Regional Wellness Conference held in Nome
The Bering Strait Wellness Conference took place Saturday through Monday in Nome and drew about 40 delegates from around the region. They represented city, IRA, and corporations and their objective is to support communities and individuals to thrive and to be healthy and well.
The conference was organized by Panganga Pungowiyi of Kawerak’s Wellness Program and Barb Amarok of the Bering Sea Women’s Group.
Saturday’s keynote speaker was Gene Tagaban, a Cherokee-Tlingit-Filipino from Southeast Alaska. He presented his spiritual ministrations with music, humor, and with tales of his grandmother. “You are a storyteller. Your life is a story. Tell a good story,” he said.
He talked about what he called “Elder training”, describing how he’d seen women in Bethel talking to their yet unborn babies. “We’re stepping into elder training.”
The pervasive theme of his presentation was that we are all storytellers and that our lives are our stories. “Learn how to introduce yourself!” And “What you do is not as important as who you are, where you come from.” Both of these statements are part of our identity, our self image. “Respect them,” he said.
“How many of you have ever been acknowledged as honorable?” he asked. Nobody raised their hand. “How many of you have ever done something stupid?” Everybody in the room raised their hand. “We’re willing to acknowledge a fault, but not will to acknowledge the honorable person that we are. When somebody comes up to thank you they are acknowledging you as an honorable person. Raise your hand and repeat after me: ‘I am honorable. I am worthy.’ Practice it and pass it on. We need to live it, to be that honorable human being.”
Tagaban told how he became a raven dancer, from his first interest as a child and how he developed into performing the raven dance. He donned his raven regalia and performed the dance.
“And so, I encourage others to tell their stories,” he told the group. “To live their stories. Learn how to introduce yourself. And that you are honorable. Be who you are. And teach your children that they will be who they are. And that they are loved. And let them make mistakes, because you have made mistakes. And you still love them.”
The keynote speaker on Sunday was Dr. Jean Kilbourne, who presented “The Naked Truth: Advertising’s Image of Women.”
Dr. Kilbourne is recognized for her work on images of women presented by advertising and the media and how it affects public health issues, particularly violence against women. She also has done significant work on the advertising of alcohol and tobacco. She first published these ideas in the late 1960s and was considered to be a radical. But her ideas are now mainstream and her groundbreaking work is recognized internationally. She promotes media literacy, the understanding of how Americans are being manipulated, as a defense against the constant onslaught of distorted images.
She introduced herself to the conference as a survivor of abuse herself, and as a recovering alcoholic.
“Domestic violence can’t be solved by treating the survivors,” she said. “The environment has to change.” She described how advertising is a powerful educational force in our lives and how marketers are constantly coming up with new ways to influence us both consciously and subconsciously. “Babies at the age of six can recognize corporate logos,” she said, and explained the importance of establishing brand loyalty from a young age. “The ads are absolute nonsense but the issues are not.”
Advertising sells values. When people buy a product they are buying an image. “They tell us who we are and who we should be,” she said. “And that what’s most important is how we look.”
She criticized the use of the computer imaging software Photoshop for its use in the manipulation of photos to show women in an ideal state that no woman can compare to. Projecting side-by-side images of Brad Pitt and a beautiful woman, she said, “The man gets to look like a human being.” The woman’s image had been seriously altered while Pitt looked like himself.
She told the crowd that before travelling to Nome she tried to find an image of an Alaska Native woman in an advertisement with no luck. She called this absence “symbolic annihilation.”
“We grow up in a culture where women’s bodies are turned into things,” she said. “It creates a climate in which there’s widespread violence against women.”
She spoke at length on the effect advertising and popular media has on young girls. It affects their self-image, their self-esteem, and their view of the world they live in.
“The changes will have to be profound and global,” she said.