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Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy

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Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal


Volume 3: No. 3, July 2006

About This Image

Cover of the July 2006 issue

Again, and maybe the last time on this earth, I recall the great vision you sent me. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree!  (1)

Black Elk

The Tree of Life is an ancient symbol whose variations are found in almost every culture. Ubiquitous mythical images and stories represent the tree as a living axis mundi, or world center, with the branches, trunk, and roots of the tree touching three worlds — heaven, earth, and the underworld — and associate it with fertility, health, and immortality. Trees are sparse for the Navajo culture of the desert Southwest, and rock art and woven rugs often feature the central image of a maize plant with branches stretching up and out to represent the upward moving way of the tribe. The roots of the plant reflect a connection to the lower worlds and knowledge gained from the experience of the forefathers. The stalk reaches upward into the future, and the fruit of the plant represents people. The Navajo believe they were created from corn and given life with the aid of wind. Care and cultivation of the Tree of Life is critical to the health of the community and its members, and the cover art for this issue of Preventing Chronic Disease offers an interpretation of this symbol that incorporates contemporary social elements.


1. Neihardt JG. Black elk speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux. Lincoln (NE): University of Nebraska Press; 2000: 230 p.

Cover artist: Kristen Immoor
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The opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.


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