Tribal community meetings are under way in the northern Plains.

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Charlotte Hofer

Groups to work together on addressing cancer issues

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Charlotte Hofer interviewed Leah Frerichs, Northern Plains Comprehensive Cancer Program manager, and Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society. Cahill, Yankton Sioux, lives in Pierre. Her work focuses on cancer education to diverse populations.

April 15 - 21 is National Minority Cancer Awareness Week. During April, tribal community meetings will be held across the northern Plains to address cancer issues for American Indians.

Charlotte Hofer: What are the ''tribal community meetings''?

Leah Frerichs: The meetings are about getting to know people better in the tribal communities, to learn from them what their challenges and priorities in cancer control are. We're starting these meetings in April, and we'd like to have at least one meeting on every Native American reservation in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

Roberta Cahill: It is imperative for people in each community to have input in these meetings since they know their communities best.

Hofer: What partners are involved and who do they represent?

Frerichs: The Northern Plains Comprehensive Cancer Program is a program of the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen's Health Board and works for the tribes in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. NPCCP facilitates a coalition that has a wide range of representatives from the northern Plains tribes, Indian Health Service, states, universities and cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society.

Cahill: The partners mentioned are involved because they focus on cancer and represent a wide range of perspectives, experiences and resources, and can lend their support to addressing cancer issues.

Hofer: Why are the community meetings being conducted?

Frerichs: The Northern Plains Cancer Coalition has been working to help write a ''cancer plan'' that reflects the major issues that need to be dealt with in cancer prevention and control for Native Americans in the northern Plains. However, we know there are other voices we still need to hear from: those who live and work in the local communities - to hear their voices about cancer, the challenges they face and the strengths they have - and we want to make sure that this plan reflects what we learn from them about cancer in their communities. We also want to give Native people the opportunity to become more involved in the coalition and its efforts.

Cahill: Community involvement is absolutely crucial to addressing the local efforts and the meetings offer a good opportunity to become more involved - which will enable tribes to meet prospective partners who can assist them in their community.

Hofer: What do you hope to accomplish?

Frerichs: We want to build a unified approach to working toward cancer issues. During these meetings, we hope to learn about the different tribes' priorities and needs so we can try and take action in those areas.

Cahill: We hope to identify where collaborative efforts can benefit the tribes the most, keeping in mind this is a five-year plan.

Hofer: Why is it important that all these partners are involved?

Frerichs: One individual or group cannot handle the complex issues surrounding cancer, especially cancer in Native communities where there are so many compounding health issues and not enough resources and support available. But if people come together and work together, we can accomplish more; to share things with each other that are working, to help more people tap into resources they didn't know existed.

Cahill: Because we can accomplish more together than each of these partners could individually. By working together - the tribes, the NPCCP, S.D. State Comp. [Comprehensive] Cancer [Control Program], Indian Health Services and American Cancer Society - we can make life better for Native Americans facing cancer. Together, we have more resources, more expertise, more ideas and more people power to fight cancer.

Hofer: What's important for people to know about these meetings?

Frerichs: We want people to share. We want to listen.

Cahill: We want to know what the cancer concerns are in the local communities.

Hofer: How will these meetings benefit Native Americans with cancer?

Frerichs: These meetings are just the initial phase of working towards the program's goals of improving cancer prevention and control for Native Americans. The feedback received from these meetings will help guide our actions in the coming years as we work with the cancer stakeholders in the region.Cahill: These sessions will give the coalition some insight as to prioritization of the needs and to begin matching resources to those needs where they exist in a timely manner.Hofer: How are the meetings funded?Cahill: The Northern Plains Native Cancer Control Program is funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This funding will help support these meetings.Hofer: Why is there a Northern Plains Comp. Cancer and a separate S.D. State Comp. Cancer? Wouldn't it be simpler to have one group instead of two?Frerichs: Native Americans face some similar issues with cancer as the general population, but they also have unique issues and sometimes more complicated issues. There is a greater need. We know that Native Americans have the lowest survival from cancer than other races/ethnicities. Therefore, it is important to have this additional effort. Neither one of these programs can do this on their own.Cahill: The coalition makes it possible to address issues in both plans but offers some culturally appropriate ways to better serve the Native American community through the NPCCP on some issues. The plans will complement each other to maximize the efforts to address cancer. The American Cancer Society is a strong partner to both the tribal cancer group coalition and the state group.Hofer: If Northern Plains CCP represents the tribes, who represents off-reservation or urban Native people?Frerichs: The Northern Plains Comp. Cancer program thus far has focused on reservation-based tribes, but some of the efforts will have benefit to those in the urban communities.Cahill: The issues that are of concern on the reservations frequently reflect similarly in the off-reservation population. And South Dakota Urban Indian Health is a stakeholder in the S.D. Comp. Cancer Program.Hofer: What happens after the tribal meetings? What's the next step?Frerichs: We will be refining the ''plan'' based on what we hear during the meetings and then begin working on these issues. This plan will guide our actions for the next five years - although it may need to be revised as priorities and needs may change. We want to help individual tribes expand their cancer prevention and control capacity and activities. We want to continue to build and strengthen relationships and partnerships among all Native American cancer stakeholders in the northern Plains so we can coordinate regional efforts.Cahill: The coalition looks forward to learning from the tribal meetings so the plan can be refined and we can be sure we are incorporating the tribal voices.For information on the meetings, e-mail Frerichs at epifrerichs@aatchb.org or call (605) 721-1922, ext. 110. For cancer information, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org or call (800) ACS-2345.