Health and Medicine Among Contemporary American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, is Opening at the National Library of Medicine

A new exhibition examining concepts of health and medicine among contemporary American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, is opening at the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness, explores the connection between wellness, illness, and cultural life through a combination of interviews with Native people, artwork, objects, and interactive media.

National Library of Medicine opens new interactive exhibition Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness first of its kind

Opening events will be held Oct. 5, 2011 and will include ceremonial dancing and the blessing of a healing totem pole that was created for the exhibition and installed in front of the Library. The program will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the auditorium of the Lister Hill Center (Building 38A) on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. At 11:45 a.m., events move to the front of the Library (Building 38) for the blessing of the healing totem pole and the exhibition, and for the exhibition ribbon-cutting. Native Voices opens to the public Oct. 6.

The National Library of Medicine has a history of working with Native communities as part of the Library’s commitment to make health information resources accessible to people no matter where they live or work. The Native Voices exhibition concept grew out of meetings with Native leaders in Alaska, Hawaii and the contiguous United States.

“This exhibition honors the Native tradition of oral history and establishes a unique collection of information,” says Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, director of the National Library of Medicine. “We hope visitors will find Native Voices educational and inspirational, and we hope Native people will view it with pride. The Library is excited to open this exhibition, and to do it during our 175th anniversary year.”

Topics featured in the exhibition include: Native views of land, food, community, earth/nature, and spirituality as they relate to Native health; the relationship between traditional healing and Western medicine in Native communities; economic and cultural issues that affect the health of Native communities; efforts by Native communities to improve health conditions; and the role of Native Americans in military service and healing support for returning Native veterans.

The Hokulea courtesy of Herb Kawainui Kane and the movie "The Voyagers"

In addition to the collection of interviews, here are some of the objects visitors will find in the exhibition:

  • In the lobby of the Library, guiding people into the exhibition, is a 10-foot model of the Hokule‘a, a traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe used for long-distance travel. Visitors will learn how the mission of the Hokule‘a has spurred a Hawaiian cultural and health revival.
  • Inside the exhibition, in a section that explores Native games for survival, strength and sports, visitors will find a vintage surfboard and learn about Native Hawaiian sportsman Duke Kahanamoku, who won Olympic medals in swimming and revived the sport of surfboarding.
  • Ceremonial drums, pipes, and rattles from the Upper Plains Indians grace a section on healing.
  • A World War II radio is one object that helps tell the story of Navajo and other American Indian Code Talkers. Visitors will learn about their service to the country and the ceremonies performed by traditional healers to help relieve combat-related stress experienced by returning veterans.
  • The 20-foot healing totem pole created by master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James and the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation in the Pacific Northwest is located in the herb garden in front of the Library. Visitors will discover the meaning of the stories, symbols and colors on the totem pole and two benches that accompany it. In the weeks preceding the exhibition opening, the totem received blessings from a number of tribes as it was transported across the country to be permanently installed at the Library. Previous work by carver Jewell James includes healing totems to honor the victims of the September 11th attacks. Those totems are now installed in Arrow Park in New York, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

To make the Native Voices information accessible to people who can’t come to the Library, there is an online version of the exhibition at www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices. The Library hopes to develop a travelling version consisting of a series of banners with information.

For people interested in Native health issues in general, the Library’s collection of free online information contains material on Native health including:

One Response

  1. Great stuff and a wealth of info. Actually passed it on to a few others that would also be interested. Mahalo, Dohn

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