WALKING INTO THE UNKNOWN (DVD) Image

Nate Maydole’s documentary offers an unusual approach to a niche subject: health care among American Indians, as seen through the personal experience of an Ojibwe physician.

Dr. Arne Vainio works at Minnesota’s Fond du Lac Reservation, and he expresses his frustration that middle-aged Native men are avoiding health screenings. Dr. Vainio decides to lead by example and undergo his own physical examinations. He calmly explains that the procedures are relatively brief and easy – and he even goes so far as to have one of his colleagues perform an on-camera prostate examination (fortunately, discreet camera placement prevents the viewer from enjoying a new meaning to the expression “looking up old friends”).

The film offers brief explanations of the various health concerns that impact U.S. society in general and the American Indian population in particular, including heart disease, diabetes and alcoholism. Dr. Vainio also details his family history, which includes a brother who suffered a stroke, and the film also includes interviews with young Native men whose older relatives succumbed prematurely to medical conditions that could have been avoided through lifestyle and dietary changes.

While the film casually avoids discussing some of the most serious issues relating to contemporary U.S. health care – including the historic deficiencies in reservation-based medical facilities for Native peoples and the inability of Americans of all ethnic groups to obtain affordable health care – it nonetheless provides a provocation point for viewers of all ages and ancestries to pay closer attention to their well-being.

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