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Ed Yeates ReportingToo many Native Americans are dying from colon cancer. So, for the first time, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe in Wyoming is joining forces with a special Utah team for a battle both groups intend to win.
For some traditional Native Americans, drawing blood for genetic testing is like drawing the spirit from the body. It's one of several cultural conflicts Eastern Shoshones and the Huntsman Group had to compromise on to form this unique partnership.
For the Eastern Shoshones, the drumbeat symbolizes the heartbeat of the Indian nation. An eagle dress dance drives sickness away. There is also gratitude for the spirit, for nature, for long held ceremonies and practices; James Trosper learned this all as a boy.
Now, as Sundance Chief for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, he still holds sacred a traditional medicine bundle, handed down to him by his great grandfather at age 114.
James Trosper, Sundance Chief, Eastern Shoshone tribe: "All of the knowledge and everything that he knew about the Sundance and about how to live and how to be healthy, he taught to us."
But James is a leader in new times with new challenges. Though the risk of colon cancer remains slightly lower in Native Americans, more now are dying from it.
Randall Burt, M.D., Huntsman Cancer Institute: "And that is in a sense the very tragedy and the very issue we want to overcome and reverse."
From the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Dr. Randall Burt, Dr.Stephen Prescott and Phyllis Nassi, herself a Native American, came to Ft. Washakie asking the tribal council for permission to screen and genetically test Shoshones for colon cancer.
Ben, Bill Senior, Bill Jr., Rocky, Cal and Moni ONeal are fighting. They're all at risk for colon cancer. Some already have it. Ben remembers his stepfather's reaction when his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Ben ONeal: "When they told her she had less than six months, he put his hands in his face and he gave up. My mother didn't give up. I mean that little kid in the green shirt over there. He needs to know about it so he can prevent it."
Chief James Trosper called for "sweat" lodge ceremonies. Trosper: "That was the first thing that we did. We held a sweat so we could pray about it, so that we could see if it would be something that would be good for our people."
Though cameras were not allowed, the ceremonies are very similar to other Native American sweat lodges. Younger doctors from HCI's outreach program were inside participating, learning, respecting Shoshone beliefs.
James' mother, whose grandfather was Chief Washakie himself, is proud of her son.
Zedora Enos, James' Mother: “Everything comes to a crossroads and if we are doing things right, it's going to meet. And it's very powerful."
And meet they did, both sides!
This is what is called a full working partnership. That means both the Huntsman group and the Shoshone tribe will learn from each other. Trosper: "So I think with the two things combined, I think that we can do good things for our people."
This is but a glimpse of this partnership. Learn more about the remarkable bond between these two groups in Friday’s Deseret Morning News.