LAWRENCE — When older generations pass on, they often take with them knowledge that hasn’t been documented anywhere else. A recent University of Kansas graduate and research assistant is completing a video project in which elders of her native Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska share unique perspectives on healing, medicine, rituals, history and health traditions. She’ll share the videos with tribal members and anyone interested in learning more about native health, culture and history.
Rebekka Schlichting, a recent graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, was a research assistant at the school’s Center for Excellence in Health Communication to Underserved Populations. The idea for the video series was born out of conversations with the center’s director and staff, who work to improve health communication and information for populations who have traditionally been underserved.
“I thought, ‘You could preserve this valuable knowledge in a way that is very accessible and share it with future generations,’” Schlichting said. “Native kids’ number one priority is not always learning their cultural heritage, but I have a strong passion for it and wanted to be able to share my culture.”
Schlichting grew up on the Sac and Fox Reservation in northeast Kansas and graduated from Kickapoo Nation High School in Powhattan, Kansas. She was inspired by the elders in her tribe. They often stressed the importance of education and putting those lessons to use to help their fellow tribe members. So she decided to pass on the wisdom of tribal elders through a series of nearly 50 videos that cover topics in the themes of health, tradition and ritual.
The videos contain interviews with tribal elders discussing their knowledge and memories of health, healing, medicine men, ritual and history, among other topics. The finished videos will include graphics, translations of native words and information supplementing that shared by the elders. The first series of videos is available via YouTube.
Mugur Geana, associate professor of journalism and director of CEHCUP, said Schlichting’s project is both novel in its approach and valuable in helping American Indians consider their health.
“CEHCUP decided to fund Rebekka’s proposal because of its innovative and introspective inquiry into how American Indians in Kansas traditionally approach health, disease and healing,” Geana said. “Her project aligns with CEHCUP’s current research with these underserved populations. I hope her endeavor will promote a better understanding of traditional approaches to health and well-being and will also engage native audiences to more openly discuss disease, recovery and hope.”
Schlichting said the videos will feature tribal elders sharing their knowledge dressed in contemporary attire in an effort to break down stereotypes. The series will appeal to anyone interested in health or native history and people of all ages, not just one narrow demographic, she said.
Schlichting's journalism education helped her form the best questions to ask and taught her how to shoot, edit and produce video as well as graphics and handle the technical details, she said. Though she was working, she couldn’t help but be inspired.
“Sometimes all I could think was, ‘Wow — I can’t believe I’m doing this and I’m going to be able to share all of this powerful knowledge,’” Schlichting said. “I talked to one woman who grew up not knowing what a doctor was. Her grandmother used only traditional healing methods.”
The videos will be made available in a series throughout the summer into the fall. Schlichting will continue to work on the project as she begins a master's degree in journalism at the University of Nebraska. She will work with tribal members to market the videos to native populations and anyone else interested in the topic.
“My goal is to help teach kids who aren’t exposed to these ideas every day and to share this information with tribal adults as well,” Schlichting said. “My ancestors had my generation in mind when they planned for the future, and I’d like to be able to carry on that tradition. A lot of native knowledge has been lost, but there is a lot that can be held onto. I think now is the time to pick up where we left off.”