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Prevent Cancer has been making a difference in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities since 2007 through grants that support powwows, traditional food guides and numerous other cancer prevention projects. Our grants have enabled groups across Indian Country to implement cancer initiatives tailored to their individual communities. According to the Intercultural Cancer Council, the AI/AN community includes more than 560 federally recognized tribes and a wide range of languages, beliefs and cultures. There are over 200 Native American languages spoken today, and most do not include a word for “cancer.”

Based in Mandan, North Dakota, Custer Health was awarded one of four 2013 Community Grants. The group’s project, entitled “Standing Rock Reservation Men’s and Women’s Cancer Center Education and Screening,” aims to address low screening rates on the reservation, which covers more than 3,500 square miles, spanning both North and South Dakota. With its $10,000 grant, Custer Health will hold both lunch-and-learn sessions for 150 and men and women’s health days that include cancer screenings. I recently caught up with the project’s director, and we discussed this project.

Cancer prevention education and health promotion are the focus of the lunch sessions. “So far we have reached 75 women and men through five events on the reservation,” reported Jodie Fetsch, RN, Director of Nursing for Custer Health. “We are serving a healthy lunch instead of traditional fry bread because we want to keep the health message going.” She has been impressed by the great questions men and women ask at these events. With separate discussions for men and women along with an open forum for all, the questions range from anatomy of the prostate and colon to the potential benefits and harms of screening and the HPV vaccine.

CUSTER logoMs. Fetsch has worked on the men’s health program for the past 10 years at Custer Health. She described how the women are instrumental in getting the men to come in and take care of their health. She believes the success of the men’s health days also results from the long-standing relationship between the community and Custer Health. Her earlier work on the men’s health day program and lunch-and-learn sessions in the Northern Plains was supported by a Prevent Cancer grant in 2008. We are proud to support cancer prevention and early detection on the Standing Rock Reservation as well as in other AI/AN communities.

Other examples of our work in Indian Country:
2007 Colorectal Cancer in Minnesota American Indians: An Intertribal Dialogue for ActionTM – provided a venue for over 70 tribal leaders, public health officials, and community members to discuss the unequal burden of colorectal cancer among American Indians in Minnesota and to identify ways that they could work collectively to combat colorectal cancer.

2007 Community Grants – With its $15,000 grant, the Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program of the University of New Mexico provided cancer education outreach to two Navajo communities in New Mexico. The Washoe Tribal Health Center leveraged its $15,000 grant to increase awareness and screening for colorectal and breast cancer through a state celebration event and a powwow in Carson City, Nevada.

2007 – 2008 AI/AN Dialogue for Action – Prevent Cancer awarded $10,000 grants to 10 tribal and urban Indian health organizations to increase colorectal cancer screening and awareness in their respective communities. These teams included: Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Black Hills Center for American Indian Health, Cherokee Nation, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board (formerly Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairman’s Health Board), Ho-Chunk Nation, Intertribal Council of Michigan, Kaw Nation, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Texas Gulf Coast American Indian/Alaska Native Community and Urban Indian Health Institute. Team outcomes ranged from awareness campaigns and elder luncheons to pilot studies on screening and follow-up.

2011 Community Grant – The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium received a $25,000 grant to develop and distribute a culturally appropriate “Traditional Food and Activity Workbook” for Alaska Native youth aged 8-10 years who are at risk for obesity. The Workbook is designed to increase the likelihood that Alaska Native youth will make healthy lifestyle choices of traditional foods and adopt healthy eating behaviors, in order to reduce their risk of cancer and other diseases.

Read more about the community grants and AI/AN initiatives.