Tepary beans, one of the traditional foods of the Tohono O'odham peoples (Courtesy of TOCA - Tohono O'odham Community Action)

'Through the Eyes of the Eagle' Exhibit Promotes Traditional, Healthy Foods

Lee Allen
10/10/11

A traveling exhibition to raise awareness of type 2 diabetes prevention among American Indians is touring the country October 14 through January 7, 2012.

The family-oriented exhibition Through the Eyes of the Eagle: Illustrating Healthy Living for Children is making stops at museums nationwide, encouraging a return to traditional ways, including physical activity and healthy eating.

The creative effort is inspired by a children’s book series of the same name, and it includes original watercolor paintings by Patrick Rolo (Bad River Band of Ojibwe) and Lisa A. Fifield (Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin) featured in the four Eagle Books: Through the Eyes of the Eagle, Plate Full of Color, Knees Lifted High, and Tricky Treats, written by Georgia Perez, who resides in Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico. Perez has specialized in diabetes education with the Native American Diabetes Project at the University of New Mexico since 1994. More than 2 million Eagle Books have been distributed worldwide. Developed by the CDC Division of Diabetes Translation’s Native Diabetes Wellness Program, in collaboration with the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee and the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Eagle Books bring to life animal-inspired characters of wisdom, including Mr. Eagle, the tribal elder who teaches traditional ways of health, Miss Rabbit and the clever trickster Coyote. The trio engage Rain That Dances and his young friends in the joys of physical activity, eating healthy and embracing the knowledge of their elders.

An adapted version of the Eagle Books is geared at Native teens. “Chemehuevi/Navajo author Ryan Huna Smith and I localized the book for older readers, teens, where the heroine is a skateboarder. It’s Up 2 You challenges youth about the temptations of fast food and the benefits of physical activity and healthy eating,” says Lisa Falk, director of education for the Arizona State Museum.

The Through the Eyes of the Eagle exhibit explores the intersection of history, culture and health in Indian Country through objects, photographs, artwork, storytelling, video and hands-on activities such as a Nintendo Wii skateboard game. One display depicts footwear spanning 1,400 years and explains indigenous traditions of movement and exercise. The display chronicles the progression of shoes from beaded moccasins to running sandals made from tires to contemporary skateboard shoes to Nike’s N7 Air Native trainers.

The opening celebration for the exhibit will be held at the Arizona State Museum on October 14, presented in collaboration with the TOCA (Tohono O’odham Community Action), a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing traditional Tohono O’odham Tribal values and health and promoting sustainable community development, co-founded by Tristan Reader and Terrol Johnson in 1996. A special section curated by Johnson examines the devastating health impacts on the Tohono O’odham people due to the destruction of their local food systems and the destabilizing loss of their cultural traditions. Johnson’s display interlaces prehistoric, historic and contemporary objects and photographs to illustrate the diet of Sonoran desert peoples 13,000 years ago. The Sonoran desert peoples—the Paleo-Indian, Hohokam and Tohono O’odham peoples—ate foods such as tepary beans, mesquite beans, cactus buds, squashes, acorns and saguaro fruit. “Our traditional diet is much healthier,” says Johnson, who consulted with PBS on the show Bad Sugar that aired in October 2009 and explores the causes and effects of diabetes within the Pima and Tohono O’odham Indians of Southern Arizona. “My people have one of the highest rates of adult-onset diabetes in the Nation,” says Johnson, who himself lives with type 2 diabetes.

Johson’s display meanwhile shares current efforts to increase wellness and cultural vitality within the Tribal community. “We look back to the past to create solutions for the future—and it’s definitely working,” says Johnson. “There’s still a lot to do and education and re-introduction of traditional foods are keys.”

“Because this museum works so closely with the O’odham and their baskets and cultural traditions, it made sense for us to address contemporary community issues in partnership,” says Lisa Falk, the director of education at Arizona State Museum, who held community meetings with the Tucson Indian Center, Native artists and health practitioners to brainstorm how to enhance the exhibit to make it more meaningful.

The exhibit is curated by the Global Healthy Odyssey Museum with programming support from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the Division of Diabetes Translation. “Through the exhibition, which runs into early January 2012, we hope to use history, culture and economics to show the impact on health in Native American communities,” says Falk. “I hope all visitors will take a bookmark that challenges readers to do one thing to make their family healthier, particularly by returning to Native foods.”

The ASM/TOCA partnership, along with Tucson Indian Center, will also sponsor a Just Move It 5K Fun Walk/Run as part of a multi-cultural health fair, November 12, on the museum’s front lawn.  Cultural performances, Native dances, and athletic clinics are scheduled as are skateboard demos, nutritional games, and a Native Farmers Market including cooking demonstrations.

The CDC lists all museums to feature the traveling exhibition:

Eagle Books Traveling Exhibition

  • Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum—Clewiston, Florida
  • Arizona State Museum—Tucson, Arizona
  • Cape Cod Children's Museum—Mashpee, Massachusetts
  • Chickasaw Cultural Center—Sulphur, Oklahoma
  • Cleveland Museum of Natural History—Cleveland, Ohio
  • Comanche National Museum & Cultural Center—Lawton, Oklahoma
  • Creek Council House Museum—Okmulgee, Oklahoma
  • Danville Science Museum—Danville, Virginia
  • Farmington Museum at Gateway Park—Farmington, New Mexico
  • The George Gustav Heye Center—New York, New York
  • Global Health Odyssey Museum—Atlanta, Georgia
  • Indian Pueblo Cultural Center—Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center—Mashantucket, Connecticut
  • Mille Lacs Indian Museum & Trading Post – Onamia, Minnesota
  • The National Museum of the American Indian—Washington, DC
  • Mitchell Museum of the American Indian—Evanston, Illinois
  • Tamastslikt Cultural Institute—Pendleton, Oregon
  • Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center & Museum – Sells, Arizona

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