come together, we’re all greater for it.
Once it’s in a packet, you need a little bit more information. I like returning to those simple principles. They apply not just to food. They apply more broadly to be thinking about how we were made to be in this world to be interacting with nature and each other. There’s a beautiful simplicity that’s the answer at the heart of that.
I love it. Thank you so much for your time, Kama.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
Our guest was Dr. Kama Mico. Visit her website, UnderTheShade.org.au, to learn more about the experiential health retreats and other initiatives that Under the Shade offers. You can find me at HolisticHilda.com. For a letter to the editor from a journal. “I Love Lucy trivia. I thought you might enjoy this bit of trivia. I thought of the Weston A. Price Foundation principles when I watched the season 2, episode 21 of I Love Lucy with my daughter. What is captured in this scene is how average middle-class Americans used to eat before all the propaganda against meat kicked in.”
“In the restaurant scene from the episode, Lucy keeps changing her mind about what she wants to eat for dinner. They all order meat dishes. Lucy cannot make up her mind and switches between the roast beef, lamb chops, and pork chops. If you try to watch or purchase a set of the episodes from season two, for example, on Amazon, you will find that this episode is left out. There are others being censored as well.” This is a letter from Edina from New Jersey. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. It’s super fascinating.
You, too, are welcome to write a letter to the editor for possible inclusion in a future journal. Write Info@WestonAPrice.org and put in the subject line Letter To The Editor. You can give comments about how the Weston A. Price Foundation principles have changed your life, insights on what’s happening in the world or simply expressing your gratitude for what we’re doing. Honestly, we love it. We’re so thankful for being a part of this with you. Thanks again for reading, my friend. Stay well. Hasta pronto.
About Kama Mico
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