Community health program to help Native American communities throughout state

SAULT STE. MARIE — New government programs are reaching Michigan with a goal to directly improve the health statuses of Native Americans.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, a state body consisting of members of all the recognized tribes of Michigan, has restarted a program to improve health in Indian communities. The program will directly affect many native communities including Sault Ste. Marie and Bay Mills.

The Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program (REACH) started as a national program with a focus to help Native communities across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided REACH funding to 41 communities across 27 states and the District of Columbia, including more than $1 million in funding to Michigan tribes.

Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan’s central office in Sault Ste. Marie is shown.
Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan’s central office in Sault Ste. Marie is shown.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan received $1,021,899 in funding, and it will cover the first year of the five year program in Michigan, spreading the money across the seven participating tribes, including the Bay Mills Indian Community, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“The 2023 REACH Journey to Wellness Project will follow the community based participatory approach model in order to reach evidence-based, culturally tailored strategies to meet the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native health disparities in Michigan,” said Laura Fisher, department director at Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan.

Native American communities across the country face certain health issues more than other racial or ethnic groups, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease and obesity, along with health behaviors associated with commercial tobacco use, are among the health burdens placed upon Michigan's American Indian populations. Being overweight, obese and smoking tobacco are all proven to increase the risk for health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes and cancer, according to a news release from the council.

Almost one-third of Michigan tribal adults had been diagnosed with diabetes, while only 11 percent of Michigan adults had been diagnosed with diabetes.

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Data from a Michigan American Indian Adult Health Survey found that tribal adults have an obesity rate 10 percent higher than the rest of the state. The survey found that tribal adults are increasingly not participating in physical activity and using commercial tobacco.

In Michigan, the most significant health disparities among American Indians and Alaska Natives are related to commercial tobacco use.

The goal of the program is to improve long term health outcomes of community members by preventing and treating chronic diseases. Prevention comes in many forms including education about increase risk factors such as ethnicity, the use of commercial tobacco and poor diet.

Strategies that may be implemented in any of the participating tribes include funding existing commercial tobacco prevention and cessation programs, promoting food service guidelines and expanding produce voucher incentives, and creating accessible physical activity such as pedestrian networks.

Changes from the program will begin this year and continue for the next five years.

— Contact Brendan Wiesner:

This article originally appeared on The Sault News: Native American communities receive community health funding