Advocating for involvement: American Indian Health Summit held at Sanford Center
BEMIDJI — As John Poupart began his hourlong presentation on how to incorporate American Indian values into research methodologies, he offered a short story about a young man who asked an elder a question.
“(He asked,) ‘How come old people don’t tell us the things we need to know?’ and the old man says, ‘You never asked,’” Poupart said. “That’s kind of the Indian way of learning. … We have to remember that going to the source of the information is critically important to understand the Indian mind.”
Poupart was among the speakers who led sessions Wednesday during the American Indian Health Annual Summit at the Sanford Center. The Summit, hosted by the Collaborative Research Center for American Indian Health (CRCAIH) based in South Dakota, drew nearly 300 in-person attendees and many others who watched via live video-streaming.
Poupart, the president of the American Indian Policy Center in St. Paul, was one of several speakers who gave presentations during the daylong Summit. His talk focused on ways researchers can better encourage and facilitate the involvement of American Indians in quality research.
“There’s a lot of research being done, not all of it on health but thankfully it is being done in health because we have such … severe challenges in our communities,” he said.
American Indians have the highest health risk factors of any racial minority, according to the CRCAIH. Cardiovascular disease is twice the rate of the general U.S. population and American Indian adults are more than two times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, according to Indian Health Services.
Poupart, who is Chippewa, suggested in order for researchers to obtain better data, they must partner with local tribes to form relationships.
Also, researchers should be sure to be upfront about what will be done with the results and provide those results and findings directly to the tribe, he said.
“I would mention just a couple of places in our United States where damage has been done with the release of information,” Poupart said, specifically mentioning New Mexico, Minnesota and Alaska, “where research was done and it wasn’t returned to the people for their review or commentary. Yet it was released to newspapers and news media so that Indian people had to read about those findings in the newspaper.”
Poupart himself recently helped lead a study that examined the rates of Indians who did and did not smoke. He said the study, called the Tribal Tobacco Use Project Survey, was a good example of successful collaboration between researchers and tribes.
The project was led by Poupart and and Jean Forster of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota and involved American Indians throughout the process.
Results of the project were released last year.
“We discovered that we have some of the most the worst smoking rates among all people in Minnesota,” Poupart said. Whereas 16 percent of the general population smoke, the study found that 59 percent of Indians smoke.
Deanna Lasley works at the Red Lake Comprehensive Health Services as a community health technician and part-time EMT. She was among several individuals who connected with Red Lake members to fill out surveys and provide the necessary data for the study.
Lasley, who was in the audience to hear Poupart talk, credited much of the study’s success to Lisa Skjefte, a Red Lake member who works as a community program specialist at the University of Minnesota. Skjefte was a member of the 13-person American Indian Community Oversight Group for the project.
Further, Lasley said a plan was developed to present the findings from the study to the director of the Red Lake tobacco-free program who then presented them to the tribe’s health director who then presented to them to the tribal council.
“It was an awesome job I believe,” Lasley said, referencing the study and how results were shared. “It helped us understand.”