Taking control of the medium – and the message

OKMULGEE, Okla. – “We’ve put our spin on the Eagle Books diabetes materials for kids, which gives us ownership of the message. It’s us, and that makes it powerful,” said Ted Isham, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, curator of the tribe’s Creek Capitol House Museum.

The series of four books for young readers, written by Georgia Perez and illustrated by Patrick Rolo (Bad River Band of Ojibwe) and Lisa A. Fifield (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin), uses animal characters – Mr. Eagle, Miss Rabbit and others – to inspire young children to exercise, eat wholesome foods and learn traditional ways of keeping healthy from their elders. The CDC’s Native Diabetes Wellness Program developed the volumes in collaboration with the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee and the Indian Health Service (IHS). Each of the four also exists in an animated video format.

“When we started this project, the tribal leaders told us the important part would be finding the right stories to illustrate this issue. That’s because Native people have no existing traditional stories about diabetes, which did not exist in their communities until recently,” said Dawn Satterfield, RN, PhD, health educator with the Centers for Disease Control. Satterfield noted the Chickasaw Nation is also using the Eagle Books as part of a health-oriented outreach program.

The books and videos were originally produced in English, said Isham, but then it was proposed that an exhibit of the illustrations travel from the CDC’s Global Health Odyssey Museum in Atlanta to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s museum. In figuring out how the set of artworks – called “Through the Eyes of the Eagle” – would fit into the focus of the Creek facility, the idea of tribal spin on the materials emerged, he said.

“Our museum focuses on Creek history and culture, so at first the books appeared to be outside our purview. But we got our medical team and diabetes program involved, along with the Mvskoke Language Institute, a language-preservation group, and we thought of translating them into Creek. People saw the potential, and enthusiasm grew.”

Today, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation project has translated one book into Creek and, using the CDC’s Atlanta studios, has transformed two of the animations into two formats – one with Creek language and English subtitles, the other with English language and Creek subtitles, said Isham. “Our elders saw the sense in this when we joined the visuals with the two languages. And our kids responded very well to the media and the message.”

The material wasn’t translated word-for-word, though, he said. “We added our worldview to make them ours.”

The most time-intensive part of the process was sound editing for the videos, according to Isham. “We anticipate finishing the four books and four videos by the end of 2010. The material is in the public domain, so eventually we’ll offer it all to the schools and whoever else wants it.”

The Eagle Books exhibit, which has also appeared at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C, and New York City, opened at the Creek Capitol House Museum in conjunction with a popular June health fair and tribal festival. The show will run until Sept. 25. For information on visiting the museum, call (918) 756-2324 or the nation’s toll-free number, (800) 482-1979.