Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Native Remedies: Indigenous Communities Educate American Public about Natural Health and Healing Concepts

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Native Remedies: Indigenous Communities Educate American Public about Natural Health and Healing Concepts

Article excerpt

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When representatives of the National Library of Medicine, a tiny unit of the federal government's massive National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., began an education program several years ago to help residents of indigenous communities improve their access to health care information and resources, they found a surprise along the way. Indigenous communities--from Hawaii to Alaska to the lower 48 states--could teach them a thing or two about health, illness and healing.

In October, the library debuted a two-year exhibition called "Native Voices: Native Peoples' Concepts of Health and Illness." The high-tech presentation--much of which is set to be available on the library's website (www.nhn.nih.gov/nativevoices/)--uses pictures, paintings, artifacts and interviews to shed light on the indigenous community's concepts and practices of health and healing based on meditation, the environment and natural foods.

Library officials declined to put a specific price tag on the exhibition, noting much of it was absorbed by various departments through staff time, and other costs were minimized by pursuing no-cost loans for artifacts and other items in the presentation.

"About halfway through these visits, we said, 'We're trying to help them (indigenous communities), they can help us,'" says Dr. Donald A. B. Lindberg, director of the National Library of Medicine and the driving force behind the exhibition. "So central to it all is health and ideas. We didn't intend to homogenize the groups. But there were some things in common," says Lindberg.

For one, he says, "we found across the three groups (Hawaiian, Native Alaskans and Native Americans in the lower 48 states) [that] they had the idea that you are responsible for your health." Not so different from the theme among non-indigenous people, he notes.

The focus on indigenous health concepts comes as indigenous and Native communities continue to wrestle with major health challenges. According to the federal government's National Health Statistics Report of 2010, non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native communities have higher rates of "risky behaviors, poorer health status and health conditions, and lower utilization of health services" than other racial and ethnic groups. These communities have higher death rates from tuberculosis, accidents, diabetes, chronic liver disease, pneumonia, suicide and homicide than other racial and ethnic groups.

Another common theme. Lindberg says, was people in indigenous communities "found it hard to imagine a healthy person outside a healthy community," a key reason why many indigenous communities place a high value on water, herbs, spices and other natural foods.

The NLM staff, which spent approximately six years putting the exhibition together, secured artifacts and images from numerous Native nations, organizations and individuals. Staffers also interviewed more than 70 people about concepts of health, illness and healing.

Library officials have not decided whether "Native Voices" will become a traveling exhibition after its two-year run at its headquarters, as some exhibits have been in the past. They note many of the objects in the "Native Voices" presentation are on loan from numerous entities and individuals from around the country. …

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