By DAVID J. HILL
As a toddler, Katherine Connelly cherished Disney’s “Pocahontas.” It advised a gorgeous story of two individuals from totally different cultures who fell in love. Or, so she thought. The fact, nonetheless, is that Pocahontas was solely about 10 when the European colonist John Smith kidnapped her, raped her, pressured her into marriage after which pressured her to surrender her household’s tobacco secrets and techniques.
None of that, in fact, is within the Disney movie. However when thousands and thousands of People take into consideration Indigenous historical past and tradition, “Pocahontas” and John Wayne films are a reference level.
That’s why a brand new course being taught within the Faculty of Public Well being and Well being Professions is so vital, says Connelly, who graduated from the college’s grasp of public well being program final spring and took the course taught by UB alumnus Dean Seneca.
“You possibly can’t deal with shifting ahead with out acknowledging the atrocities of the previous,” Connelly says. “And that’s to not guilt anybody. That’s to not disgrace individuals. That’s to convey consciousness and encourage individuals to make true change, identical to Dean is doing. He modified my life and he modified the lives of lots of the college students on this class. I wouldn’t be on my path with out him.”
Seneca’s Indigenous well being disparities course goals to show college students the actual histories of American Indian and Alaska Native individuals, and the way the injustices they confronted created lots of the well being disparities that stay immediately.
“I deliberately created the course to convey my college students by way of a really convoluted and traditionally misrepresented historical past of American Indians and Alaska Natives on this nation,” says Seneca, who obtained his bachelor’s diploma in planning and environmental design from the Faculty of Structure and Planning (he obtained the college’s Distinguished Alumni award in 2019).
“And I actually entrench us in that as a result of you’ll be able to’t change in the event you don’t know the place you had been. If my college students need to be public well being professionals and dealing in tribal communities, they need to have an understanding of what actually occurred,” provides Seneca, who along with serving as an adjunct teacher in SPHHP is CEO of the consulting agency Seneca Scientific Options+.
The genesis of the course stemmed from a chat Seneca gave on American Indian and Alaska Native well being disparities in September 2020 as a part of the Division of Group Well being and Well being Conduct’s Brown Bag Lectures sequence.
Seneca credit SPHHP Dean Jean Wactawski-Wende with making the course a actuality and acknowledging that the college wanted to do extra to enhance variety and fairness. “It’s actually by way of her management as a dean and wanting to vary that we’ve got this course on Indigenous well being disparities for the college,” he says, including that he’s “so proud that UB has taken this step to create such a course.”
What actually occurred was a complete host of atrocities that aren’t taught in American excessive faculties, says Connelly, who now works for Seneca’s consulting agency. “It’s soul-crushing and there was not one week in school the place I wasn’t shedding a tear, the place my soul didn’t really feel the injustice of tons of of years that I by no means understood, and I by no means will perceive,” she says. “Despite the fact that I can’t perceive it, Dean impressed me to be part of the answer.”
The primary a number of weeks of the course are dedicated to the injustices Indigenous populations endured by the hands of the U.S. authorities. Seneca covers first contact, the Elimination Act of 1830 and the numerous so-called “Trails of Tears,” during which tens of 1000’s of American Indians had been forcibly faraway from their homelands within the southeastern U.S. and relocated west of the Mississippi River, in addition to the Dawes Act of 1887, which allowed the federal authorities to interrupt up tribal lands.
He additionally covers the federal authorities’s makes an attempt to “assimilate” Native People into the mainstream American lifestyle by way of boarding faculties the place illness ran rampant. Native American college students in these faculties had been raped and overwhelmed; college students who didn’t do as instructed had been withheld meals.
“These boarding faculties had been militarized focus camps, and the abuses there have been insurmountable,” Seneca says. “This was a labor pressure for white America. They didn’t educate the Indians at these boarding faculties how you can be docs and legal professionals. They taught them to be servants.”
And that’s solely a snippet of what Seneca teaches within the class. All of those horrific occasions serve to kind for college kids a foundation of the severity of the well being disparities confronted by Indigenous populations.
“With this complete historical past are lots of traumas,” he says. “We as native individuals are very resilient, we’re very powerful, we’re very robust. We’ve survived these traumas, however we’ve by no means healed from them, and that’s why we’ve got all these well being disparities and well being situations that we’ve got immediately.”
Take, for instance, the truth that Indigenous individuals are at greater threat than the overall U.S. inhabitants for a spread of well being situations, together with heart problems, unintentional accidents, continual liver illness and diabetes, amongst others, in accordance with the Indian Well being Service.
“We discuss why we’ve got these addictions, home violence issues and alcohol issues,” says Seneca. “Is it the genetic distinction of Native individuals? Properly, no. It’s that traumatic historical past we’ve got that we’ve survived however by no means healed from. So within the class we discuss issues like social determinants of well being and intergenerational trauma.”
The category, nonetheless, shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. Seneca additionally touches on Indigenous function fashions, invitations Indigenous visitor audio system to speak to the category, and discusses conventional strategies of therapeutic, that are used extra to consolation than to remedy.
“We discuss how we heal from this. By then, all the scholars within the class are pumped up and excited — after which we’ve got to finish it and everyone’s depressed as a result of we’ve reached the purpose the place a full understanding of issues involves mild,” he says.
Connelly took the course final spring and says it must be a requirement for all UB college students.
“It’s solely inside the previous eight months of my life, and I’m nearly 28, that I’ve gotten to really perceive the historical past of the USA of America, and it’s not a reasonably image,” she says. “What Dean did for me, although, was to instill a way of hope, that sure, these horrible issues have occurred, however what can we do to heal now?”