WOEMA Celebrates National Native American Heritage Month 2022
November is Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Heritage Month. WOEMA honors the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of the first Americans while also acknowledging the public health and environmental challenges that AI/AN people continue to face and strive to overcome.
Today, 9.7 million people in the United States (2.9% of the population) identify as AI/AN alone or in combination with other races. There are 574 federally recognized tribes located in 35 states. AI/AN lands extend over 100 million acres, including 44 million acres in Alaska. (1) Native lands are sovereign territories, which ensures authority to establish policies and priorities most appropriate for the individual communities. For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, AI/AN communities exhibited ingenuity and resourcefulness to develop policies that resulted in high vaccination rates and effective community mitigation strategies.
Despite the existence of designated tribal lands, Indigenous nations across this country have lost nearly 99% of their historical territories. More than 40% of tribes now possess no federally recognized land. According to research from the Yale School of the Environment, a history of systemic land dispossession and forced migration has left Native people more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. (2) Native lands today experience, on average, an increased number of extreme-heat days and more severe wildfire risks compared to historical lands. Collaboration with Native peoples and community organizations is essential to mitigate these risks in the future.
This year, WOEMA invited Charlie Toledo, the Executive Director of the Suscol Intertribal Council, to begin our annual conference, WOHC 2022, with a blessing and land acknowledgement. For more information on the location of native lands around the world, visit Native-Land.ca | Our home on native land.
A few individuals from AI/AN communities who contributed to public health are:
- Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, first female Native American physician
- Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail, "Grandmother of American Indian Nurses"
- Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson, public health researcher and first American Indian woman to graduate from Yale University School of Medicine
Click here to read more about the substantial public health contributions of additional AI/AN people over the years.
(1) Foxworth R et al. Covid-19 Vaccination in American Indians and Alaska Natives. N Engl J Med 385;26 December 23, 2021
(2) Farrell J et al. Effects of land dispossession and forced migration on Indigenous people in North America. Science 374;6567 October 29, 2021
Rupali Das, MD, MPH, FACOEM
WOEMA President and Co-Chair, JEDI Committee