Assets and Issues of Native Americans and Their Providers: Connecting Similarities With Aboriginal and Other Indigenous People

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Valerie N. Markley, DNP, MSN, BSN, RN
School of Nursing, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN, USA

Isolated cultural groups tend to be invisible to the majority society. Resources, including health care, education, and employment opportunities are frequently inadequate. Having health care professionals gain knowledge about needs of isolated members of society can promote interest in providing and supporting essential resources. Mainstream society needs to be made aware of problems of Native Americans and other indigenous people in order to bring about change. This author’s interest in practice change has developed through experience of living and working on the Navajo Nation. Professionals are in short supply, the pharmaceutical formulary is limited, and clients have to be transported more than 50 miles for comprehensive health services. Both culturally isolated clients and those who leave their home base to venture into wider society deserve to have our full attention and compassionate advocacy.

There are both advantages and hardships in working on the Navajo Nation. The warmth and acceptance by the Navajo people, the beauty of the environment, and the opportunity to learn firsthand about another culture and work in an underserved area are gratifying attributes. However, in many ways non-natives are still outsiders. Most of the Navajo Nation is isolated and remote with some environmental hazards, including uranium contaminated water. On the Navajo Nation health care is available only to Native Americans except in cases of emergency.

The Navajos have major health issues and also significant supportive factors. They have a lower health status when compared to mainstream Americans, a lower life expectancy, and several special health concerns, including: high incidences of end-stage renal disease, diabetes, suicide, alcohol dependence, and domestic violence. In addition they are limited by inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, and insufficient opportunities and employment on the reservation. They also have some quite valuable traits: a strong sense of tribal pride and kinship connections, traditional health beliefs and practices, an enduring spirit, holistic approach to life, and a collective striving to promote the well-being of the entire tribal group (Navajo Population Profile 2010 U.S. Census, 2013; Sorrell, 2013).

It is vital to recognize the connections and relationships in issues and assets of and between Native Americans, Aborigines, and other indigenous people in our world as they have many similar health issues and other concerns. They also show adaptability, community strength, a connection with the past, strong traditional kinship and extended-family structures, and holistic thinking (Durie, 2012; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2017). We must disseminate knowledge about these isolated groups of indigenous people. Increasing awareness of problems and needs of those living in isolated communities can serve to promote advocacy directly and politically to meet the needs of these population groups to elevate their standard of living, including health care.

In summary, we can intervene to improve the lives of indigenous people by:

Raising awareness of their situation through education
Working directly with these populations
Collaborating with colleagues especially through our professional organizations
Advocating politically
Connecting with local, national, and international philanthropic organizations