Category Archives: American Indian tribal government
NewPublicHealth spoke with Yvette Roubideaux, MD, MPH, director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) and a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, about innovative efforts to improve the health of Native Americans.
NewPublicHealth: What is significant to you about the observance of Native American Heritage Month?
Dr. Roubideaux: Each year it’s a celebration of the richness and the strength of Native American cultures. It’s a great opportunity to be reminded of the great cultures and traditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives and how that relates to overall health and well-being.
NPH: For 2012, what are some of the key projects and issues that are on the front burner with regard to Native American health in the U.S.?
Dr. Roubideaux: Well certainly one of the biggest issues relates to the disparities that this population experiences compared to the U.S. general population and the significant burden of disease that’s causing lots of illness for the population, including chronic diseases and obesity. Trying to narrow that gap in disparities, trying to improve access to care are major efforts of what we’re doing with the Indian Health Service. For example, the mortality rates on diabetes are almost three times the U.S. population rates. We know that obesity is higher in American Indians and American Indian children. We know that, for example, alcohol-related mortality is almost six times greater in American Indians and Alaska Natives.
NPH: In what ways might Native Americans approach health and well-being differently than other Americans?
Dr. Roubideaux: Well, I think that there’s a general understanding among American Indian and Alaska Natives that the culture and their traditions promote health, and so a lot of the prevention efforts and community-based health initiatives are really starting to focus more on what we can learn from our traditions. How can we learn to be healthy and live in balance and seek wellness? It comes from the fact that for American Indians and Alaska Natives, there’s a recognition that over a hundred years ago we didn’t have the illnesses that we have now, we didn’t have diabetes, we didn’t have obesity, and so they must have been doing something right and what can we take from the lessons of our ancestors and our traditions to be healthier. And, of course, it’s eating healthy and making healthy food choices, more physical activityand living a life in balance—in balance in general and in balance with nature.
Many programs are focused on returning to traditional ways. Some of those are reintroducing gardening and growing traditional plants and some are returning to traditional games and physical activity that the tribes did. Some tribes, they were runners, and so they’re doing more runs, and lacrosse is a traditional Native game and they’re reviving that for the kids. Many tribes are looking at their past to find answers to the health problems that are plaguing them today. Healthy eating practices of Indian people included eating very lean meats, berries and greens—foods from nature. And they had to have enough food for the whole group so they didn’t over-indulge and had to prepare for famines, and so they were very cautious about what they ate.
NPH: How can accreditation benefit tribal public health departments and the communities they serve? What are some of the greatest opportunities and challenges that accreditation presents?