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National Native American Heritage Month, 2011

November is National Native American Heritage Month! Beginning as “American Indian Day” in 1915, National Native American Heritage Month recognizes the achievements of American Indians and Alaska Natives during the month of November. The Pacific Southwest Region is home to over 1.1 million American Indian and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), nearly 20% of the country’s AI/AN population. Unfortunately, AI/ANs have disproportionately high prevalence of diabetes, suicide, infant death, unintentional and motor vehicle injuries, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis than other Americans. These health disparities may be the result of inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences, caused by economic adversity and poor social conditions. As health information professionals, we work not only with our patrons, but we work with our hospitals, our institutions, and our communities. This allows us a unique role in the fight against health disparities: we have the health resources and we have the ability to bring these parties together to make change.

Image of NLM Native Voices' Healing Totem

In October, the National Library of Medicine launched a new exhibition examining concepts of health and medicine among contemporary American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness explores the interconnectedness of wellness, illness, and cultural life within these communities. The exhibition features more than sixty interviews by Dr. Lindberg with Native physicians, traditional healers, health care executives, patients, experts in medicinal plants, and others, who speak for themselves about Native medicine, public health, and culture. The website also features a timeline highlighting key events and themes of Native peoples and their healing traditions. For educators, additional resources are available, including lesson plans, online activities, and suggested readings.

During last year’s National Native American Heritage Month, Latitudes featured several online consumer health resources for the AI/AN community, including MedlinePlus and American Indian Health. Additionally, the Office of Minority Health (OMH) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) have created a variety of resources, toolkits, and courses that can easily be implemented for the AI/AN community and for the people that serve them. For example, IHS has HIV/AIDS online training modules which provide information on HIV, HIV prevention, HIV testing, and stigma reduction for AI/AN providers and patients; and Physical Activity Kit (PAK), a culturally appropriate toolkit to be used in schools, communities, worksites, Head Start programs, elderly centers, and youth programs. Beyond health information, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has created emergency preparedness resources specifically for tribal nations.

Specifically for health professionals, the Office of Minority Health has created Think Cultural Health, a series of free, online, continuing education programs designed to help health professionals promote health and health equity through culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Think Cultural Health currently provides three courses, providing nine hours of free, continuing education credit for physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, social workers, disaster mental health workers, first responders, and emergency managers.

Lastly, to help you and your partners utilize these resources, OMH also recently published its National Partnership for Action (NPA) Toolkit for Community Action, giving community members the information and resources they need to help engage fellow citizens and local media as they spread the word about health disparities and educate others about the impact disparities have in the lives of individuals and the greater impact on society. If you are new with working with you AI/AN community, the IHS Online Search, Consultation, and Reporting (OSCAR) system may help guide you to best practice, promising practice, local effort, resources, and policies occurring among AI/AN communities, schools, work sites, health centers/clinics, and hospitals across the country.

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