Almost ten years ago a wonderful dream of a wise eagle that could teach Native American children how to lead a healthy lifestyle sparked the imagination of two women working with the UNM Native American Diabetes Program (NADP). That dream grew into a project that is helping children across the country; one that includes books, DVDs and artwork that were featured at the Smithsonian and is now in New Mexico.
“Through the Eyes of the Eagle: Illustrating Healthy Living for Children,” features the original artwork for the program and runs from January 31, 2009, through May 25, 2009 at the All Indian Pueblo Culture Center. The project began with the work of former UNM faculty member Janette Carter, M.D., and Community Health Representative Georgia Perez.
Carter began her career working on diabetes management at the Indian Health Services in 1985. She then joined the faculty of the Department of Internal Medicine at UNM. She founded the UNM Native American Diabetes Program (NADP), funded through the NIH to create and test curriculum in diabetes management and prevention for American Indian and Alaskan Native adults. However, she was very concerned about the growing problem of type 2 diabetes in AI/AN children and youth.
One of her co-workers, Community Health Representative Georgia Perez of Nambe Pueblo, told her of a dream she had one night, a wonderful story about an eagle talking to a child.
Janette was so impressed by the dream imagery that she made the eagle the symbol of the work they were doing. The two continued to talk about the dream and began to imagine developing a series of children’s books with a story of an eagle talking to a child. The idea was of similar to the Little Golden Books of our childhood – but with the goal of helping Native American children to live a healthy lifestyle that would prevent type 2 diabetes.
Plans for the Eagle Books, as well as testing a diabetes prevention program, were funded in part through an NIH grant in 2001.
Tragically, Carter, her husband and one of her two sons, were killed in a small airplane accident while on vacation in Alaska that year. Perez, with support from the NDAP, continued to work on the text of a series of four books that foster awareness about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for diabetes prevention. The NADP staff conducted focus groups and formative research with more than 400 representatives from 141 Indian communities around the country.
In 2004, the National Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee decided to fund efforts in diabetes prevention for children and looked to the CDC Diabetes Wellness Program staff to assist with these efforts. A partnership was formed amongst tribal leaders, UNM Native American Diabetes Program, Indian Health Services and the illustrators, with the CDC Native Diabetes Wellness Program to fully develop the ideas of Janette and Perez. The four Eagle Books were completed in 2006. Through CDCs efforts, a DVD has been developed as well as plans for a nationwide outreach campaign for diabetes prevention highlighting the Eagle Books.
The stories continue traditional Native American storytelling practices, while addressing a relevant issue in today’s society. Wise animal characters and a clever trickster coyote are featured in the books and engage the lead character, Rain That Dances, and his friends in the joy of physical activity and healthy eating. The titles of the books in the series are:Through the Eyes of the Eagle, Plate Full of Color, Knees Lifted HighandTricky Treats.
The books have now been adopted nationally by the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee – a group of elected Tribal Leaders from around the country - and are being used to reach out to the children of American Indian and Alaska Native communities and teach them about preventing diabetes.
The original artwork for the books was shown in 2008 at the Smithsonian Museum of Indian Art. The exhibit features vibrant artwork by Patrick Rolo (Bad River Band of Ojibwe, Wisconsin) and Lisa A. Fifield (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, Black Bear Clan). In conjunction with the display, CDC will work with their contractors and partners to provide a week-long outreach campaign for the Eagle Books, which will include storytelling, Talking Circles and a number of promotional and educational activities.
UNM is also co-hosting an evening to honor Janette Carter’s dreams on February 28tat the Pueblo Cultural Center through funds left in an endowment to Janette and her family. In addition these funds are sponsoring part of the outreach activities at the Pueblo Cultural Center.
Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322