LOS ANGELES, CA – Micah Kamoe was a panelist during a cross-disciplinary discussion of the Native Voices traveling exhibition at the Louis M. Darling Biomedical Library, University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), on February 24. Kamoe is a student in UCLA’s American Indian Studies Program.
Below is an edited version of Kamoe’s first person remarks about the exhibition, which he provided to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), and are used with his permission.
———————————————————————————————-The [Native Voices traveling exhibition] is a wonderful and necessary contribution to highlight Native perspectives on health, illness, community, tradition, healing and how culture and traditional beliefs influence Native people. I offer some context, even clarification, on the elements of the display that reference the Native Hawaiian experience.
I hope to make three points.
#1: The fact we have Native perspectives on health and healing at all, is a monumental achievement that deserves recognition, even celebration!
- This denigration of Native traditions was consistent with what missionaries accomplished with their arrival to the islands in the early 1800s. The conversion of Hawaiian Ali’i and royalty led to the oppression of cultural expressions in many forms at different times. The conversion included the deliberate targeting of Native traditions in order to eliminate them.
- This phenomenon is not restricted to the Hawaiian experience, but illustrates more broadly the significant population decline, racial discrimination, and assimilationist policies Native people confronted in the face of settler colonialism.
- If we minimize the size of the hurdles Native people faced we underappreciate what was required to jump over them.
- Hence, the fact Native perspectives on health and healing survived is a monumental achievement. We celebrate and cherish the traditions we do have, as well as the agency and resilience required to preserve them, on display for all today.
#2: The Native Hawaiian perspective on health, wellness, and healing was and is, incredibly broad.
- Two interviews in the Native Voices traveling exhibition illustrate this point. Dr. Benjamin Tamura references the role the Polynesian Voyaging Society plays in health and wellness. Nainoa Thompson, a native Hawaiian voyager whom I have met, reaffirms the interactions between heritage and health.
- It helps to know that long before Europeans were sailing the oceans, Polynesian peoples and especially Native Hawaiians, were through non-instrument navigation, making incredible transoceanic voyages throughout the Pacific. It is speculated additional voyages visited other parts of the world.
- Native Hawaiian voyaging canoes, traveling implausible distances between Polynesian islands, is a part of our tradition. Nainoa Thompson explains the Native perspective on health and illness focuses less on individual health than community well being. Thompson emphasizes the Native perspective on health and illness emphasizes pride, cultural identity, togetherness, which in aggregate form a necessary part of overall well being.
- Thompson’s remarks illustrate the breath of Native Hawaiian approaches to health and community well being.
#3: Culturally appropriate approaches to health, wellness and healing have incalculable and perhaps even unquantifiable benefits for both Native individuals and Native communities.
- Noa Emmett Aluli, the medical director of external affairs of the Moloka’i General Hospital, discusses how Native and Western approaches are integrated to maintain a healthy Native population.
- Aluli adds Native Hawaiians are not antagonistic to Western medicine. They simply seek to integrate features of their own culture and traditions in a way that compliments, and maximizes the Native wellness experience.
- Aluli notes some examples of Native Hawaiian cultural traditions linked to better health include:
- culturally appropriate exercise: ocean/mountain activities, hula (traditional dance) or lua (traditional warrior training/Hawaiian martial arts)
- culturally appropriate healing treatment: which includes prayers to Hawaiian gods, with unique chants that correspond to healing steps
- a culturally appropriate diet. Dr. Aluli explains to Dr. Lindberg the therapeutic benefits of traditional Hawaiian diet. The diet includes ocean foods as well as naturally occurring foods in the mountains, such as complex carbs, banana, sweet potatoes, and especially taro. We have legends that our ancestors came from what we call the kalo, or taro plant, Dr. Aluli notes that returning to our traditional diet fosters positive health outcomes, including weight loss, and lowered blood pressure.
- In his interview with Dr. Aluli, Dr. Lindberg responds: “Any restrictive diet people will lose weight on.” If I take a strictly medical view, Dr. Lindberg is correct. Any diet will do if losing weight is the sole objective. This conforms with Maslow’s Law of the Instrument — if the only tool we have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, right?
- But this is not the point here. Instead, Native Hawaiians (who return to a traditional Hawaiian diet) instigate incalculable and unquantifiable benefits because they additionally foster cultural revitalization and community. Overall, it is the latter contributions that make a difference when Native Hawaiians reintegrate wellness into their lives and traditions.
In conclusion, the Native Voices traveling exhibition is wonderful. Regardless of who are, all of us seek health, wellness, and a sense of community. The exhibition presents diverse voices, who contribute to our understanding of how to best accomplish a shared desire, which is fundamental to accomplishing it. Best of all, Native voices play a critical role.
My thanks to the Louis M. Darling Biomedical Library for hosting the [Native Voices traveling exhibition] and thanks to all of you, for being here and listening. Mahalo!