Dr. Theresa Maresca

Lesson 1 – The Orphan: Disconnection

Feelings of disconnection can be in many forms, sometimes we forget to look to our own traditional knowledge to help understand that reconnecting to our traditional ways of knowing can help us to answer to some troubling questions about our behaviors, life, and unexplainable circumstances.  This feeling of disconnect initiates a need to connect with answers, people, and places on a journey of self discovery.


To recognize shared experiences

Disconnection description among American Indian

Traditional Storytelling; truth of American Indian intelligence of History and Science

Activity: Watch Theresa Maresca’s interview on Video 1

Answer questions

Group discussion


Recognition of shared experiences

We may not recognize or understand how historical trauma’s role has affected our lives because we live in an industrialized and fast paced world.  We are experiencing western lifestyles which often don’t include our tribal communities and cultures.

History plays an important role in shaping our futures although many of us don’t see or understand why we should even care about things that happened to someone else or how it even affects our lives today so in this lesson we will listen to Dr. Maresca’s story of her family and the Mohawk people to demonstrate how history impacts American Indian people today.

American Indian description of disconnection

Disconnection has a different meaning for Native people compared with western white populations.  Western thought will reference disconnectedness with someone’s mental state before considering a forced separation from lifestyle, home, land, culture and beliefs.  This kind of disruption has created unhealthy circumstances for Native people since the onset of colonization.

An example of the Native response to disconnection is shared by Elder and member of the Mohawk Nation, Dr. Theresa Maresca a physician at the Snoqualmie Tribe Health Clinic she describes disconnection as:

  • Separation from land
  • Separation from identity
  • Lack of name
  • Lack of indigenous name
  • Lack of attending rites of passage
  • Dislocation to cities

Many of us can tell the history our family roots back to a time before white colonizers came to Indian Country, through the oral histories passed from generation to generation.  When we go to school we learn the American colonizer’s perspective of history and how they civilized Indians, often referred to as “heathens and savages” and not humans. This negative representation of Indigenous people was not true because our ancestors knew about the medicinal and health benefits of their local foods, plants, trees, and herbs found on their lands.  Dr. Theresa Maresca tells an historical account of her ancestors that demonstrates the intelligence of their traditional knowledge that helped the new comers when they were dying from malnutrition due to starvation.

“Jacque Cartier came up the St, Laurence river in the 1500’s and I think few people know this story, that his men were starving and also doing very poorly because they had scurvy and they were not, they didn’t know what that was at the time, or how to treat that, or didn’t have what they needed to be able to treat that and our people saw them and actually took pity on them and fed them our medicines. And our medicines came from our pines of that areaThe bark in those needles which are very rich in vitamin C, and basically doctored his crew so that they could basically make it back to their home country.”

Dr. Theresa Marasca- Mohawk

This knowledge has been preserved in oral traditions or storytelling among the Mohawk Nation and isn’t acknowledged publicly by western science or in scholastic history books of the public school system.

How does this affect American Indian populations today?

The example provided in Dr. Maresca’s story demonstrates how malnutrition due to starvation affected Jacques Cartier’s crew.  Today we have plenty of foods to choose from but some of us don’t always eat the healthiest foods containing high nutrient values.  If the Mohawk ancestors hadn’t understood that the bark of the local pine tree needles contained Vitamin C or took pity on Cartier’s crew their history may have turned out different, but they recognized the symptoms of this sickness, diagnosed it, and treated the crew members.

Malnutrition affects physical development and can cause certain diseases to occur due to an unbalanced diet or an inadequate amount of nutrients necessary for maintaining healthy development in infants and children, and optimal metabolism for active adults.  Today many American Indian populations are experiencing over-nutrition.

Over-nutrition leads to an excess of nutrients in the diet such as high caloric intake of carbohydrates and sodium.  These excessive intakes lead to diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.





Paper and pencil or pen

  1. Read the following passage from a speech given by Chief Si’ahl and write down what you think he is expressing in the passage.

Why is he saying “we are orphans?”

The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. But can that ever be? God loves your people, but has abandoned his red children. He sends machines to help the white man with his work, and builds great villages for him. He makes your people stronger every day. Soon you will flood the land like the rivers which crash down the canyons after a sudden rain. But my people are an ebbing tide. We will never return. No, we are separate races. Our children do not play together, and our old men tell different stories. God favors you, and we are orphans.

So we will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. We take our pleasure in these woods. I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways.


Chief Si’ahl also known as Chief Seattle (1780-1866)

Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish)



  • What kinds of carbohydrates are you consuming?
  • What kind of foods high in sodium are you consuming?
  • Do you think you are experiencing over-nutrition?
  • Who might be affected by malnutrition?

History and Science

  • Do you know a story that contains history and science told to you by an elder of your family?
  • What can you learn from American Indian storytellers about health?


Take the time to reflect on what you experienced from watching the video recording, reading the information in this lesson, doing the activities, and from the discussion.