The Native Voices Traveling Exhibition in Alaska: Five Stops During 2014-2015

ANCHORAGE, AK – The first of five Alaska stops for the Native Voices traveling exhibition occurred during the mid-year meeting of the National Congress of American Indians, June 9-11, 2014.

Dr. Lindberg and Katherine Gottlieb take a large pair of ceremonial scissors to the red ribbon hanging across the entrance to the Native Voices traveling exhibition.

Opening the Native Voices traveling exhibition at the National Congress of American Indians: L-R. Donald A.B. Lindberg M.D., Brian Cladoosby, Katherine Gottlieb

Mr. Brian Cladoosby, president of the Congress, welcomed the Native Voices exhibition as well as the National Library of Medicine (NLM’s) director Donald A.B. Lindberg M.D., who attended the opening. Cladoosby noted it is important for natives to learn from other natives about successes and about how “you can live a healthy lifestyle.”

One of the exhibition’s early visitors, Alaska native dancer Haliehana Steptin, said, “I really enjoy watching my people talk about these problems, because I grew up where we didn’t talk about the bad stuff. The elders didn’t want to dwell on the negativity. But we need to face it so we can heal.”

The Native Voices exhibition at the 2014 National Congress of American Indians was split into five distinct sections: Individual, Community, Tradition, Nature, and Healing, with the addition of an introductory panel. For example, the exhibition’s Healing panel displayed Family Wellness Warriors, the Southcentral Foundation’s program that addresses Native Alaskan alcoholism, domestic violence, and neglect.

Six iPad kiosks accompanied the Alaskan exhibition in all five of its locations. Visitors can view images and videos, hear interviews and personal stories from the various tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives, and also search the iPads for timeline entries.

Among an array of Alaska Native-tailored materials is an interview with Father Michael Oleksa, Ph.D., a Russian Orthodox priest who serves as village clergy for more than a dozen Alaskan native villages. In his interview, Dr. Oleksa discusses assimilation problems and describes some young men who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Father Oleska also describes how non-Native born school teachers used to occasionally lurk in the bushes of Native Alaskan villages to “round-up” children and teens. The young Native Alaskans were then forced into schools taught in English, which was a language Native Alaskans sometimes did not understand, Dr. Oleksa said.

A very young girl wearing headphones reaches up to touch one of the iPads screens associate with the Native Voices traveling exhibition.

An engaged visitor to Native Voices in Alaska

After the National Congress of American Indians, the Native Voices traveling exhibition went to the local Alaska Native Heritage Center for three summer months. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is one of the largest museums in Alaska and celebrates the contributions and history of Alaska Natives. The Heritage Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015 and recently completed a $3 million educational program expansion.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center also celebrated a poignant Iditarod Day on March 7. This year’s annual commemoration of the world-famous Alaska dog sled race was especially memorable because of the recent death of George Attla, Alaska’s most famous “musher.” Mushers drive dog-pulled sleds across 1,000 miles of rigorous winter terrain for about 15 days during the annual Iditarod and many other races.

Attla was the most celebrated musher of the past 60 years. He competed from 1958-2011 and won so many awards that he was nicknamed the “Picasso of mushing.” In 2000, Attla, an Athabascan, was awarded the Best Musher of the 20th Century.

Incidentally, NLM paid tribute to Alaska’s mushers in an exhibit, The Once and Future Web, which focused on the role of the telegraph, mushers, and teams of dog sleds who once supplied diphtheria medicine to Nome.

Meanwhile, the Alaskan Native Heritage Center is popular with Alaskans and tourists and often receives visitors from cruise lines that dock in Anchorage during warmer months, explained Caleb Bourgeois, Community Engagement Office, Alaska Native Heritage Center. “During the three month sojourn of Native Voices at the Heritage Center, I estimate that approximately 23,000 visitors stopped by the exhibit,” Bourgeois said.

Following the Native Voices traveling exhibition’s stay at the Heritage Center, the exhibition was hosted by the Native Primary Care Center of the local Southcentral Foundation. The Southcentral Foundation is a large medical center that is dedicated to Alaska Native health care and owned by Alaska Natives. The Southcentral Foundation is a leader in providing multidimensional healing practices for patients, including incorporating traditional healing within western medicine. The Native Primary Center contains its own medicinal herb garden. Katherine Gottlieb, the Chief Executive Officer and President of the Southcentral Foundation, was the first Alaskan to receive the MacArthur Genius Award and was a member of NLM’s Board of Regents from 2010-2013.

In the late fall and early winter, the exhibition moved to the Southcentral Foundation’s clinical headquarters in Wasilla: the Benteh Nuutah Valley Native Primary Care Center. Wasilla is about a half -hour drive from downtown Anchorage and was the home of former Mayor, Governor, and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

The Native Voices traveling exhibition recently returned to Anchorage and currently is on display in the building that houses the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) Regional Medical Education program. WWAMI specializes in primary care and family medicine medical training for physicians to work in participating Pacific Northwest states, all of which contain significant Native populations.

The Native Voices traveling exhibition debuted at Cankdeska Cikana Community College in North Dakota in 2013 (see a previous blog post). NLM is following the traveling exhibition’s path as it moves across the U.S.

By Judy Folkenberg

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