By B.L. Azure

MISSOULA — Oral tradition or storytelling is in the DNA of the aboriginal tribal people of America. Throughout time tribal tradition, culture and history have been passed from generation to generation via tongue and/or hand.

Only relatively recently have American Indians been penning their stories, their histories, their rights. That has added dimension and substance to a people left out in the cold in the Western narrative of America. That narrative marginalized them, and rendered them nearly invisible and inconsequential to the dominant society.

“We believe through digital storytelling, individuals who have remained invisible in mainstream America can now speak their inner truths and deep-seated wisdom,” said nDigiDreams owner-trainer Carmella Rodriquez. “We want our critical indigenous perspective to be part of the larger dialogue and our tribal sovereignty and social justice issues part of the action plan.”

The Indian narrative is out there but not enough — more is needed because the stories are endless and unique. Also out there are new avenues that transfer the stories from the hand of the creator to the eyes and ears of the reader/viewer.

The wide avenue of transferring stories these days is through the Internet where word and visual can be seen by millions upon millions of people worldwide.

Last week at the University of Montana a diverse group of Indian and non-Indian health care professionals participated in a workshop that emphasized modern technology as a route to disseminate the Indian narrative related to health issues.

Nine people, including folks from the UM School of Pharmacy, Montana Cancer Institute, Montana Neuroscience Institute, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Health and Human Services Department, Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders and members of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Traumatic Brain Injury advisory group attended the Digital Storytelling Workshop facilitated by nDigiDreams, a minority-women owned enterprise from the Southwest.

“The main objective of the workshop is to tell our story in first person,” Rodriquez said. “Indians are natural storytellers.”

The stories the group wants to tell are related to the health of American Indians.

The medical professionals based in Missoula have been working with THHS conducting pharmacogenetic research. The goal is to find out how American Indians respond to various pharmaceuticals used to treat various deceases including cancer as well as other types of injuries. It is now common knowledge that genetic makeup has an effect on how a person responds to medications.

Multi-media productions can help spread that information as well as other pertinent health related information to healthcare professionals in and out of Indian Country as well as regular folks.

“Indians have a unique perspective. Their core values, beliefs and world view should be told in their voice,” said nDigiDreams owner-trainer Brenda Manuelito. “There is power in that voice and power in productions tailored to the Indian community. There are stories only they can tell.”

At the workshop the participants learned how to create short three-to-five minute informational productions using video, photographs, music and voice narrative. The end product is similar to a TV news program story.

The digital stories can be used: to improve the provision and quality of health care; to increase health communication and health literacy among rural and underserved individuals and communities; to increase minority student recruitment and retention in health professional schools and tribal colleges and universities; to educate local communities and tribal leaders about critical social, environmental and policy issues; to train health service providers, policymakers and educators; and, to restore and reclaim unique and varied tribal cultures, languages and histories.

“This is a really good way for me to explain diabetes prevention or management,” said Brenda Bodner of the THHS Diabetes Prevention Program.

The information could be interactive and disseminated to households hooked to the Internet and smart phones.

nDigiDreams has conducted workshops on every reservation in Montana, except Rocky Boy’s and Flathead.

Digital storytelling emerged as a grassroots movement in the early 1990s. It uses new digital tools to help diverse people create personal narratives that are powerfully compelling and emotionally engaging.

It is a community-based, learner-centered approach that combines first person narrative with digital images and music. Digital stories provide alternative views and perspectives that demystify stereotyped representations about indigenous peoples.

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