Health

To Be Native in the Northwest

Health

The health and well-being of Native people is a top priority for Washington tribes and Native organizations. Health disparities for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are high in Indian Country. Natives born today have a life-expectancy that’s 4.4 years less than other races, according to the Indian Health Service. But in the face of that, tribes and Native organizations are making progress in creating safe, comfortable environments that promote the wellness of Native peoples

[graphic]: AI/AN born today have life expectancy 4.4 years less than U.S. all races population

In case you were wondering... 

Is traditional medicine really just new age alternative medicine?

For Native people and Native-led health institutions, practicing traditional medicine means having a holistic view. In treating patients, they embrace both modern medicines and traditional ones. Backed by today’s data and research, these institutions are implementing the cultural practices that have been passed down from generation to generation, and have created healthy communities for millenia.

I heard someone talk about healthy eating and “food sovereignty.” How can food be sovereign?

Food sovereignty is the idea that Native people can determine the food they grow and eat. It is often tied to the revitalization of traditional diets, such as seed programs to grow traditional crops or foraging to collect medicinal herbs. The Muckelshoot Tribe's Food Sovereignty Program is an example of reintroducing traditional foods and ingredients to tribal members to improve their health. Many tribes across the region and country are reclaiming their traditional ditres. It's vitally important work: Native people are some of the most at-risk for diabetes, obesity, heart disease, addiction, and mental health issues, all of which can be affected by diet. 

What is a medicine wheel and can I use it?

There are many sacred items from indigenous communities that have been appropriated into white American culture. Similar to the dreamcatcher, the medicine wheel is often misinterpreted and misused. It shouldn’t be idealized as an object, but rather respected as a lifestyle approach that honors place and various beliefs and cultures. There are different interpretations of, and uses for, the medicine wheel among tribes throughout the country. The National Library of Medicine’s Native Voices project explains some of the different ways the concept is used. Some tribes use it as a model to achieve health and wellness. Others as a guide to help determine when to conduct ceremonies or plant and harvest crops. The wheel’s sections represent different elements to different cultures, along with a connection to nature for guidance.

Food sovereignty practices are at the core of tribal sovereignty, according to Valerie Segrest, Muckleshoot.

“We know that our traditional foods are the pillars of our culture and they feed much more than our physical bodies, they also feed our spirits. Helping us always remember who we are and where we come from.”
Valerie Segrest, Muckleshoot
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