Today’s blog is written by Lisa Falk, lead curator for ASM’s new exhibit Through the Eyes of the Eagle: Illustrating Healthy Living.
Terrol Dew Johnson is an award-winning artist, community organizer, and a nationally recognized activist who lives with type 2 diabetes. He is also one of the co-curators of Arizona State Museum’s newest exhibit Through the Eyes of the Eagle: Illustrating Healthy Living, meant to raise awareness about type 2 diabetes prevention.
In 1996, Johnson co-founded (with Tristan Reader) Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA) in his hometown of Sells, Arizona, the seat of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The nonprofit operates a basketry coop, a farm, a restaurant and encourages the cultivation of, and a return to the use of, native foods through classes, youth programs and through a popular cookbook titled From I’itoli’s Garden. In the exhibit, visitors can browse a copy of the book.
“My people have one of the highest rates of adult-onset diabetes in the nation,” explained Johnson. “Children as young as 6 year old are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and over 50% of the Nation has the disease, although 50 years ago hardly anyone did.” He says through TOCA’s work, “We encourage a return to the use of desert foods as one way of combating the disease. Our traditional diet was much healthier.” Traditional foods include tepary beans, mesquite beans, cholla buds, chia seeds, squashes, acorns, and saguaro fruit.
The theme of the TOCA section of the ASM exhibit illustrates TOCA’s motto of reconnecting to the O’odham Himdag—the Desert People’s lifeways. Johnson explains, “We use wisdom from our past to create solutions for our future.” Visitors view a visual timeline of TOCA’s efforts to increase wellness by revitalizing traditional ways. Through objects and photographs visitors journey from TOCA’s first farm to a community garden to traditional art classes and games to expansion of the farm and the involvement of the community, including training O’odham youth to be farmers and leaders and to invest in their community’s health.
Members of TOCA’s Young O’odham United Through Health (Y.O.U.T.H.) program helped put together two object cases that compare traditional food ways and leisure activities with those popular among youth today.
Videos also enhance the exhibit experience. These include the PBS special on diabetes on the O’odham Nation called Bad Sugar (part of the Unnatural Causes series) and saguaro harvesting and cooking tradtions in a episode of NPTA’s Seasoned with Spirit series. Most striking perhaps, is a short video in which you watch a cooking class presented by Y.O.U.T.H. members and hear them talking about what health means to them, their families and community. Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite (transcript available):
For his efforts with TOCA, Johnson was named one of the top 10 community leaders in 1999 by the Do Something organization. The U.S. President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities gave TOCA the Coming Up Taller award in 2001. And in 2002, both Johnson and Reader won the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World award.
Terrol Dew Johnson is often heard proclaiming, “Farmers may be the doctors of the future.” This is the title of a free presentation he is giving at the College of Public Health on November 9th at 12:00 noon. TOCA will also be present at the November 12th A Healthy Celebration event at ASM. They will have a farm booth where visitors can purchase tepary beans and traditional squash and learn how the O’odham have been successful farmers in the desert for thousands of years. TOCA’s popular Desert Rain Café will also present a cooking demonstration at the fair.