Over the last several years, the opioid epidemic has swept across Indian Country, forcing community members, tribal leaders, and healthcare professionals to pull from limited resources in an effort to reduce the epidemic’s harmful impacts.
Recent data show that American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations across the country have the second-highest fatality rate from opioid overdoses, placing even more strain on tribal health systems that are already underfunded.
We know that for Indigenous peoples, the impacts of colonization and historical trauma have created generational psychological injuries that have diminished the capacity of communities to respond to public health crises.
We also know that opioids are not the only cause for concern. Substance use disorders (SUD) in general have consistently created health disparities in AI/AN populations, and the underlying causes of SUDs can be linked to issues of unresolved trauma and adverse childhood experiences.
Native communities are diverse, and among the hundreds of tribes in the United States, there are countless, ongoing efforts to improve health and well-being.
Many tribal and urban Indian populations have been working on building strong, culturally-relevant health practices that address the distinct challenges that Indigenous people face. Some have coordinated with state and federal partners. Others have designed programs centered around cultural beliefs and traditional healing.
Each community has a unique story full of insights, successes, and challenges, and each perspective adds depth to the well of Indigenous knowledge.
In the Seven Sacred Directions framework, “Above” points to holistic wellness and the importance of making connections and integrating services. “Below” points to culture and identity as a source for reclamation and revitalization.
Seven Directions, a Center for Indigenous Public Health, is committed to these principles and hopes to unite AI/AN people with a shared vision for the future by cultivating a space for collaboration and supportive storytelling. It is not uncommon for communities to feel isolated in their struggles combating crises like the opioid epidemic. The scope of the work and the pressure of stigma can be overwhelming, but healing and resilience are possible.
Seven Directions can be a centralized source of technical expertise and resources where Indigenous peoples can make connections and work together to develop a standard of care across tribes. Every story matters. Each one deepens knowledge and moves AI/AN people closer to the goal of improved health and prosperity.
If you have a story to share--whether it be one of barriers, successes, or expertise--or if you would like to listen to these stories from colleagues, please visit the Seven Directions website and join the community of practice.
Also, make plans to attend the upcoming Our Nations, Our Journeys (ONOJ), a one-and-a-half-day Indigenous public health forum hosted in Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham territory (Tucson.)
The event will include expert-led discussions and keynote speakers on public health challenges Native communities are addressing. The theme, “Fight for Our Future: Finding Strength in Indigenous Public Health,” is a call to tribal and urban Indian community members to join the effort to transform public health systems, to build on Native American foundations of holistic wellness, and to foster collaboration in the creation of innovative pathways forward.
Websites of interest
Seven Directions website https://www.indigenousphi.org/
Seven Directions: What are the Seven Directions? https://www.indigenousphi.org/the-seven-directions
Community of Practice https://www.indigenousphi.org/indigenous-community-of-practice
Our Nations, Our Journeys https://www.indigenousphi.org/onoj
Gathering Grounds represents an Indigenous community of practice, an approach to learning where interdisciplinary members share their experiences and deepen their knowledge through interaction on an ongoing basis. Canyon de Chelly represents the sense we hope to accomplish with Gathering Grounds — a shared sense of fellowship and opportunity to learn from one another, and how reverence for sacred lands translates into the reverence we have for the contributions from each Gathering Ground member.