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NIH Observes American Indian, Alaska Native Heritage

By Michael Chew

Photos by Bill Branson

NIH held its second annual American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month observance recently at the Natcher Conference Center's main auditorium. The trans-NIH event was organized by the American Indian/Alaska Native Employee Council (AIANEC) and sponsored by many ICs as well the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management.

Samuel Tom Holiday, a Navajo "code talker," addresses the observance.

NHLBI's Frank L. GrayShield, a member of the Washoe tribe who serves as president of AIANEC, welcomed the audience and introduced Clayton Old Elk, a Crow tribal member and Indian Health Service employee who provided the invocation and thanked NIH for hosting the event.

"American Indian and Alaska native contributions to U.S. society have been numerous and significant, ranging from the use and development of herbal medicines, to participation in research studies that led to the development of vaccines for hepatitis B and influenza," said NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein, in opening remarks. She talked about her own and NIH's many collaborations with American Indians in pursuit of biomedical research.

Bill Crouse (r) demonstrates use of the traditional "water drum" during a performance by the Allegany River Dancers.

The Allegany River Dancers perform an intertribal "pow wow" style dance. The group specializes in Iroquois social dance presentations, and has performed throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Dr. Jared B. Jobe of NHLBI, a Cherokee, introduced keynote speaker A. Paul Ortega, Mescalero Apache and a traditional healer. He is a former member of the NIH advisory board on alternative medicine and also former director, Traditional Medicine Initiative, IHS. He spoke with first-hand experience on the program's theme "Embracing Traditions for a Brighter Future: A Bridge to Scientific Research."

The audience also enjoyed a special treat — a talk by Samuel Tom Holiday, a Navajo "code talker" who served with the Fourth Marine Division, 25th Regiment, H&S Company during World War II. He participated in the campaigns on the islands of Roi-Namur, Tinian, Saipan and Iwo Jima. Holiday was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, signifying bravery and valor of the highest standard.

A. Paul Ortega, a member of the Mescalero Apache, spoke about traditional medicine. He is a recent IHS retiree.

The program was closed by Dr. Clifton A. Poodry of NIGMS, a Seneca who introduced the Allegany River Dancers led by Bill Crouse. The audience enjoyed a performance of Iroquois social dance as well as their repertoire of intertribal "pow wow"-style dances.

To learn more about AIANEC, contact Frank GrayShield at 594-2373 or Cheryl White at 496-3350.


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