“Native Americans experience health disparities at rates far above those of non-Natives,” says Seth Allard, cultural anthropologist, research assistant for the project, and member of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“Enhancing the Circle of Health” CDC Grant Addresses Culturally Competent Approaches to Diabetes, Tobacco Use in Native Communities

To promote culturally informed care and disease prevention, Western Michigan University (WMU) teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Association for Prevention, Teaching and Research (ATPR), and Tribal and non-Tribal stakeholders in Southwest Michigan to create a curriculum to educate health professionals on Native American culture, history and the impact of historical trauma on current health disparities. The project, titled “Enhancing the Circle of Health: Culturally Competent Public Health Care Collaboration to Address Type 2 Diabetes and Tobacco Reduction in Native American Communities,” will run from May-August 2017.

“Native Americans experience health disparities at rates far above those of non-Natives,” says Seth Allard, cultural anthropologist, research assistant for the project, and member of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. “We must consider how disastrous Indian policies of the 19th and 20th centuries have strongly impacted Native American communities. Loss of culture, natural resources, traditional economies, and placement in the margins of mainstream society continue to impact their physical, mental, and spiritual health.”

The goal of “Enhancing the Circle of Health” is to develop a case study on two health disparities commonly experienced in Native American communities – Type 2 Diabetes and tobacco use – while focusing on the Urban Native community of Southwest Michigan. The case study will include interviews with Tribal members, who will share their views on the causes of diabetes and tobacco use in the Tribal community, experiences with the health care system, and culturally appropriate approaches to serving Tribal communities.  Information from interviews will inform a national curriculum on diabetes, tobacco use and cultural competency in Native American communities for health professions students.   

The project was developed as an interprofessional partnership within the WMU College of Health and Human Services, including Dr. Shannon McMorrow and Dr. Vivian Valdmanis, from the Master of Public Health Program, and Dr. Dee Sherwood, from the Master of Social Work Program.  “It is essential that we educate future health professionals, including public health and social work students, to be culturally competent. In doing so, we must actively work together to dismantle long held stereotypes and stigmatization of Native American communities,” said Sherwood. “Our overarching goal is to make sure that all voices are reflected in this curriculum development.”


The grant was supported by Family Outreach Center of Grand Rapids, Anishnaabe Circle of Grand Rapids, Choose Your Path program, American Indian Employability Services, and Western Regional Area Health Education Center. “Included in the team,” says Allard, “are Tribal leaders, organizations, the local Tribal community, various researchers, public health care experts, and videographers. The project approaches Tribal health with a focus on resilience, activism and leadership of Tribal peoples, while emphasizing the health care communities’ reaching out to Tribal peoples for teaching and guidance. I look forward to this project as both researcher and Tribal member.”


Tribal members are invited to attend a community meeting where they will be presented with a draft of this project and encouraged to provide feedback that will help improve the curriculum.  Where: WMU Beltline Campus in Grand Rapids, MI. When: Thursday, July 20th, 5:30-7:30 pm. Dinner will provided. RSVP to Dee Sherwood at (616) 258 – 0286 or Seth Allard at seth.m.allard@wmich.edu by July 17th. WGVU will host a mutually inclusive show on diabetes and tobacco use in the Grand Rapids Native American community July 21st, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at WGVU studio 301 Fulton W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504.


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