Addressing Public Health Emergencies through Research: The NIH DR2 Program

Dr. Aubrey Miller from NIEHS presents the
DEOHS Environmental Health Seminar
(photo: Liz Guzy)
The EDGE Center was privileged to host Dr. Aubrey Miller of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to present the DEOHS Environmental Health Seminar on May 25th. Dr. Miller is Senior Medical Advisor to NIEHS Director Dr. Linda Birnbaum. He leads the NIH Disaster Research Response (DR2) Program and has been extensively involved in the NIH Gulf Oil Spill response, among other national disasters.
When a disaster occurs, the immediate focus is to save lives and protect health. But after these immediate needs are met, questions arise about health effects on communities and rescue workers. There is an opportunity to learn from the disaster and be able to respond better the next time. A great deal of public health work is built on what has been learned from disasters.
But responding to a disaster is all-consuming. The response is not set up to do research. So a goal of DR2 is to fill this gap by figuring out how to do well-designed and effectively executed research in and after an emergency. The program aims to assemble tools in a ready-to-go toolkit. Epidemiological tools, bio-specimen kits, and environmental sampling tools are being developed to quickly initiate studies after a disaster.
EDGE Director Terry Kavanagh 
and NIEHS's Aubrey Miller
(photo: Marilyn Hair) 
Dr. Miller said that one of the challenges in a disaster is coordination. No single agency or community has all the tools and information needed to respond to a disaster. A multitude of public and private agencies must coordinate efforts.

Also, community involvement is essential. Listening to and addressing community concerns and questions builds cooperation and trust, increases the chance that the right questions are being asked, and offers an opportunity to collect on-the-ground information. DR2 emphasizes community engagement, helping to apply scientific research to help communities. It's a chance to protect communities. 

While on campus Dr. Miller also met with researchers from the University of Washington Post-Disaster Rapid Response Research Facility (RAPID), a disaster investigation center that provides instrumentation and tools to collect and assess critical post-disaster data with the goal of reducing physical damage and socio-economic losses from future disasters. More about the new RAPID facility at UW can be found here and here. The goal of the meeting between the EDGE and RAPID Centers was to brainstorm ways for future collaboration, leveraging the unique resources of each Center. 
Dr. Miller and Outreach Manager
Marilyn Hair discuss DR2
(photo: Christine Tran)

The EDGE Center hosted an afternoon reception in Dr. Miller's honor, giving about 30 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS) researchers, staff and students, and RAPID, Seattle & King County Public Health, Northwest Healthcare Response Network, and the City of Seattle Office of Emergency Management partners the opportunity to meet him and discuss disaster research response.

--Marilyn Hair

Event Highlight: 5th Annual Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods & Ecological Knowledge Symposium

The 5th Annual Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Symposium was held May 5-6, 2017 at Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ or Intellectual House,* on the University of Washington campus. The symposium was bigger and better than ever.

The meeting began with the leaders acknowledging the Duwamish tribe on whose traditional land the UW is located. Next was an extended Elder Blessing with chanting and speaking by Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester (Cowichan), a traditional medicine woman.

Attendees graced Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ with ceremonial dresses and shawls, cedar hats, jackets embroidered with symbols from Standing Rock, and caribou-skin boots with sealskin soles worn by Inupiaq youth. I was struck by the many ways participants honored the elders who were present, from bringing them beverages and food samples, to inviting them to the front of the buffet line.

Lunches and snacks were traditional local foods, as you might expect at a conference focused on indigenous foods. I greatly enjoyed seed-filled muffins, strawberries, blueberries, sockeye salmon, nettle pesto, wild rice, elk burgers, seal oil, dried huckleberries, moose jerky, nettle bread and evergreen tree-tip tea. Participants were reminded not to decide you don't like something the first time you taste it. You have to try a new food 6 times to decide whether you like it. 

Speakers came from near and far away: Coast Salish, Alaska and Inupiaq tribes, as well as tribes from eastern Washington, the US southwest, Canada, and Mexico. Presentation topics included soil, corn, seeds, climate resilience, youth leadership, indigenous lands, traditional languages, native curriculum,  traditional foods and beverages, and food sovereignty projects.

The event honored and highlighted Native Youth. The keynote speaker was 16-year old Kalilah Rampanen from Vancouver Island (Nuu-chah-nulth, Woodland Cree and Finnish), a young activist who told her story through words and song. Her presentation on Saturday morning was followed by 13-year old Tim Masso (Tla-o-quiaht/Nu-chah-nulth) who told his story of learning and teaching the Nu-chah-nulth language. He wanted to learn his native language and pressed his school to teach Nu-chah-nulth. At first he was told to take French. When eventually a native language teacher was hired, students were taught just colors and numbers. Tim used books to learn Nu-chah-nulth on his own, and volunteered to teach the class himself. He has become the spokesperson for teaching native languages in schools in British Columbia. Tim concluded his presentation by teaching the audience some Nu-chah-nulth vocabulary: Choo (spelled phonetically) means I'm done. Che KO means Thank you.

Another inspiring presentation was titled, Building Food Sovereignty, Climate Resilience, and Youth Leadership in the Northwest Alaskan Arctic. Four youth from the Inupiaq community of Kivalina, Alaska who worked as interns in the Kivalina Food Sovereign Project presented a vivid story of life and changes in this subsistence fishing-and-hunting community. Kivalina, with 90 households, is located on a barrier island north of the Arctic Circle. Their traditional foods include beluga whale, bearded seal, caribou, moose, and deer. The island is overcrowded and lacks running water. With climate change the ice is melting, affecting animal habitat, bringing more severe storms, and raising the sea level. The oil industry has also destroyed habitat, and a neighboring village dumps waste into the river which flows through Kivalina. A project called Re-locate is working to move the village to the mainland to address overcrowding and provide fresh running water. 

Our partners in Tend, Gather & Grow, Elise Krohn and Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot), presented their curriculum, Training Track: Empowering Health Champions with a Traditional Beverage Campaign. Their toolkit, coming out May 12th, includes a recipe book called Native Infusion, Rethink Your Drink, and 6 theme posters (Build Strength - nettles; Be Resilient - evergreen fir tips; Food is Our Medicine - huckleberries, and others). Find a description of their May 12th training at the Muckleshoot Elder's Complex on our Native Teach Facebook Page.

Here's the symposium program. It's clear that food sovereignty programs are increasing in number and growing in scope. Congratulations to the eight (mostly native) women academics who volunteered to plan the symposium. 
-- Marilyn Hair

P.S. One of the resource tables displayed traditional Nuu-chah-nulth foods and the community's fish cookbook, Camas. Camas can be ordered from the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe for $12.95. Baked sockeye marinated in maple syrup and soy sauce caught my eye.

*Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ is a longhouse-style building that pays homage to the Coast Salish culture and architecture. Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ opened in February 2015, the realization of a 40-year dream. The Intellectual House exemplifies the spirit of sharing, cooperation and commitment to indigenous knowledges and local and national indigenous communities.