Giving Compass’ Take:
• Melissa Walls, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, shares her understanding of the health gaps and inequities that Native American communities have faced for many years.
• Are there opportunities in your community to help provide more medical support for Native Americans?
• Learn more about the hidden health inequalities in these communities.
Growing up as a member of the Ojibwe tribe, Melissa Walls knew that that diabetes ran in her maternal family. “I’ve lost two very close family members, my great grandfather and an uncle, to complications related to type 2 diabetes,” she says. But it wasn’t until she began studying American Indian health in graduate school, at the suggestion of another uncle who served as a liaison between academics and local tribal communities, that she understood that her family’s plight was part of a much larger problem.
American Indian adults are more than twice as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, according to the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Native American youth experience the highest and fastest-growing rate of the disease of any racial or ethnic group. But those statistics only scratch the surface of the kinds of health disparities that indigenous people face.
The health statistics reflect a dire economic reality—1 in 4 Native Americans live in poverty, the highest rate compared to all other races—and the massive gap in medical resources available to this population.
More than two-thirds of Native Americans now live in urban areas, not reservations. That reflects 1950s-era federal policy designed to encourage American Indians living on reservations to urbanize, in the name of speeding “assimilation” (and freeing up tribal lands for federal exploitation). But in practice the relocation policy was “essentially a one-way bus ticket from rural to urban poverty,” as former Indian Affairs Commissioner Philleo Nash admitted in the 1960s.
Read the full article about health inequities for Native Americans by Linda Poon at CityLab.
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