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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
An Actor, Pride, and Native Peoples’s Health: 06/11/2012

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.listen

I recently received Eskimo Star, a biography that rediscovers Ray Mala (the Alaska Native who became a movie star in the 1930s).

The book reinforces many key issues discussed by some of the Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians featured in NLM’s current exhibition Native Voices: Native peoples’ concepts of health and illness. These issues include the importance of history in the development of community pride, and celebrating native peoples’ achievements to foster health and wellness.

The book explains Ray Mala’s Hollywood career spanned three decades and 25 films. He starred in Eskimo, a high profile film released in 1933. Mala had a lead role in one of the more celebrated Hollywood serial films of the 1930s, Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island.  

Mala also worked behind the screen; his career as a cinematographer included working with Alfred Hitchcock. Mala’s diverse film making skills spurred the unlikely success of Igloo, one of the first independently produced films in Hollywood history. Igloo was filmed in Barrow, Alaska in 1931 and featured an all-Inupiat cast. The book describes the skill and cunning of the producers and actors, who overcame logistical and financial headwinds to make the film.

Eskimo Star also reminds us Mala was the first non-white male leading actor in the history of American motion pictures. Along the way Mala befriended some of the best-known Hollywood stars of the first half of the 20th century including Dorothy Lamour and Johnny Weissmuller.

Mala additionally was an expert kayaker (from navigating the unforgiving Arctic Ocean earlier in life) and gave occasional studio-publicized kayak lessons on Santa Monica beach.

Although Ray Mala died in 1952, Eskimo Star relives his importance in Hollywood’s history and resurrects a point-of-pride for Alaska Natives that is indirectly addressed by many native interviewees in NLM’s current exhibition, Native Voices: Native peoples’ concepts of health and illness.

Many of the more than 60 exhibition’s interviewees explain there are important links between health and the resurrection of cultural and community pride among Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Within the exhibition, perhaps the point is best made by Native Hawaiians — who equate the successful reconstruction and voyages of a hokule’a (a sea-faring ancient catamaran) in the 1970s with the rebirth of Native Hawaiian culture.

Several exhibition interviewees, including ship’s crew from the modern hokule’a(’s) first voyage, explain how community and cultural pride foster the self-esteem needed to celebrate wellness and inspire health among Native Hawaiians. Other interviewees note to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, there is an intimate link between health, wellness, and the welfare of one’s surrounding culture and community.

So, by remembering cinema pioneers like Ray Mala, native peoples celebrate the success of a peer and rekindle a cultural pride that interviewees find is a gateway to a healthier future.

To backtrack, excerpts from many of the hokule’a interviews are available within a hokule’a section of NLM’s Native Voices exhibition’s website. To find the website, just type ‘NLM Native Voices’ in any internet search engine. Please click on ‘exhibition’ (on the left of the Native Voices home page) to access the hokule’a section.

You will find a range of other issues associated with the exhibition on the Native Voices website as well, including many interviews with Alaska Natives about health, illness, and wellness. One of the interviewees is Ray Mala’s son – Ted Mala M.D., the director of tribal relations and the traditional healing clinic at the Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, AK.

Dr. Mala and his family provided most of the abundant photos and rare film posters reproduced in Eskimo Star, which is currently available in bookstores. The excerpts from Dr. Mala’s interview (on the Native Voices exhibition’s website) focus on the integration of Western medicine and traditional healing as well as the intersections among cultural pride, health, and wellness.

For those of you with an iPad, the ‘NLM Native Voices’ application (available as a free download within the App store) also provides excerpts from many of the exhibition’s diverse interviews. In addition, you can visit NLM’s Native Voices exhibition in person at NLM through fall 2013. Please see the exhibition website for visitor details.

Otherwise, MedlinePlus.gov’s Native-American health health topic page adds specific information about the diseases and conditions that impact Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. A link in the ‘start here’ section provides basic background information about Native American health issues.

MedlinePlus.gov’s Native-American health health topic page additionally contains links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. From the Native-American health health topic page, you can sign up to receive email updates with links to new information as it becomes available on MedlinePlus.

To find MedlinePlus.gov’s Native-American health health topic page, type ‘Native-American health’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page, then, click on ‘Native-American health (National Library of Medicine).’

Finally, we thank Eskimo Star for reminding us about the underpinnings of health and wellness within native communities and the importance of innovators from all walks of life.

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A disclaimer – the information presented in this program should not replace the medical advice of your physician. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your physician or other health care provider. I want to take the opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy New Year. The National Library of Medicine and the 'Director's Comments' podcast staff, including Dr. Lindberg, appreciate your interest and company – and we hope to find new ways to serve you in 2012.

I look forward to meeting you here next week.