Category Archives: Health

Some Tribes Use Tradition To Stop Tobacco Use

“States and cities have come to understand that if they jack up the taxes on cigarettes — teenagers especially have a harder time buying them. This year, the National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization concluded that a big price increase is one of the most effective tools for decreasing tobacco use. But there are certain communities where relatively cheap cigarettes are still easy to get. In western New York, where I grew up, there is at least one place to avoid paying high prices: on the reservations of the Seneca tribe.” J. Kourkounis, Newsworks

A man passes benches advertising Native brand cigarettes outside a gas station on the Seneca Nation’s Cattauragus reservation. Photo- J. Kourkounis

Excerpt: Tribes hope tradition will fight unhealthy tobacco use, By J. Kourkounis

“There are more than 500 tribes across the country. Each is a sovereign nation and they set their own rules. For example, the New York state cigarette tax is $4.35 per pack, but smoke shops on Seneca reservations don’t add on that extra tax, which keeps prices lower…I was hoping to ask Seneca Nation officials about the low tobacco prices and the health costs of smoking among tribe members but they declined my request for an interview.

As a group, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest cigarette smoking rates compared to all other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health research shows that across decades, cigarette companies have targeted American Indians by funding cultural events such as powwows and rodeos and by using Native American images in advertising and packaging.

Roadside ad of Big Indian Kool. Photo- Roadside America

Kristine Rhodes, an enrolled member of Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribe, leads the American Indian Cancer Foundation.

‘Smoking rates among American Indians and Alaskan Natives vary tremendously by region and by tribe,’ she says.

For example, in the Southwest United States, American Indians have the lowest smoking rates, even lower than mainstream America. This is really great news that we celebrate and we see a corresponding lower cancer rate there for smoking-related cancers,’ Rhodes said. The Cancer Foundation is working on control policies around the nation. But tobacco sales are big money for some tribes and and Rhodes says a readiness to change is different from community to community.

Ad on rez. Photo- Blueridge tobacco

No health research yet, but there is a movement that Kristine Rhodes and others think might decrease rates of smoking among native people. The plan is to help people give up unhealthy habits while holding on to native traditions. And that includes using and reclaiming sacred traditional tobacco.

Seneca Nation ad. photo-From Garden Warriors to Good Seeds

‘Some tribal communities also use tobacco for weddings,’says Coco Villaluz, a community educator for the nonprofit organization ClearWay Minnesota. She says traditional tobacco is offered as a sign of respect. It’s often used without burning the plant, other times it is smoked in a pipe to carry prayers to the Creator.

For decades, a federal law cut American Indians off from many religious practices and prevented many people from using sacred tobacco.

Today, Villaluz urges people to reject commercial tobacco and stop using it for ceremonies and prayers. Her organization offers people help to quit smoking. And the group also advocates for smoke-free areas on Indian lands.

We all want the same mission as everybody else who’s working on tobacco, whether it’s in tribal communities or non-tribal communities. We want our people to be healthy, we don’t want to see any more of our loved ones suffering from commercial tobacco related illnesses.”

Category: Health

Town [sort of] Pushes to Stop Selling Beer to Natives

“Whiteclay is a rural skid row, with only a dozen residents, a street strewn with debris, four ramshackle liquor stores and little else. It seems to exist only to sell beer to people like Tyrell Ringing Shield, a grandmother…On a recent morning, she had hitched a ride from her home in South Dakota, just steps across the state line. There, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, alcohol is forbidden. In Whiteclay, though, it reigns supreme.” J. Boseman, The New York Times

Tyrell Ringing Shield,with her partner of 16 years, Stewart, said Nebraska should not renew the liquor licenses for the stores in Whiteclay, Neb. Credit K. Barker NYT,

Excerpt: Nebraska May Stanch One Town’s Flow of Beer to Its Vulnerable Neighbors by Julie Bosman New York Times

“’You visit, you talk, you laugh, you drink,’ said Ms. Ringing Shield, 57, as she stood on the sidewalk with friends, chain-smoked Montclair cigarettes and recounted her struggles with alcoholism, diabetes and cirrhosis. ‘It makes you forget.’

Over the decades, there have been frequent protests outside the stores. Lawsuits against the retailers and beer distributors have been filed. Boycotts of brewers that sell to the stores have begun with enthusiasm. All those efforts have sputtered, though, and little has changed.

Graffiti in Whiteclay urging alcohol consumers to free their spirit. Credit- K Barker for NYT

Now many residents of Nebraska and South Dakota are pushing for the liquor stores of Whiteclay to be shut, disgusted by the easy access to alcohol the stores provide to a people who have fought addiction for generations. The Nebraska authorities, in turn, have tightened scrutiny of the stores, which sell millions of cans of beer and malt liquor annually. Last year, for the first time, the state liquor commission ordered the stores’ six owners to reapply for their liquor licenses…The issue has left people in South Dakota and Nebraska deeply divided. Most agree that alcohol abuse on the reservation is an entrenched problem, but they are unsure of the solution — and who is responsible.

WhiteClay. Photo: -Daily Mail

WhiteClay. Photo: -Daily Mail

The grim scene in Whiteclay has scarcely changed for decades. Particularly in the warmer months, Native Americans can be seen openly drinking beer in town, often passed out on the ground, disheveled and ill. Many who come to Whiteclay from the reservation spend the night sleeping on mattresses in vacant lots or fields. Even under the chill of winter, people huddle outside the liquor stores, silver beer cans poking from coat pockets.

A man sits outside WhiteClay Grocery, where he will likely spend the night. Next to him, another man lies passed out in his own urine.

Others argue that the problem of alcohol abuse on the reservation goes well beyond the stores in Whiteclay. Even some Native Americans said they were uneasy over upsetting the status quo. Vance Blacksmith, 47, a Native American and teacher on the reservation, said he favored leaving the stores alone.

‘They’re not hurting anyone,’ he said. “Drinking is a personal choice. The people who drink are trying to accept life as it is. And it’s depressing, being here on Pine Ridge.’

Terry Robbins, the sheriff of Sheridan County, has found himself at the center of the fight over Whiteclay. Sheriff Robbins echoed a common sentiment heard from both Nebraskans and Native Americans: If the stores lose their licenses and close down, people in search of beer will just drive farther to get it, endangering themselves and others on the roads. He favors containing the problem in Whiteclay, rather than allowing it to spread out over the county’s nearly 2,500 square miles.

Passed out in fron tof liquor store in WhiteClay. Photo-indianz.

‘The people that want to drink are going to drive and get alcohol somewhere,’ he said. ‘What I’m thinking is that it’s going to put more drunk drivers on the country roads.’”

Category: Culture, Health

How Obamacare Repeal Will Hurt Native Americans

“The federal government promised free healthcare to tribes in treaties more than a century ago. The legislation that protects and modernizes those treaty promises was rolled into the ACA when it became law in 2010. With the ACA on the chopping block, this legislation could vanish, tribal leaders say.” N. Subbaraman, BuzzFeed

Healthcare is hard to come for many tribes.

Excerpt: Here’s How Obamacare Repeal Could Hurt Native Americans By Nidi Subbaraman, BuzzFeed

“Nine tribal health boards, the National Indian Health Board, and political groups including the National Congress of American Indians sent a letter to Congress in December [2016], asking to preserve sections that addressed healthcare for tribes.

Pine Ridge ND.

Repealing these provisions and the IHCIA (Indian Health Care Improvement Act) now would have disastrous consequences for the Indian health system, they wrote, with urban and rural health centers losing 3rd party revenue, legal authorities, and life-saving programs.

Of primary concern are a series of amendments to the IHCIA, rules that were bundled in with the ACA. Originally passed in 1976, the law laid out the responsibilities of the Indian Health Service, which provides healthcare to tribes. But it was revised substantially in 2010…Senate Republicans took the first steps towards repealing the ACA by voting for repeal plans as soon as January 27, 2017. Similar actions are expected from the House of Representatives… the result could be a lot of harm to the Indian health care system as it works today, said Geoffrey Strommer…an attorney who works on tribal law and healthcare.

Obama increased support for Naitves. Photo:politicalticker

From my perspective taking away Medicaid would be devastating, said Donald Warne, chair of the Department of Public Health at North Dakota State University. In North Dakota, one of the states that has expanded Medicaid, private insurance has begun to cover many services that the underfunded Indian Health Service cannot provide. If Medicaid were to go away, We can’t even do things like cancer screening or a colonoscopy, Warne said. Taking insurance from American Indians or any other population will kill people.”

Category: Health

Native People and Diabetes: A Serious Struggle

SPECIAL: “Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living war chief of the Crow Tribe of Montana and a renowned Native American historian and anthropologist, died on Sunday at a hospice in Billings, Mont. He was 102.” Mike McPhate, April 4, 2016- The New York Times 


TEACHERS: Crow Nation Lesson Plan with Answer Key here


Joseph Medicine Crow spoke at a dedication for a Peace Memorial near the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. Beck Bohrer NYT

Joseph Medicine Crow spoke at a dedication for a Peace Memorial near the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. Beck Bohrer NYT


Native People and Diabetes: A Serious Struggle

“It seems like every time I talk to my mom she gives me a rundown about which family members are sick and/or injured. Usually it’s something not-too-serious…Well this most recent list of our family’s walking wounded, she told me about an uncle who has been sick with diabetes…this time in the hospital [he had] to get his leg amputated—it kinda left me stunned and thinking about all the many times I’ve seen other Native people losing battles to diabetes. From my own family I’ve seen body parts get chopped off, children traumatized, and then we see them back at the casino buffet line or drinking Red Bull or Pepsi until the next incident happens.” G. Ross, ICTMN

Courtesy Wesley Roach, Skan Media. ICTMN

Courtesy Wesley Roach, Skan Media. ICTMN

Excerpt: Diabetes…Rethinking Our Relationship with Sugar By Gyasi Ross, ICTMN

“I’m not one to talk about bad dietary habits as any sort of authority. Honestly. I have friends who are doing amazing things in wellness and nutrition and teaching Native people how get back to ancestral ways of co-existing with health and wellness and nutrition…but honestly that’s not me. I’m honestly not focusing how to Indigenize my diet; instead I’m forcing myself not to eat Dark Chocolate Kit Kats every night or eat corn chips pretty much every single day.

Healthier Native diets. photo-voanews

Healthier Native diets. photo-voanews

Depending upon where I’m at, I am more or less likely to consume disgusting amounts of sugar—usually at night. I don’t know why that is (if anybody does, please explain it to me). But when I’m on the road, I’ll usually stop in someplace and get some trail-mix or Cracker Jacks; not the worst thing in the world, but still bad to be eating at 1:30 in the morning …(plus, tells you that I have a lame social life.) I’m addicted to sugar. It seems like a whole bunch of us are.



I was fortunate to visit the Native American Community Academy (“NACA”) in Albuquerque and was immediately struck by all of the nutrition-themed posters around the school.  NACA is a charter school for 6-12th graders and represents more than 30 tribal groups. 

Healthy snacks

Healthy snacks

Fun and healthy snack ideas for children. Photo- huffingtonpost

Fun and healthy snack ideas for children. Photo- huffingtonpost

The school’s Lunch Program and Healthy Snack Program provides that each school day, a private vendor brings freshly prepared lunches for all students at NACA.

Buffalo meat is healthy

Buffalo meat is healthy

Try cartoon themes to get kids to eat healthy. Photo-

Try cartoon themes to get kids to eat healthy. Photo-

The school says that it is striving to improve the quality of lunches by providing culturally sensitive meals such as buffalo instead of beef, more vegetable choices, and locally grown produce. Healthy, free snacks are also offered to students in the morning and after school.

Delicious Algonquin Three sisters Veggies- corn, beans, and squash.

Delicious Algonquin Three sisters Veggies- corn, beans, and squash.

Healthy Native food. Photo-

Healthy Native food. Photo-

I know diabetes, like any disease, is not just about willpower… I will splurge from time to time—we all deserve it sometimes—but I have to remind myself that it is a disease and I am an addict and what’s a safe amount of heroin to give a heroin addict?”

Gyasi Ross author, lawyer and singer.

Gyasi Ross author, lawyer and singer.

“You don’t deal with sickness with shame or judgment or silence; you deal with it by bringing it out into the light of day and educating those most at risk for the sickness.” ~Gyasi Ross~ 

Category: Health

Ad Campaign Targets Meth Use in Indian Country


“There are a lot of cool things about being Native. Meth isn’t one of them…”

This is an example of an advertising campaign aimed at restraining methamphetamine use in many American Indian communities in New Mexico and in other states.

The campaign was launched by Federal officials, and includes ads on television, radio and billboards. A 2005 study revealed that 14 percent of Native American high school students used meth.

Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy,  states:

“…You have to look at what’s at the root cause,” he said. “Historical trauma is part of it, poverty is part of it, lack of opportunity, loss of language and culture, challenging family circumstances. … I don’t think we appreciate how hopeless sometimes things could be for a particular youth.”

Larry Echo Hawk, assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs sums up the campaign this way,

“… enforcing existing laws are a must but  we’re not going to arrest ourselves out of a problem like this. That is why I’m so pleased to see the ad campaign is all about education and prevention…what we’ve got to do is challenge our young people to make good decisions, do what’s right, to stay away from drugs and their ill effects.”

This  is good news that reflects positive progress in our country!  Read the article, then share your thoughts with us.

Category: Health

First Lady Launches Anti-Obesity Campaign

By Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today

Story Published: Feb 17, 2010

Mrs. Obama has started a campaign to help solve the problem of childhood obesity, so that children will grow up healthy adults. The project, ‘Let’s Move’ is a program that provides information about healthy affordable meals, physical activities, and additional support information for parents, and school educators.

Several American Indian organizations such as the National Indian Health Board, have joined the campaign to help their children towards healthier life styles.

Mrs, Obama’s program will benefit all children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, including American Indians, and Alaska Natives.

Great program, great Lady!

Read the article.

Category: Health