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Holistic health revisited

Medical book combines spiritual and physical well being

OAKLAND, Calif. - The prophecy of the return of the Morning God of the East
in Dineh cosmology tells of a time of worldwide destruction, apocalyptic
death and plaque. Is the Morning God dancing among us now?

The HIV/AIDS epidemic, sometimes called the "new small pox," has cavorted
among the poor and disenfranchised for three decades. Disease and substance
abuse have become the bane of minority populations in disproportionately
large numbers. To many, AIDS is the prophesied destroyer.

High-tech medical professionals, with their finely tuned scientific minds,
have been conditioned to disregard such antiquated folklore. But perhaps
this is not the best way to provide treatment for non-Caucasian patients.
What if doctors were trained to understand American Indian cultural
systems? American Indians many times reject classic Western medicine in
favor of traditional healing methods when they are made available.

This theory is investigated in "Healing and Mental Health for Native
Americans: Speaking in Red" (AltaMira Press, 2004) which confronts disease
and many other contemporary ills. "The Morning God Comes Dancing,
Culturally Competent Mental Health and HIV Services," by Nelson Jim is just
one of the works of the 36 professionals in the American Indian health care
field which have been compiled and reprinted in this amalgamation of
healing ideas.

The collection of articles explores the concept that there are logical ways
of combining Western linear thinking with the circular patterns of American
Indian folk knowledge.

The introduction makes the bold statement: "Healing and Mental Health for
Native Americans: Speaking in Red" offers insights into the problems
encountered and solutions practiced by Native Americans today. This
collection provides a nexus from tradition to innovation, restoring to
health the pains of heart and mind."

Editor Ethan Nebelkopf is the director of the Native American Health
Center's Family and Child Guidance Clinic (FCGC) which opened its doors to
the Oakland/San Francisco community in 1989. Co-editor Mary Phillips,
Omaha/Laguna Pueblo, works in program planning, community coordination and
evaluation at United American Indian Involvement, Inc. in Los Angeles.

The book is geared toward medical professionals as well as the Native
community.

In an interview with Indian Country Today Nebelkopf stated: "Jill Erickson,
our project officer from the federal Center for Mental Health Services, one
of our largest funding agencies, stressed the importance of documenting
innovative mental health and substance abuse programs for Native people.
She said that this type of book would benefit Native people on many
levels."

The editors worked with a group of professionals from a wide range of
specialties to bring renewed hope to people who have been ravaged by
poverty and despair. Their articles bring into focus the devastating
effects of incompetent health care systems and lack of funding. The aim is
to heal wounds (physical as well as mental) through changes in the way the
sick are treated - spiritually, traditionally, ceremonially and
scientifically - in urban settings as well as rural ones.

Nebelkopf doesn't think extreme measures are necessary to make extreme
improvements either: "One Native family with substance abuse and mental
health problems was seen by a counselor for a year. A Native healer was
brought in and met with the family and the counselor. "After praying and
burning some cedar marked improvements took place," said Nebelkopf.

Nebelkopf also thinks that health care funding must be reorganized before
improvements can become widespread. "The mainstream system of care has been
designed around the needs of the funding agencies instead of the needs of
the clients. Managed care does not recognize that effective services must
acknowledge individual differences and cultural identities," he said in a
press release.

"I think access to health care for not only American Indians, but all
people of color can be improved. To overcome these disparities the health
care system in the United States needs to be overhauled, taken out of the
hands of the insurance companies and into the hands of consumers and
providers of health care."

The Native American Health Center is a non-profit community-based health
care provider which opened in 1972 with four clinics in the bay area. Their
mission statement is to assist American Indians and Alaska Natives to
improve and maintain their physical, mental, emotional, social and
spiritual well being with respect for cultural traditions and to advocate
for the needs of all Indian people, especially the most vulnerable members
of the community. The center takes a holistic approach to treating the
"whole" person with emotional and spiritual guidance as well as medical and
social services.

These Californian centers have dealt with the unique problems that were
created by the 1950s relocation of Indian families from reservations to
urban areas such as San Francisco. "All minorities in urban areas have huge
problems with poverty, unemployment and health care.

"Native Americans are such a small minority that they are often invisible
to funders. The unique status of urban Native Americans as belonging to
sovereign nations is also overlooked," said Nebelkopf. "Even the small
amount of federal funding for health care available to tribes is not
available to urban Indian nonprofit organizations."

"Healing and Mental Health for Native Americans: Speaking in Red" is the
15th addition to "Contemporary Native American Communities, Stepping Stones
to the Seventh Generation", a series of books examining life in
contemporary communities from the viewpoint of Native values.

The Native American Health Center is located at 3124 International Blvd.,
Oakland, CA 94601; (510) 636-4440; fax (510) 621-3985;
www.nativehealth.org.

For more information about the book, visit www.altamirapress.com or write
to AltaMira Press, 1630 North Main St., #367, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.