This election cycle has been nothing if not destructive. It has forced into public eye ongoing discussions about the social rights of many groups in the United States, including women, LGBTQ+ persons, Muslims, disabled people, and people of all nonwhite races and ethnicities. Even more prominent for the Native American community specifically is the controversy surrounding the invasion of Native nations’ land for the construction of the Dakota access pipeline. How can a relatively small population in south-central Pennsylvania join this dialogue? A local college offers an exciting educational opportunity for those seeking to learn more about the likenesses and differences between the predominately white American culture of south-central PA and the culture of those facing extreme challenges at Standing Rock and across America.
Franklin & Marshall College’s Martin Library of the Sciences is currently hosting “Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness”, an exhibition created by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). By means of the American Library Association (ALA), 104 individual host sites are presenting the exhibit, which includes banners of information on traditional wellness methods employed by Native Americans as well as interactive slideshows and artifacts from the original exhibition in Bethesda, MD. More importantly, the exhibit features highlights from a series of over 100 interviews in a five-year span. These interviews with prominent members of Native cultures, including those in Alaska and Hawai’i, presenting traditional views on health and wellness and doing so in a way that preserves the treasured oral tradition of many Native American nations.
The exhibit offers an opportunity for dialogue to begin between non-Native and Native Americans about medicine and healing. The topical focuses of the exhibit are the role of the individual, the role of the community, the reverence of tradition, the connection of health to nature, and the idea of healing itself, in both traditional and western ways. What kind of assumptions to we, as westerners, make about the practice of healing and the history of medicine? What ideas about wellness do we hold which are largely due to our own culture and history? How does our respect (or lack thereof) of nature as a wellness component compare to that of Native Americans? Many questions along this line of thought are addressed directly in the exhibit, which provides plenty of resources in the form of illustrations, timelines, and of course, stories told by Native leaders as preserved by oral tradition.
Two complementary displays have also been created for the exhibit. One, housed in Martin Library of the Sciences along with the main exhibit, is titled ‘What is Native American Literature? Who and What is a “Native Voice”?’. This exhibit provides recommended reading, courtesy of Bernadette Lear, in areas such as autobiography and criticism. It also draws to the attention of the viewer the notable differences between Native American history as written by non-Natives and the oral traditions of Native Americans themselves.
The second, ‘Native Voices: Selections from Franklin & Marshall College’s Zine Library & Artists’ Books Collection,’ is available in the Shadek-Fackenthal Library, and offers a glimpse into Native American student life at Franklin & Marshall. On December 6, the college will also be hosting a performance by the Eastern Woodland Pathways Dance Troupe and Spirit Wing at its Steinman College Center. “Native Voices” opened on November 11 and will be open to the public until December 20.
NOTE: The featured image is Water Ceremony (1970), by artist Franklin Fireshaker, Ponca, Watercolor on Board.