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Circle of Life: New Cancer Education for American Indians

Nine Tribes attended the “Train the Trainer” session in Aberdeen, South Dakota

We may not like to talk about it, but cancer affects all of us. And American Indians have the lowest survival rate from cancer than any other population.

That’s why it’s really important to talk about it: because education is the key to preventing cancer and helping survivors live better and longer lives. And now, with the help of the American Cancer Society's (ACS) brand new teaching tool called Circle of Life, there’s help to do just that.

Health educators from nine tribes across South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska met in Aberdeen recently for a “train the trainer” session for the new Circle of Life curriculum. The meeting, hosted by the ACSin conjunction with the Indian Health Service, was an opportunity for Community Health Representatives (CHRs) to get familiar with the Circle of Life material, and talk about the best ways to present it to their communities.

“Circle of Life is designed specifically for Native American audiences,” said Roberta Cahill (Yankton Sioux), ACS staff member in Pierre, South Dakota. “And what makes it so unique is that it can apply to every tribe, because it’s completely customizable.”

Circle of Life is cancer education built upon common tribal values such as spirituality and respect for the natural world. The material features holistic and positive health messages. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, both located on South Dakota reservations, have been a part of the preliminary field testing for the culturally appropriate messaging.

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Circle of Life was developed by the ACS and Indian experts from around the country. The curriculum covers breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers—all cancers seen in Native populations. Screening, diagnosis, treatment, and end-of-life care are also discussed. The materials can be customized for individual tribes and feature American Indian photographs and artwork.

And with more than 500 tribes in the United States, who speak more than 217 different languages, the need for customizable material is very important. Every community is unique.

“I’m excited to start presenting the Circle of Life to my community,” said Shirley Crane, CHR Director, Lower Brule Sioux community, who attended the Aberdeen meeting. “It’s an opportunity to change the face of cancer, so we don’t have to tell our children they should be afraid of a word called cancer.”

The Circle of Life curriculum will be available online in 2012 for Native Americans looking for cancer and health information relevant to their community. The program aims to increase the understanding of cancer and its causes, promote wellness and prevention of cancer, and emphasize the importance of support during treatment.

Mostly, it aims to get the discussion going—and bring cancer out from the shadows.

About the American Cancer Society

At the ACS, our vision is a world with less cancer and more birthdays. As part of that vision, we are fighting cancer in every community, for every family, to help save lives. We recognize each community has different needs and we’re here to help everyone stay well and get well, to find cures, and to fight back against cancer. For cancer information, contact us at www.cancer.orgor 1.800.227.2345

Charlotte Hofer is the public relations manager for the American Cancer Society, and a member of the Native American Journalists Association. She is based in South Dakota. Contact her at