“WHERE IS OUR HOLOCAUST MUSEUM?” ASKED ROXANNE SWENTZELL:
“There’s a huge wound that we’re dealing with and I think it’s affecting us getting up and saying: yes, look we can, because we’re still limping around going our heart’s blown open, we haven’t dealt with this pain yet.
This pain, wrought by the effects of history, has touched the lives of many Native Americans. Ms. Swentzell is the lead character in the upcoming documentary TURN – a film about Native American women reclaiming tradition to find health for their communities. Three years ago when she looked around at her community and the growing numbers afflicted with diabetes and other ailments, Roxanne Swentzell took action.
Embarking on the Pueblo Food Experience she convinced members of her community to eat what their ancestors did prior to the Spanish coming. Those who stuck with the ancient fare lost weight, became healthier (verified with lab results), and felt renewed spiritual connections.
HISTORY MADE CLEAR
In the centuries after Europeans “discovered” America, many Native Americans experienced disruption of their traditional ways of life leading to today’s legacy of cultural dysfunctions and health issues.
I recently visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations” which will be on display through fall 2018.
This wonderful exhibit highlights the initial good faith shared by Indians and settlers and then details some of the horrid ways Native Americans were treated in subsequent years. Bringing visitors into contemporary times, we witness growing national recognition of the harm that was done to Indians – and that is making a difference. A concerted effort is being made in more recent Treaty-Making to correct past government-sanctioned mistreatment .
GOOD NEWS: PUBLIC RECOGNITION OF NATIVE AMERICANS’ STRUGGLES
It does seem that this is an era of being honest about past terrors.
“Times they are a changing” is clearly the message.
With a major change in official attitudes and a rising tide of awareness of the importance of tradition – especially food – well-grounded hope for the healthy future of Native Americans is taking hold.
Not only has food sovereignty become a respected goal of many tribes, but also many Native American women such as Roxanne Swentzell are using every resource they have to make a difference. For them, the high rates of obesity and diabetes in their Native American communities have been a call to action. Changing daily habits is nothing short of a major challenge. Yet it is slowly happening.
Can the focus on healthy life styles confront the legacy of past subjugations suffered by American Indians?
On some levels – in the face of high rates of suicide, high unemployment, alcoholism – focusing on food can seem trite. Yet on another, if daily concerns are based in respect for personal health and well-being – all in relationship to each other and the environment – then community health is well aligned with general well-being.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SUPPORT THE CONTINUATION OF THIS TREND?
The more I’ve worked on TURN, the more I am convinced that this film can lead to positive changes in Indian Country. By supporting TURN’s mission – to spread the word that Native Americans are taking steps to improve their own health – this film can convince many to transform their daily habits. Stay tuned! A future blog post will focus on how treaties signed hundreds of years ago are affecting the health of Native Americans today.
Tristan Love, Director of Photography, “shooting” Roxanne Swentzell with captured grasshoppers for documentary film TURN: Reclaiming Native Health & Heritage