Storytelling has long been a powerful way to pass on knowledge in American Indian communities. Through imaginative storytelling and art, “The Return” conveys environmental health from an American Indian perspective. Native languages, however, typically lack equivalent terms for “environmental health” and “public health.” An illustrated story was seen as the most effective way to engage Tribal communities, from teens to elders, in conversations about environmental health and the healing power of their own traditional knowledge. One of the goals of this Native Tradition, Environment and Community Health Project was to find out how American Indian ways of understanding the world and place in it differ from the Western concept of environmental health. Surveys, interviews, and talking circles identified three core themes of Native environmental health: community, wellness, and inter-relationship. “The Return” was created from the findings. It is a dreamlike account of a Native woman and her baby, and tells how these three concepts are passed to the next generation. The book also contains a discussion guide and suggestions for related art projects.
In partnership with Nicholas (“Nico”) Salazar, a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), we created a comic/coloring book version of The Return and distributed it to NWIC, IAIA, and at the 2013 AIHEC student conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin.