Consultant and Creator of Four Winds Nutritional Model
Kibbe Conti, Lakota, MS,
RD, began her life on Pine Ridge Reservation, but when she
was three, her father moved the family to the Twin Cities
in Minnesota. After the move Conti recalls, “We visited
Pine Ridge but we only went to the border where our family
had land. This was during the 70s. It was a turbulent time
and it wasn’t safe to travel all over the rez.”
Conti was raised in an urban environment and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BS in nutrition and dietetics. She worked for a couple of years in New York City for Kraft Food Service. Then she did her dietetic internship at the College of Saint Elizabeth in New Jersey. That summer, she and her future husband decided to go to Pine Ridge, but only after some reflection. Conti recalls, “My father, Ed McGaa, wrote a book called Mother Earth Spirituality. Reading the book raised my interest in my culture and spirituality. This led me to want to reconnect with my culture. My boyfriend was also interested in going to Pine Ridge.”
Kibbe and her boyfriend enjoyed their summer internship. The people at Pine Ridge were pleased with their work and urged both of them to come back to work. The next summer, after Kibbe's husband had completed his master’s degree in social work, the two of them returned to Pine Ridge. “My work as a dietitian was very broad," says Kibbe. "For five years I did clinical work community nutrition and food service. During this time I earned my certification as a diabetes educator."
Kibbe's husband had to do some work in Denver. Kibbe was enjoying Pine Ridge and reluctant to leave, but she got a job as a diabetes coordinator at Denver Indian Health and Family Services. “The people were great, but the program was very under funded,” she says.
Two years later, when Conti and her husband returned to Pine Ridge from Denver, they had a newborn son. Wanting to spend time with her son, Conti started a part-time consulting practice that grew quickly and included clinical jobs with such organizations as the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Rapid City Medical Center and the Black Hills Dialysis Systems at Pine Ridge. During this period Conti had a second child (a daughter) and earned a master’s degree in biological science and nutrition at South Dakota State University.
Four Winds Model Development
Conti's work and studies made it very clear to her that the health of her people had declined over the decades as they switched from their traditional diet to a modern diet that was high in fats and sugar. By listening to the elders Conti learned about the basic elements of the traditional diet. She felt that her people's health could be enhanced by honoring the traditional diet and including healthy, modern foods.
Conti, in collaboration with Elder Bob Chasing Hawk, Cheyenne River Sioux, developed the Four Winds Nutrition Model, which other tribes have adapted to their own traditions and situations. The Four Winds model, based on the Medicine Wheel, illustrates the foods used by Northern Plains Nations’ ancestors as well as healthy foods that are available in today’s world. The interest in this model led to invitations to Conti to make presentations on nutrition from a Native perspective at conferences and workshops in more than 20 states.
(This figure was created and copyrighted by Kibbe Conti.)
The West Wind brings life-giving rains. Traditionally, pure water and teas were the main drinks. Today the lesson of the West Wind is to enjoy the ancestors’ drinks as well as sugar-free, alcohol-free drinks.
The North Wind brings cold winds that are associated with the strength and endurance of the Buffalo. The ancestors ate the Buffalo and other lean meats, which are increasingly available again today, along with low-fat, high protein foods.
The East Wind brings new plant growth and the season when the ancestors gathered roots, berries, seeds, and leafy greens. Many of these foods are available today.
The South Wind represents the warm summer wind and the energy received from plants that require a long growing season. Some tribes grew corn, beans, potato, and squash. These foods are still available, as are the wheat, rye, oat, barley and rice that were introduced by Europeans. A lesson from the South Wind and the ancestors is to use minimally processed foods.
Now that her children are older, Conti is in a full-time position with the Indian Health Service as senior, supervisory dietitian at Sioux Sanitarium in South Dakota. She is doing clinical work, overseeing the kitchen and supervising the cook. “When I told my father about my new job,” says Conti, “he reminded me that decades ago my grandma, my great aunt and my auntie all worked in the kitchen that I would soon be supervising.”
This article was originally published in the Summer, 2009 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is William Rabbit, Cherokee.)
For more information about the medicine wheel nutrition intervention see:
"The medicine wheel nutrition intervention: A diabetes education study with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe" by Kendra K. Kattelmann, PhD, RD; Kibbe Conti, MS, RD; Cuirong Ren, PhD. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 109 Issue 9 (September 2009), published by Elsevier.
"Improving health among American Indians through environmentally-focused nutrition interventions” by Jamie Stang, PhD, MPH, RD, LN. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 109 Issue 9 (September 2009).