UA Native Nations Institute to Study Tribal Health Care

Grant-funded work aims to identify factors outside the traditional health-care system that influence the health and wellness of Native Americans. Over the next three years, the team will work with 10 American Indian nations throughout the U.S.
June 29, 2011
Stephen Cornell, Udall Center director, professor of sociology and co-principal investigator of the study
Stephen Cornell, Udall Center director, professor of sociology and co-principal investigator of the study
Stephanie Carroll Rainie, Native Nations Institute senior researcher and the director of the study
Stephanie Carroll Rainie, Native Nations Institute senior researcher and the director of the study
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The Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona has received a grant of $732,000 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to study social determinants of health in Native American communities.

The research aims to identify factors outside the traditional health-care system that influence the health and wellness of Native Americans and to identify factors that are amenable to action or control on the part of Native nations.

"Over the last 30 years, American Indian nations, dissatisfied with some aspects of federal Indian health programs, have been trying to develop new strategies to address health care in their communities," said Stephen Cornell, Udall Center director, professor of sociology and co-principal investigator of the project.

Most Native nations have focused their efforts on the health-care system as conventionally conceived – doctors, other health professionals, clinics, therapies, preventive programs and similar elements – but that is changing.

"There is a modest but growing movement afoot in many Indian communities to enlist civil society and tribal government in a more comprehensive wellness effort, along with an awareness that factors outside the health-care system may be critically important," said Cornell.

Such factors include community ties, cultural practices, kinship networks and innovations in governance.

"These efforts might be conceived, in part, as an attempt to create a local social environment that is conducive to wellness and an attempt to engage the entire community in that process," said Stephanie Carroll Rainie, Native Nations Institute senior researcher and the project's director.

"We all know that there are social factors operating outside the health-care system that have impacts on health outcomes, and there's ample anecdotal evidence from American Indian nations suggesting what some of those factors are," said Rainie.

"But there has not been much systematic inquiry into how those factors operate in the reservation context or whether addressing those factors directly might have positive impacts on health."

Over the course of the next three years, the research team will undertake its study, "Beyond Health Care: Community, Governance, and Culture in the Health and Wellness of Native Nations," working with 10 American Indian nations located in Michigan, New Mexico, Mississippi and elsewhere in the U.S.

In addition to Cornell and Rainie, the project team comprises Miriam Jorgensen, Native Nations Institute research director and project co-principal investigator; Rachel Starks, senior researcher; and Jennifer Schultz, graduate research associate and a doctoral student in the UA department of sociology.

A major objective of the project is to provide information to tribal leaders and health professionals that can assist them in developing effective health-care strategies to improve health outcomes in their respective communities.

The Native Nations Institute – a unit of the UA's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy – was founded in 2001 by the Udall Foundation and the UA and serves as a self-determination, governance and development resource for Indigenous nations in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, established in 1930, supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.