Indigenous Day of Health held at the University of Arizona
December 1, 2017
Gila River Indian News
American Indian students came out to talk about Indigenous health at the public health college in Tucson.
The Indigenous Day of Health event was hosted by the American Indian & Indigenous Health Alliance at the University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health on Nov. 15.
This year’s theme, “Achieving cultural empowerment through health and wellness,” brought together students, faculty and notable public figures in Indian Country to discuss how Natives can improve their health.
The co-creators of Wellness for Culture, Chelsea Luger and Thosh Collins, talked about how their health initiative focuses on indigenous diets and exercises.
Luger, a member of Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota shared her knowledge about being what it means to incorporate health concepts based on indigenous practices into her life, which she and Collins have shared with tribal communities nationwide.
According to her biography, Luger is, “interested in proactive approaches to addressing health concerns amongst the people, frequently highlights positive stories about strength and solidarity through Native country.”
She said, “One of the core tenants about our understanding of wellness is it’s physical, it’s spiritual, it’s emotional and it’s mental…it’s all of those things that are critical elements to our wellness.”
Collins, a member of the Salt-River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, had developed a reputation for being a talented photographer, but has also incorporated health and wellness into his trade.
According to his biography, Collins, “Draws strength and motivation from the spiritual cultural practices of our (Akimel O’otham) people, and recognizes the inherent physical durability embodied by them.”
During their presentation, Luger and Collins talked about the historical health of Native people, especially of the tribal communities they represent.
Collins said that Native people have always had a natural gift for being athletic through the implementation of cultural activities that took place before European contact.
“To reclaim our health is to reclaim our identity,” said Collins, when talking about the incorporation of traditional foods in Native people’s diets.
He said when tribes think of nation building, it also should include health as part of bringing back the cultural identify of the people.
A large part of Luger and Collins initiative is to promote healthy lifestyles and the incorporation of indigenous foods through several modalities that touch on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.
The pair, also touched on the active part of their initiative, which covers functional movement training and patterns that increase the mobility of an individual.
They incorporated terms like, “Rez” and “Earth” gyms, which are used to describe a how physical fitness can be perceived as a simple setup, workout stations at home or utilizing nature as place to be active, that even means returning to traditional activities.
Both Luger and Collins agree, that simply turning the light on when it comes to changing behaviors to being healthy and well is not an easy transition.
They said that it can be accomplished by understanding that physical wellness is a present way of life that does not have to be looked back on as [was], but [is] a part of tribal communities today.
Afterwards there was a panel of Native public health students and a medical student, who are pursuing their master’s degree, completing their doctoral program or starting a medical program.
One of the panelists, Aaron Bia, from the Navajo Nation, who is a medical student at U of A, talked about what wellness means to him.
“Health and wellness is such a broad well, where everybody has their own way of dealing with health and wellness,” said Bia, “As a future physician, when you go and meet with your patients and advocate for health and wellness, ‘like go and be healthy’. What does that mean to your patient, especially if they come from an indigenous culture.”
Another panelists and co-founder of AIIHA, Carmella Kahn, Navajo Nation, is a doctoral public health candidate, said wellness is about seeking balance, especially for students, who are far from home.
“For me health and wellness means coming across any adversity and being able to handle it well, by using coping skills, whether its digging down into spiritual wellness, but anything that can help you overcome that, because once we build up stress, that’s when we come out of balance,” said Kahn.
Kahn said balancing her doctoral program with things that go on with family and in her personal life can be difficult, but knowing how to seek that moral support is important and promotes cultural and spiritual resiliency.
“I have tried to balance [that] (stress) and I’ve been able to do that primarily through social networking where I needed spiritual guidance from the elders in Tucson. That has always helped me a lot, since I’m away from home. A lot of the tribes here, do ceremonies, so I try to take that time to get to know the culture, but also practice what I know from home and continue to do that,” she said.
In thinking about the treating of health disparities Bia said, “You just can’t say ‘go be healthy,’ ‘go eat well.’ It’s very vague, so that’s why I try to connect with different people and say why, and I think the most important question is ‘why do you want to be healthy?’”