Wes Studi Encourages Natives to Eat Healthy Foods, Play Traditional Games
Riding a horse in the wide-open plains, renowned Cherokee actor Wes Studi stares into the camera and delivers a message to Indian country: Through eating healthy, traditional foods and being physically active, Natives can prevent obesity and diabetes.
The video, which is available in 30-second and one-minute public service announcement formats and as an eight-minute clip entitled Our Cultures Are Our Source of Health, was created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Diabetes Translation, the Native Diabetes Wellness Program and the Traditional Foods Program’s tribal partners.
The goal of the film is to highlight the wisdom of cultural knowledge, including harvesting local foods and playing traditional games and dancing. In the clips, Native youth are seen playing a fun and competitive game of lacrosee. In the longer version, Studi joins in the stickball game.
The PSAs were filmed on site at the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. In addition to Studi, the PSAs feature representatives from tribal partners across the country.
“Hopefully we can be the solution to preventing Type 2 diabetes …by promoting eating more traditional foods and playing our traditional games,” said Studi, known for his movie roles including Avatar, The Last of the Mohicans, and Dances With Wolves. Studi also gave testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs committee at the "The Way Out of the Diabetes Crisis in Indian Country" hearing June 30, 2010.
The Cherokee Nation is among many tribes advocating for its members to reclaim their health. Cora Flute, the health educator who oversees the Cherokee Nation's Traditional Foods Project, recently told the University of Oklahoma’s American Indian Institute that their program will “continue to increase awareness that traditional foods are a part of our past that has sustained us and kept us healthy. Community and family gardens were essentials in access to fresh healthy foods and physical activity was part of staying healthy," she said.
Flute expressed her gratitude for being able to take part in the health promotion message, noting that it is about “finding ways within ourselves as individuals, Indian people preventing diseases such as type 2 diabetes.” She added that tribal community members should be acknowledged for “bringing people together” to share these messages in meaningful ways.
Aubrey Skye, who coordinates the Traditional Foods Program on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation, echoed Flute’s statement. Skye, who played stickball in the films, noted that while it is not a traditional Lakota game, he enjoyed playing and learning that the social form of stickball “includes everybodyelders, youth, men, and women, anyone who wants to play. All are part of the circle.” Stickball and lacrosse are traditional games of a number of tribes. Stickball was sometimes referred to as “the little brother of war,” as it helped to resolve conflicts. Skye drove 15 hours to Tahlequah with a Lakota elder, Mrs. Loretta Bad Heart Bull, to participate in the filming and to connect with a friend from the Tribe of Delaware Indians.
“The message is that even in the 21st century with the problems we face today, traditional ways have health benefits for now and for future generations,” explained Skye. “We already have everything we need,” he said, referring to traditional ecological knowledge about the connection between the land and health.
Cherokee Nation Sequoyah High School senior, Mahli McNac, who plays stickball in the films said, “It’s cool to be part of this message.”
In addition to the generous contributions of community members and the Cherokee Nation Healthy Nation program and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, representatives from the following programs also participated: the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa in Upper Michigan, Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Salish Kootenai College in Montana. The Young Kingbird drum group from Red Lake, Minnesota, contributed music for the audio production. The Red Lake Nation hosted all of the Traditional Foods partners in September, 2012, for their biannual meeting where the Young Kingbird group performed for the partners and community. The Talking Leaves Job Corps, Cherokee Nation, generously cooked and displayed the banquet table filled with food from all four directions for the filming. Tohono O’odham Community Action (Arizona) sent tepary beans grown on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Watch the videos here: