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Using Native Traditions to Enhance Wellness

by Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
posted November 11, 1998

More than 100 California Native American tribes have been asked to participate in a campus wellness project. The Center for American Indian Research and Education, which is part of the School of Public Health, sent out 140 invitations to tribal chairpersons and medical clinics a little over a month ago.

"We are receiving a positive response," said Betty Duran, project director. "Several tribes have already called to say that they are interested."

The project, called "Wellness Circles: An American Indian Approach to Healing," will include culturally sensitive research on factors that influence health in American Indian communities. Project investigators will use native oral traditions to open up meaningful discussions about health issues and find ways to improve wellness among American Indians.

The five-year project, directed by Public Health Professor Felicia Hodge, is funded with a $1.6 million grant from the Institute of Nursing Research.

The project's first phase identified the definition of wellness in the Native American community through focus groups and conducted a statewide needs assessment survey. In phase two, the project will select eight sites from rural areas throughout California to participate in a 60-week investigation.

The investigation will consist of pre- and post-testing of all participants. Four tribes will comprise a control group and another four will participate in a wellness intervention program. The intervention group will also receive weekly health education sessions involving small group talking circles.

The talking circle sessions will be led by a trained facilitator who will introduce a traditional story which contains a health message, pass out health-education materials, and encourage discussion on wellness.

Phase three will consist of analyzing the center's findings. The final project report will be made available to the tribes.

"In the long run, if we're successful in introducing this intervention, we would offer (the project report) to all of the tribes and all of the Indian health clinics, not just in California but across the country," said Duran.


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