Strengthening cultural connections to improve tribal health

Strengthening cultural connections to improve tribal health
Nov 1, 2021
How our research, evaluation, and technical assistance experts are helping build capacity to promote health and wellness in American Indian and Alaska Native communities
Healthy tribe program attendees

Health challenges in Indian Country are complex influenced by many factors including historical, cultural, economic, and social.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities have innate strengths and resilience rooted in tribal culture and traditional ways of life. However, AI/AN culture and traditions have been severely disrupted by colonialism, loss of land, and policies, such as assimilation, relocation, and tribal termination, resulting in historical trauma, contributing to higher rates of chronic disease and underlying risk factors, such as obesity and commercial tobacco use.”

23.5% of AI/AN adults have diabetes, 1 in 5 smoke cigarettes, 27.2% have high blood pressure, 34% have high cholesterol, and 41% don’t meet federal physical activity guidelines. (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Our public health experts have worked with CDC’s Healthy Tribes program since 2014 to help address these social and health challenges. Healthy Tribes partners with AI/AN communities to promote health, prevent disease, and strengthen cultural connections. The program also works to address the social determinants of health that contribute to higher rates of chronic disease and impact risk factors—obesity, commercial tobacco use, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and more.

"Healthy Tribes serves as a model for people-centered, restoration-focused programming that uses participatory approaches to prioritize cultural responsiveness. This dynamic approach to programming promotes indigenous and traditional strategies to achieve holistic wellness in all AI/AN communities."
ICF public health researcher Syreeta Skelton-Wilson

The program does this by providing targeted technical assistance and funding to tribes, tribal and urban Indian organizations, and tribal epidemiology centers to build capacity in key action areas: epidemiology and surveillance, environmental approaches, healthcare system interventions, and community programs linked to clinical services.

We support all of these areas and more, providing technical oversight and subject matter expertise on the evaluation of evidence-based policy, systems, environmental change, and community clinical linkage strategies to promote health and reduce chronic illnesses. This includes collaborating with tribal members, program staff, and other partners to design culturally responsive methods for data collection, and community participatory approaches to program evaluation, communication, training, and support.

“Exhibiting cultural humility and acting with the utmost integrity and respect for the uniqueness, richness, and diversity of AI/AN communities is central to our team’s effectiveness,” says Syreeta.

Research and evaluation specialist Bryce McGowan adds, “Knowing that my work is helping improve the health and well-being of tribal community members is incredibly rewarding. I’m grateful to be a small part of their successes.”

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