Building Healthy Native Communities: National American Indian & Alaska Native ATTC

December 11, 2018

Jeff Ledolter & Anne Helene Skinstad
National American Indian & Alaska Native Addiction Technology Transfer Center

On November 14, 2018, the National American Indian & Alaska Native Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC), Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC), and Prevention Technology Transfer Centers (PTTC) gathered at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health for its fifth annual symposium titled “Building Healthy Native Communities.” After a blessing from Robert Begay, MA, a member of the Navajo Nation and the Advisory Council for the three centers, native guest speakers from across the nation came together to discuss the issues facing native communities today.

Clyde McCoy, Ph.D., Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, presented on how native history is viewed today and Jacqueline Gray, Ph.D., Choctaw and Cherokee descent, presented on how to influence positive outcomes for the indigenous elderly. Roger D. Walker, Western Band of the Cherokee Nation, and Melvina McCabe, MD, Navajo Nation, both presented separately on how to recruit, retain and mentor native behavioral health professionals. Ken Winters presented on Recovery High Schools, and Ray Daw, MA, Navajo Nation, closed the symposium with a comparison of Native American and Euro-American mental health.

The National American Indian & Alaska Native ATTC was also pleased to feature Frank LaMere, from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, as its Spotlight Series speaker for the College of Public Health. Mr. LaMere presented on the 20-year struggle to stop the flow of alcohol from White Clay, Nebraska across the state border to the Pine Ridge Nation. The Pine Ridge Nation prohibits alcohol, although a quarter of the children born there are diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. White Clay, an unincorporated town with a population of 14, had the licenses of its four liquor stores expire only in 2017, after over 100 years of selling alcohol to tribal members, and after years of activists such as Mr. LaMere advocating for its shutdown.

The public symposium attracted students, professors, behavioral health professionals and physicians from the University of Iowa and national organizations and closed with a traditional dinner catered by Mary Youngbear and her team from the Meskwaki Nation.

Following the symposium, the National American Indian & Alaska Native ATTC Advisory Council convened to plan for the next five years. With the formation of the National American Indian & Alaska Native MHTTC and National American Indian & Alaska Native PTTC divisions of the existing ATTC, a more focused effort will be required to coordinate the three centers. No aspect of health exists in a vacuum, so no disease can be treated separately. All three centers share the mission of providing culturally-relevant behavioral health methods that treat the whole patient and not just their diagnoses.

Native populations face growing rates of synthetic opioid use disorder, as well as a range of interconnected issues such as alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, depression, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and suicide. Wellness will not only come from the elimination of behavioral health disorders but by promoting healthy communities and cultures.

We look forward to sharing the presentations from the fifth annual symposium with you in the form of a proceedings document. Periodic, large scale meetings such as the symposium and advisory council discussions provide important opportunities to reflect on the previous methods used since the Prairielands ATTC began our Native initiative in 1995, and to strategize how to be most effective in the years to come.

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