I recall an old television show from my childhood, The Twenty-First Century, hosted by Walter Cronkite. Each week he (Walter Cronkite was a well-known television news journalist during the 1960’s and 70’s) would show us some new wonder from the future that would put an end to human suffering and inconvenience. I seem to recall an episode describing a future in which food was no longer necessary, replaced by super nutritious, ultra convenient capsules that needed to be taken only once per day. Now that’s a relationship with food that I could embrace!
Food is my final addiction frontier. Unlike alcohol, drugs and smoking, however, it is a stubborn presence that will remain a part of life forever. Hunger is a constant in our lives, returning each day reminding us of our powerlessness over the great force that is life. Like so many others, I struggle mightily with this force. For the time being I have made my peace with that daily appearance of hunger and its friend food. Since 2011 I have lost 90 pounds and have managed to maintain my weight for the past four months. I’ve written about my journey for Indian Country Today Media Network and The Daily Yonder.
Like so many Native people, I have type 2 diabetes and have struggled with my weight for years. Today, however, my glucose levels are normal and I no longer need to take medication. Many people have asked me how I was able to begin this journey after so many years. Truth be told, it is a mystery to me but I’m fairly sure it had something to do with my spirituality and the willingness to admit I am powerless over hunger and food.
In my recent article for Indian Country Today Media Network, I discuss a book by Michael Moss, “Salt, Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” in which he exposes in painful detail as the food industry’s fight for America’s “stomach share-the amount of digestive space that any one company’s brand can grab from the competition.”
Moss discusses the massive forces at work among processed food companies to get us and keep us addicted to their unhealthy products. Data shows that the companies are unbelievably successful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of all Americans are obese, triple the rate from one generation ago. As of 2010, 25. 8 million people-8. 3 percent of the U.S. population-have type 2 diabetes, closely associated with obesity.
Native peoples top the list for type 2 diabetes in the U.S; 16. 1 percent of Native people served by the Indian Health Service have type 2 diabetes.
The growing availability of cheap, processed, addictive food has created a perfect bad health storm for our people.
I’ve heard it said that Native peoples are like the canaries used by coal miners to warn of the presence of poisonous gas in mines. What happens to us is a portent for the future for everyone if the same path is taken. Unfortunately, in this analogy, we always end up being the first to die.
Rather than accepting this role of the harbinger of death, we can blaze a new trail to health that can inform other communities. The Growing Native series will help guide all of us on this new path by shining a light on efforts that communities are exploring in their work to live in a good way.
Hawk Henries is a gifted flutist and flute maker from the Nipmuc tribe in southern New England. He has performed at various venues across the United States and around the world. Hawk first learned to make flutes after he ruined his own flute and was forced to repair it over the course of several months. Those months of repair lead to a passion for creating flutes that has lasted over 20 years.
Hawk believes in creating his instruments through traditional techniques and the use of hand tools.
As Father's Day approaches, my heart is overwhelmed with a sense of bitter sweetness. It is at this time that Video Letters will be re-released through Vision Maker Media at the request of my three grown daughters. Our hearts are in mourning at the loss of their father Marvin (featured in Video Letters) as we lost him in the fall of 2012. My daughters miss him intensely. It was through Video Letters that they were able to reconnect with the blessedness of having a father and it is through Video Letters that they will always be able to see him and feel the love that he had for them.
In recent years, we have all reconnected on several levels. My oldest daughter was able to have him present at her college graduation and at the birth of her second son. The second oldest child was able to spend some very valuable and quality time with him fishing and hanging out in “father/daughter” time. The youngest of the three was able to rekindle her relationship with her father via phone conversations and solicit fatherly support during the time her husband was deployed in Afghanistan.
We are all sad at his untimely death but grateful for the time and opportunity that we were able to have with him. As always, Marvin was gracious and accepting of my husband and I of his wife. We shared quality time as a blended family and we truly considered everyone FAMILY.
Ironically, the one place that he fought so hard to get away from, was where he met his untimely death. I am sad, with Father’s Day approaching, that my children (once again) will not be able to share it with their father. It was the one thing that they so longed for all of their childhood but on the same note, I am grateful that with VIdeo Letters other children will be able to connect with their mothers or fathers and find balance in this world, the same way that my children did. I am grateful because I know that with this sadness comes great joy, the joy of knowing that Video Letters will let the world know my children’s father and what a wonderful human being Marvin Poor Bear was.
Editor's Note: This is an account from the curricula developers for the "Standing Bear's Footsteps" educational site. They talk about their experience at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Convention this past November. We thought that this would be good launching point into the curricula they developed. The trial of Standing Bear opened in Omaha on April 30, 1879.
This session was presented as a three-hour clinic. We began our session with introductions and a question prompt of “What is ‘home’?” Each participant shared, with one even highlighting that where she lived wasn’t her ‘home’. This was a perfect transition into the introduction, “What is ‘home’ for the Poncas?” Larry led a brief discussion about the historical aspects of the tribe and how the documentary, curriculum and the workshop sections of the project began to take shape. Then Cindy led an examination of the shift in social studies education—from content to skill-based curriculum, and from test to project based learning and assessment. She explained the curriculum design and how it can be used in a multitude of ages and subject areas. She showed the participants the different components of the website, and how it all worked. The participants were very excited and applauded the efforts of the project.
We took questions and then watched Chapters 1 and 2 of the documentary in their entirety. Two participants were in tears at the gripping story the documentary was putting forward. Larry answered a few questions and then we walked through two sample activities from the curriculum. Cindy handed out a printed version of the curriculum so participants could view the activities up close. Then for Chapter 3 we used the Digital Learning Objective, to show the diversity of the movie and curriculum. Chapter 4 and 5 were shown in their entirety and the participants voiced how easy the documentary, website and curriculum documents were to use. We showed Chapter 6 and 7 and then Larry took several more questions about the tribe.
Cindy examined 21st Century Skills and Project Based Learning and how these skills for our youth, particularly Native youth, must be taught in order to be proficient in the media-heavy world we live in. We showed the Bright Eyes video on YouTube and then transitioned into the workshops. We linked in to YouTube and the videos that VisionMaker had posted on their YouTube account. We showed two samples of the videos and talked about the project as a whole and how to integrate this into a curriculum.
What does Growing Native mean to you? That is a question we posed to the Growing Native Advisory Council as we went through pre-production. The answers we received were varied, but connected – it’s growing us as a people in a way that sustains us as a people, it’s taking things that we knew and that worked in the past and building on that, it’s illustrating the interconnectedness of everything that we do. Growing Native is understanding our past in a very deep way; really coming to realize the nature of the challenge of our present; and beginning to think creatively and transformatively for what we need to be doing for our future. With each story we share, we hope to convey these ideas to audiences in an honest and respectful way.
The Festival of Native Arts at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks is one such story. This festival, and others like it, has the unique opportunity to bring multitudes of people together in one place to share their enthusiasm and respect for their cultures. Singers, dancers and artisans from across the state of Alaska come to the UAF campus for three nights of cultural celebration, and the event is organized and ran entirely by students.
From the Festival website –
This tradition began in 1973, when a group of University of Alaska Fairbanks students and faculty (representing a variety of colleges and departments) met to consider a spring festival focused on the artistic expressions of each Alaska Native culture. In less than three months, perhaps for the first time in Alaska, Native artists, craftspeople and dancers from all major Native culture groups gathered together at UAF to share with each other, the University community and Fairbanks their rich artistic traditions.
As the student’s prepared for the 40th Anniversary, I caught up with one of our interview subjects for the episode, Marina Anderson (Tlingit/Haida), who would be emceeing the evening’s events. “This is the largest student run event in UAF history,” Anderson observed, “and this is the longest Festival we’ve had in almost 20 years. It used to go four or five days, but then it was cut down to two for a long time. Now that it’s back up to three days, and possibly four days next year, I think that really speaks to the growth and support the Festival has attained.” That support is evident when you look around the Festival. Bustling crowds of visitors jockey for position at the artist tables set up in the main hall outside the dance auditorium, while dance groups anxiously await their turns to be led to the ready room for last minute run-throughs before their performance.
But this isn’t some flash in the pan visual extravaganza. These dances and songs have deep, personal meaning to the performers and oftentimes with the audience members themselves. I spoke with Dr. Theresa John (Yupik), a professor at UAF, and she told me, “These songs and dances are the pathway to passing down knowledge and healing for our people. The language, our stories, our words… these things are embedded in our dances and they create a connection to our history.” Dr. John, who has been involved with the Festival since its inception in 1973, told me that the Festival came about at a critical time at the University. The Native students were struggling to find their place in the larger community, and felt disconnected from their homes. The Festival came in and helped change all that.
“Students now take pride in who they are and where they come from,” dancer Marjorie Tahbone (Inupiaq) offered. Tahbone is former Miss Indian World 2011 from Nome, and she dances with UAF student dance group Inu-Yupiaq. This group is unique in that it combines the cultures of the students, who have become like a family, Tahbone says. “In some cases, dancing was banned in some villages, and as a result there are fewer songs for them to learn. The diversity on display at the Festival really uplifts the spirit, through watching you can see a little bit about others’ traditions.”
Anderson echoes this sentiment, adding “the Festival really built character for a lot of the students who participated. I have one friend who really came out of his shell over the course of the Festival. At first, he would be dancing and he would take his glasses off. He’s blind as a bat without them, so he took them off so he couldn’t see the audience and get embarrassed. By the last night, he was dancing with them on. That’s the kind of strength and pride that the Festival represents.”
The Festival of Native Arts, and by extension other programs that exist to promote Native culture, has represented a steady shift of focus on the role of culture in the classroom. Culture was once something either indifferently omitted or even violently repressed in the classroom. Now, culture in the classroom is celebrated. “About time, that’s what I’m saying!” Tahbone remarked, adding “That shift has and will continue to create a ripple effect that will change the way youth think about themselves to the point that now we are comfortable and proud of being Native.”
To illustrate that ever expanding “ripple effect” that Tahbone mentioned, look no further than the Fairbanks Native Association’s Children’s Performance. The Fairbanks Head Start works with dozens of little ones for their debut dance every Festival, and they have been doing it for years. Each batch of children grows up having the experience of Festival, and knowing that their culture has a place in the larger community, a place they can be proud of. “This joining of generations together is symbolically critical,” Dr. John stressed to me, “because in that time and place, when people gather together, despite being busy teachers or busy students or just busy… when people gather together, our ancestors join us and celebrate with us, reuniting us.”
As the Festival draws to a close, the “Heartbeat of the Drum” ceremony takes place. Each dance group sends out a drummer and they surround the auditorium. Singing in unison, the audience rises to their feet. It is in this moment that Dr. John’s words seem to resonate with crystal clarity. The steady beat of the drum reflects the unity of purpose that each person in that room represents. Times may change, people will come and go, but the beat of the drum continues. It sustains. It is past, present and future. It is Growing Native in the best possible way.
My name is Blue Tarpalechee and I am Muscogee (Creek) from Okmulgee, Oklahoma. I work at Vision Maker Media as the Project Coordinator, a title I’ve held since August of 2012, where I manage the development of the educational materials for our programs and serve as an Associate Producer for the Growing Native series. Be sure to check out our Growing Native page at nativetelecom.org/growingnative
The month of February found me back at the Ponca tribal community of White Eagle working with the students to create a video for the American Graduate Film festival. The video is to address the festival theme is, the dropout crisis in America. The plan was to bring back the students from the Standing Bear's Meaning of Home summer program for another round of making digital media with Mac Air books using I-movie. With the deadline the first of March, we beganwith classes twice a week. The group consisted of eight students, 5th through the 8th grade. It was important to bring them up to speed again since most had not used a video camera or I-move since the summer program. And since there were several new students I had to teach them the media production. They all caught on quick and we and begin working on new project ideas.
The rules for the festival stated a mentor could be part of the production team to assist and edit if needed. I appreciated this process because it allowed the students to see more of the technical processes of planning, video recording and editing the project on a quick deadline.
The project ideas were varied and each student had suggestions. In the end we settled on two projects, "Ponca Tribal Voices", a montage of Ponca elders making a statement about the importance of education, and " No one Dreams to not be in School" a short story about three girls thinking about what education can do for their future.
The group spent one session just writing scripts, which helped them to focus on our final projects. I wanted to include them in the productions so one session was talking and recording themselves. A great exercise to get them used to recording and interviewing others.
During our third week we were given the opportunity to host a Flash Festival, where teams and mentors get together for 36 hours and create final projects. This was something new for our team but it also meant we could recruit more students to be involved. Staff from the Public Media Corps would come to White Eagle to assist the students in creating new projects during a weekend- the plan was set in motion.
Media mentors Khalil, Ivana, and Christian, along with director Kay Shaw arrived on Friday evening to oversee the process. Also down to assist the students was Blue Tarpalechee of Vision Makers. The tribal auditorium was buzzing with energetic students. We got kids settled, introductions were made and we're off, a brainstorming session, team selections and storyboarding followed.
Saturday started early with breakfast and about 30 kids with energy to burn. Three teams of students and mentors worked on ideas developed scripts, storyboards and set out to make movies.
It was a good day to make a movie - a little cold but the sun was shinning.
My team worked with elders and community people to record each making statements about the importance of education. The other teams and their mentors worked on projects such as “Zombie Dropouts,” and “Lost.” The teams were very busy and tired by the end of the day but we managed to get everything shot- now the editing process would begin.
The next day we had a showing of each of the projects. Some still needed to be finalized but the kids were able to see an edited albeit almost final version of their work. We showed and talked about each work, took photos of the teams said goodbyes, as the visiting mentors hurried off to catch their flights.
The experience was a positive for the students. They will see themselves in productions that are on a worldwide state. It brings pride to them, their parents and to the community. A lot of Thanks go to all but a special MVTO to Sarah Nelsen, education director of the Ponca Tribe. Her commitment to the future of the youth of White Eagle is inspiring.
I’ve been working with youth for over ten years now, and I’m very proud of the accomplishments of the young people I work with. Today I want to call attention to some very special students. I recently had the opportunity to partner with the National Black Programming Consortia’s Public Media Corps to produce student work to be submitted to the American Graduate Film Festival. We worked with Northern Ponca students here in Lincoln, and Southern Ponca students from the White Eagle community in Oklahoma.
We worked with the students of a series of weeks developing story ideas for the American Graduate Student Film Festival. We talked about the dropout crisis, and how the numbers of dropouts is even worse in Indian Country. We talked about their own educational experience and the goals they had. And after we were done talking, we started doing.
There wasn’t a whole lot of encouragement necessary when I gave the students their cameras and turned them loose. People like to tell stories, and young people are no exception. Vision Maker Media is promoting six films in this year’s festival, but it could have easily been twice that many. The students had many great ideas, to the point that we had to narrow down the ones we could work on and feasibly get completed. Let it be known, however, that many of the students will continue to create films on their own, and it is very humbling indeed to have been a part of their growth as artists.
Be sure to follow the links and vote for their films by clicking the "Like" button on each film's YouTube page!
The Southern Ponca group in White Eagle was a whirlwind weekend full of good ideas and hard work! We finished two films in less than 48 hours, and I even got to dust off my acting hat. The students put together a zombie nightmare, a drama Lifetime would be proud of, and an insightful and personal depiction of education in the community. Congratulations on four great films!
Here are the links to the Southern Ponca submissions:
If the Southern Ponca was a sprint, the Northern Ponca group was a marathon. Being based in Lincoln, I was able to spend more time with these students and we really put in good work together. I feel like I got to know these students (who are all related to each other by the way) and through knowing them I can honestly say their work is a great reflection of who they are. Two words come to mind when I think about this group of kids: commitment and family. Watching their pieces, I think you’ll be able to make the connection.
Here are the links to the Northern Ponca submissions:
All in all, it was a fantastic experience. I look forward to working with these groups again and hopefully we will see more of their work as they continue their educations. Now please follow those links and support these kids with your vote!
Swil Kanim (Lummi) is an award-winning violinist and inspirational speaker. He travels throughout the United States, inspiring audiences through his music and personal stories. His compositions incorporate classical influences and reflect his journey from depression and despair to spiritual and emotional freedom.
Swil Kanim is also the president of Honor Works, a nonprofit organization who mission is "to create and ignite the potential for Honor among all people."
In February 2013, Swil Kanim talked to Landon Mattison about music, culture, inspiration and the foster care system.