ABERDEEN, S.D. - Carole Anne Heart was recently named executive of the Great Plains Regional Tribal Chairman's Health Board.
Heart, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, comes to the health board from the United Sioux Tribes where she served as the director of the Comprehensive Center Field Office.
Heart also serves as president of the National Indian Education Association, the largest American Indian education association in the country. However, she described health as the number one issue in Indian country and said that under her leadership at the health board she will use her number two issue, education, to sell health.
"Two key things that keep people going are health and education. If you have a family member that is not healthy, you can't keep going. It affects everyone.
"We can prevent health problems with education. If women are educated, they won't drink during pregnancy. Maybe they just have a drink and when the baby is born it doesn't appear to have a problem, but will later on develop (Fetal Alcohol Effect)."
The key to a healthy community is prevention, she said. Fifteen tribal chairmen were at the latest meeting and the one message they delivered was prevention. "When you have contract health costs over the edge, it's because of alcohol and drugs, the cause of things we deal with on a daily basis like car accidents."
She said FAS-FAE was high in this part of the country. That's where the education part of Heart's background will come in handy. She said education will be a major issue in which the health board will get involved under her guidance. She makes no excuses for the high rate of alcohol usage.
"Our people find ways of dealing with the stress of daily life. Alcohol and smoking make them feel better and help to deal with the stress."
Heart maintains a healthy lifestyle by working out and laughing a lot, she said. And because of that, she claims to not have been sick in four years.
"I maintain a positive attitude. If we would learn, we would be healthy people. Some can't get rid of that cigarette and alcohol."
With more cancer cropping up in Indian country, there needs to be more awareness of some of the causes. She said there are chemical in carpets and processed food that may be causing the problems. Heart's answer is to assist the chairman to bring awareness of preventative measures to the health issue and bring a healthy lifestyle to the reservations.
Diabetes can be beaten with proper awareness through education, she said. "We can educate people with diabetes to simply take a one mile walk, three times a week, that would help."
Heart is no novice to health issues. She was appointed as a senior advisor to the director of Indian Health Service and administered special assignments. She represented the director in tribal and interdepartmental, and interagency deliberations on special issues. Her final assignment while in Washington, D.C., was as coordinator of National American Indian Heritage Month activities in that city. She worked with federal agencies to reflect and support the government-to-government relationship between federal agencies and the tribes and nations.
Heart has a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and attended law school. She served as tribal prosecutor for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, as executive director of economic development for the Yankton Sioux Tribe, was coordinator during the development of the Office of Water Resources for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and acted as natural resources director for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
She has not strayed far from her roots on the reservation and has worked for or near the reservations most of her life.
"There are health disparities among the minority in the country. They have the highest rate of diabetes and lung cancer. There is a lack of education and economics has a lot to do with it. A lot of people don't get to see an advertisement. What good is the Internet without a computer and not every home on the reservations has cable TV.
"There is a high rate of cancer, FAS-FAE and SIDS in the Aberdeen area, more than in any other part of the country. We need to use Healthy Start and educate about pre-natal care."