Film & Literature Module: TUBERCULOSIS AMONG THE NAVAJO

Created by Rhiannon Sorrell (Diné), MLIS, MA, 2014

Adaptable To:

  • Intro to American Indian Studies
  • Contemporary American Indian Issues
  • History and Philosophy of the Diné People
  • Gender and Women's Studies
  • Various Indigenous Public Health Studies

 

Relevant Search Terms

  • Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo Indians - Biography
  • Navajo Indians - Health and Hygiene
  • Indians of North America - Medical Care
  • Indians of North America -  Medicine
  • Native Americans (and) Disease
  • Folk Medicine (of) Native Americans
  • (treatment of) diseases
  • (treatment of) sickness

 

Primary Sources

  • Another to Conquer (1941) in the Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project.
  • Neithammer, Carolyn. I'll Go and Do More: Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo Leader and Activist (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001).

 

Introduction to the Sources

  • The Film:
    • This scripted 1941 film portrays the devastating impact tuberculosis has on Native Americans, particularly the Navajo. The primary aim of this film is to raise awareness about the threat TB poses to Navajo families and individuals who, at the time, did not seek medical attention, or even believe that the disease existed. Superstition and matters of spiritual belief had a strong influence on an individual's decision to go to a hospital or to the sanatorium for treatment and recovery.
  • The Book:
    • This book is an autobiography of Annie Dodge Wauneka, a Navajo politician and health care educator who played an essential role in the treatment and control of tuberculosis on the Navajo Nation. After being elected into tribal office and immediately being appointed as the head of the council's Health and Welfare Committee, Wauneka dedicated herself to learning more about the disease and educating her people about their illnesses and how to seek treatment. Drawing on interviews, recorded speeches, and correspondence, the author captures a compelling portrait a woman who became known as the "legendary mother of the Navajo Nation."
  • Their Conversation:
    • Neithammer's book and the film are tied by the various elements they share: Tuberculosis among the Navajo, disease prevention, and health education. Their essential difference lies in their approach to the people's spirituality and livelihood. Wauneka's endeavors to improve the state of Indian health addresses the people's fears and superstition regarding hospitals and sanatorium visits, as well as the concerns patients have for their families and flock at home, in a culturally respectful and sensitive manner. The film, though well-intentioned, may come off as being dismissive of Navajo spirituality and culture, by using fear-tactics to persuade audiences.

 

Background

Annie Dodge Wauneka, daughter of Navajo chairman and leader Henry Chee Dodge, was born into the traditional Navajo lifestyle of sheepherding. In 1918, at eight years old, Annie was sent to a reservation boarding school in Fort Defiance, Arizona. While attending, an influenza epidemic struck, killing many of her classmates. Annie came away with only a mild case of the disease, which left her resistant; this allowed her  to care for others who were too ill to care for themselves. She later went to the Albuquerque Indian School, where she completed the eleventh grade at the age of 19. Afterward, she married George Wauneka and moved back to the reservation.

In 1951, Annie ran for, and was elected into, Navajo tribal council. Upon being elected, she was appointed to the head of the Health and Welfare Committee. One of foremost problems that she was confronted with was the tuberculosis epidemic. Annie dedicated herself to learning as much as she could about the disease and traveled across the reservation lands and sanatoriums in the area to educate the people about the disease, preventative measures, and treatment. She created a Navajo dictionary of medical terminology and procedures so as to make it easier for healthcare workers to communicate better with patients. Her three term tenure in tribal council was marked by her dedication to improve the health and welfare of the Navajo tribe.

Annie continued to strive for better housing and sanitation conditions as well as other health care concerns including prenatal and neonatal care for women, regular exams, and alcoholism. Annie died in 1997 at the age of 87.

 

Objectives

It is first and foremost hoped that the participant will enjoy viewing the film and learning about Annie Dodge Wauneka. Upon following the viewing and reading guides and engaging in discussion, readers will:

  • Have a working knowledge about the TB epidemic among the Navajo and the health campaigns initiated to control it.
  • Investigate the various approaches and proposed solutions to the epidemic and what impact they had on the Native individual.
  • Develop and defend their own views about the strengths and weaknesses of each educational approach as well as the underlying implications of each approach.
  • Think critically about the reconciliation and integrations of both approaches an how it could benefit both health care providers and reinforce the self-determination of the Native individual, who has long had a troubled experience with Western medicine providers.

 

The Plan

Watch the film, Another to Conquer. While watching, take note of:

  • The transition that occurs at the beginning of the film; contrast the opening images of the film to the characters portrayed in the rest of the film.
  • The word "enemy" and how it used throughout the film. The explanations of the disease, both from the Navajo perspective and the Western, medical perspective. The many uses and contexts of the word "fight."
  • Portrayal of boarding schools and Indian health facilities compared to popular perceptions. The medical terminology and procedures and how they are conceptualized and translated to the Navajo patient. Navajo attitudes toward bed rest and recovery and how it contrasts with traditional ceremonial healing.
  • The comparison of healing to warfare.

Read from page 79 from the section titled "Widespread Tuberculosis Infection Discovered" to page 96, the end of the chapter of I'll Go and Do More. While reading, take note of: Additional treatment options available to Navajo patients and the failure of their implementation. Additional concerns Navajo patients had about going to hospitals and sanatoriums. The expression "self-determination" and how it relates to the individual in their choice to seek treatment Annie's methods of outreach and the source of her empathy. The Navajo view of illness, disease, and treatment, and how the Western course of treatment conflicts with these views. Annie's methods of educating her people and how she accommodates for their concerns. How Annie dealt with particularly reluctant people. How Annie incorporates traditional remedies with Western ones.

 

Discussion Kindling

  • Compare and contrast Robert and Annie's roles as health educators. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What influence does gender have on these strengths and weaknesses? From a Western perspective? From a Navajo perspective?
  • Think of the words "empowerment" and "self-determination." Are they essentially the same? How do they relate to the film and to the book? Who is empowered or considered self determined? Who is portrayed to have positions of authority?
  • To what degree do you think that gender has an effect on the success of this particular health campaign?
  • How successful do you think incorporating terms such as "fight," "enemy," "warfare," and "conquer" in the video was to the overall goal of the campaign? Is it empowering? Or, does it reinforce stereotypes of Native Americans being recalcitrant, violent, and combative?
  • What is your opinion towards Slow Talker's concession? Does he sound defeated? Ashamed? Do you think this was the film makers' intention? How do you think Annie would've counseled Slow Talker?

 

Further Reading

  • More about Annie Dodge Wauneka: Neithammer, Carolyn. Keeping the Rope Straight: Anne Dodge Wauneka's Life of Service to the Navajo (Flagstaff: Salina Bookself Inc., 2006).
  • For a narrative account by a Native American tuberculosis survivor, see: St. Pierre, Scott. Madonna Swan: A Lakota Woman's Story (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

 

Related Texts

Abel, Emily K., and Nancy Reifel. “Interactions between Public Health Nurses and Clients on American Indian Reservations in the 1930s.” Women and Health in America: Historical Readings. Ed. Judith Walzer Leavitt, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999): 489–505.

Young, T. Kue. The Health of Native Americans : Toward a Biocultural Epidemiology (New York : Oxford University Press, 1994).

Reifel, Nancy. “American Indian Views of Public-Health Nursing, 1930–1950.” Medicine Ways: Disease, Health, and Survival among Native Americans. Ed. Clifford E. Trafzer and Diane Weiner, (New York: AltaMira Press, 2001): 95–107.

Stodder, Ann L. W., and Debra L. Martin. "Health and Disease in the Southwest before and After Spanish Contact." Disease and Demography in the Americas. Eds. John W. Verano and Douglas H. Ubelaker, (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian, 1992): 55-73.

Strigler, Marie-Claude. "Navajo Traditional Understanding of Disease and Healing." European Review of Native American Studies 15.1 (2001): 19-28.

Trafzer, Clifford E., and Diane Weiner. "Disease, Health, and Survival among Native Americans." American Indian Culture and Research Journal 23.3 (1999).