Big Sky Connection



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Some Native Americans are turning to traditional healing methods and culture to address health disparities for their communities. (Kate Brady/Flickr)


Eric Tegethoff

February 5, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. - It was when Annie Belcourt was having her own children that she realized some of the insidious ways health disparities for Native Americans reveal themselves. 

Belcourt, a psychologist and University of Montana professor who grew up on a Blackfeet Reservation, now studies the care inequities in Native American communities. 

Statistics show these communities face greater risks than the general population in just about every health-related category, including cancer, diabetes and suicide. 

Belcourt recalls during her own pregnancy, she had to drive four-and-half-hours for prenatal care - a situation not uncommon.

"For people who need dialysis or different types of care, having to travel two to three hours one way to access services is a real barrier, and leads to a lot of people making very difficult decisions, sometimes not being able to afford transportation to medical care," she points out. "And that has an impact on the whole family and the community."

Even the drive can be dangerous. The rate of motor vehicle deaths for Native Americans is about 2.5 times higher than the general population. 

On average, Native Americans live 20 fewer years than whites in Montana, according to state data.

The Indian Health Service (HIS), the primary health care provider for these communities, is in a position to change these trends. 

But Belcourt says lack of funding and mismanagement have gotten in the way. 

As an example, she says the IHS didn't provide her uncle a follow-up for two years after a spot was found on his lung. By then, the cancer had spread to his brain and he died shortly after.

"I know a lot of people who sometimes wait for years for surgery that's needed or different types of needed interventions, and are told that they're going to have to wait, or they don't have the funding to do it, or they don't have the resources at the hospital to provide the needed medical care," she states.

Belcourt adds that Native American communities also rely on other federal programs and agencies threatened by funding cuts, such as the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare and Medicaid and Veterans Affairs. 

To fill the gap, some are turning to traditional healing methods, and using traditional culture to heal as well.

"There's a lot of hope with regard to thinking about the future and tribal colleges, and bringing back languages and practices, and thinking about how that can improve some of the health inequalities that we see," Belcourt says.

Belcourt wrote about health disparities for Native communities for the website The Conversation.



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Big Sky Connection


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The Montana Department of Justice is reporting its findings on domestic violence deaths to a state legislative committee today. (Justin Brockie/Flickr)


Eric Tegethoff

January 29, 2018

HELENA, Mont. - Deaths from domestic violence are increasing across the state, according to a Montana Department of Justice report.

Fatalities increased nearly 140 percent in 2015 and 2016, compared with the previous two years. 

For Native Americans, it jumped 150 percent over the same period. 

The Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commissions on Monday are presenting the findings to the Law and Justice Interim Committee in Helena. 

Matt Dale, the commissions' coordinator, says domestic violence is a prevalent crime.

"It's very unusual to be speaking to a group of people without someone in that group growing up in a family in which there was domestic violence, or they have a friend or a sister who's involved in a violent relationship, which does not mean at all that that person has reported it to police or gotten a restraining order," he states.

According to the research, 2016 was the deadliest in domestic violence since the state began keeping track in 2000, with 21 deaths. 

Since 2000, firearms have been used in three-quarters of deaths, and three-quarters of perpetrators have been men.

Dale says Montana communities are developing teams involving law enforcement agencies and county attorney's offices to identify high-risk individuals and situations to prevent domestic violence deaths before they happen.

"All of the agencies that might be involved with either the perpetrator or the victim of domestic violence meet to try to identify ahead of time who are the perpetrators that these cases seem to be pointing towards a higher level of lethality," he explains.

The report also suggests that mental health professionals screen for domestic violence. 

Dale says Montana is partnering on prevention methods with Arizona, where judges use a seven-question assessment when setting bail for people who have been arrested for domestic violence. 

Dale encourages people who are in an abusive relationship to seek help.