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Courage and Vision at Native American Health Writers Institute

By Miles White
Tribal Connections

Click here for a slide show of photographs taken at the Native American Health Writers Institute.

Native American professionals from around the country came together at the University of New Mexico at Gallup in May for the Native American Health Writers Conference, the first of its kind, sponsored by the university through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control.

Participants came from as far away as South Dakota, Nebraska, Washington, D.C. and Maryland, and were selected among dozens who applied to the 10-day institute, the aim of which was to develop health information material that would benefit the health and well-being of their respective communities.

Photo of Angela Farnsworth working on her project at the Native American Health Writers Institute

Angela Farnsworth works on her project at the Native American Health Writers Institute, held last spring at the University of New Mexico in Gallup
(Photo courtesy of Health Writers Institute)

Students designed projects they themselves felt strongly about, and that addressed critical health, spiritual and well-being issues from their own communities. The results were ambitious, courageous and visionary, some addressing issues that had long been buried in silence. The projects ranged from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and domestic violence against children to better school nutrition for kids and the importance of good cervical health for women.

Each participant designed a newsletter, pamphlet or brochure addressing their particular concern, with plans to have them distributed to their tribal communities at the end of the program. The projects included the research, writing and editing of textual material as well as the graphic design and layout of the brochures. While all were experienced professionals, some had little experience doing computer design, but they learned it along the way.

"It did scare me because I'm not well educated with computers and software," said Belinda Joe, a part-time cultural consultant from South Dakota. "I went there with the thought 'I don't know if I can do this,' but I had a strong desire to do this and I got help from the instructors and our ancestors. The energy is moving now. I am blessed."

The program also included instructors from the university and elsewhere who taught sessions on writing, online health research and other areas.

"I thought it was very wonderful. There was so much that I needed to know. It would be wonderful if this was one of a series of institutes that put us on the path to refining the skills that we learned there," said Lanniko Lee, an adjunct instructor at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota, who learned desktop publishing and design in one of the programs' two computer labs. "I really have to admit I ate it up, I really enjoyed it. That's been the high point of my whole year."

The institute was conceived and organized by UNM Assistant Professor Pamela Stovall, who hopes to run the institute again next year.

"It was an incredible experience. Everybody was very enthusiastic and you could tell they were getting a lot out it. They left so excited about what they had learned," says Stovall. "We're currently looking for funding to bring the program back again next year. We had to turn a lot of people away this year, and I'm looking forward to running it again so those people can have the opportunity to participate."

Page 1 of June 2004 Secondary Feature Article 

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