The Four Worlds International Institute

What’s in the Heart tells the stories of Indians fighting for health equality in the halls of Washington and their own communities, and the origins of their extreme health disparities. This transmedia project forms the cornerstone for a cross-cultural social movement to address the Indian health crisis through awareness and engagement.


In What’s in the Heart, the Pine Ridge reservation stands in as a case study for hundreds of American Indian (AI) communities suffering from the highest morbidity rates in the US. AI’s of this region have a 629% greater chance of dying of alcoholism, a 538% greater chance of dying from diabetes, a teen has a 150% greater chance of committing suicide, and the infant mortality rate is more than double that of the entire US. While exploring the historic reasons for current conditions, this transmedia project transforms statistics into real-life stories as it documents Lakota people working to mend the effects of historical trauma and offers ways for audience members to dig deeper into the story and characters, and ultimately take action for more funding and attention to this hidden health crisis.

What’s in the Heart is told through the voices and perspectives of Lakota people struggling to overcome the social ills and inequities that threaten the health and survival of their culture. These Lakota know that the treaties their ancestors signed exchanging millions of acres of land and resources for healthcare are not being fulfilled. In fact, the Indian Health Service, which is the federal agency created to oversee the promise of healthcare, is chronically underfunded by 50%.

Leonard Little Finger and Donald Warne, MD, MPH, both Lakota, are the two main characters throughout the project. Through the legacy Leonard embodies as the descendant of grandfathers who signed the 1868 Treaty, the viewer will learn the history of how his people arrived at its current state. Donald, a Lakota physician, public health expert and professor, will introduce the audience to the supporting characters of health care workers and community members who are working diligently to counter the inequity of a severely underfunded healthcare system by providing education and wellness to their community. The stories of many others who are affected by – and are taking action to address – the American Indian health crisis will be told.

Anchored by a documentary film surrounded by additional story content on an interactive HTML5/Popcorn.js-based website, this transmedia project combines traditional media (including some based in the AI oral tradition) with a variety of new media formats offering different elements of the story. The interactive website will offer many different ways to dig deeper into the content in real time for more information on the people, organizations and events depicted in the film. Additional related stories will be expanded upon through Lakota teen-created videos, audio podcasts, an online-based graphic novel, a traditional-style song, and a movement-sparking social media campaign encouraging audience participation, sharing “What’s in Your Heart?”. The overall goal is to engage viewers in different key audiences to take action for change — whether they are American Indians, health professionals, policymakers or individuals who care about social justice — and to reach them through the media they already use.

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