Working Together to Address Asthma in Tribal Communities in the Northwest
29
September

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /


Erin McTigue: The EPA is working to make a visible difference in tribal communities by forming the northwest tribal asthma team. Even though anyone can get asthma we know that rates are higher than average in tribal communities. The science on asthma is very clear, people with asthma have more asthma attacks and feel sicker when they’re exposed to things like wood smoke, mold and moisture issues or don’t have ventilation in their homes. One approach that we know is effective is to create a community support network of health clinic staff, environmental professionals and housing specialists. Emma Medicine White Crow is a really strong partner of ours on asthma work in the northwest. She’s a local leader who really works hard to help tribes and communities in general address hard public health issues including asthma. Emma Medicine White Crow: I’ve had asthma for 20 years. My five-year-old has asthma, my son Lukan. Lukan’s a typical five-year-old. He wants to run, he wants to jump, he wants to play, he wants to be outside but that means he has to take his inhaler. Erin McTigue: Environmental staff from tribal communities can help families figure out ways to make changes in their homes that can help to improve their health. Emma Medicine White Crow: How do you feel when you get asthma, do you cough a lot? Lukan: Yeah. Emma Medicine White Crow: Yes, it’s not fun is it? Lukan: No. Emma Medicine White Crow: Do you like missing school? Lukan: No. Emma Medicine White Crow: The other thing I’ve seen unfortunately are some homes that are impacted by mold. Marie Zackuse: There are a lot of issues in relation to the mold issue in our developments on the reservation. Dean Henry: People that live in these homes – it starts from the little ones on up, from the babies on up to the elders – they have some kind of asthma Erin McTigue: Dean Henry works with the Tulalip Tribes in the health and safety program. Faces asthma in his own life. Dean Henry: This is huge, we have over 3,500 members, from what I understand, that have some kind of COPD or some type of asthma in these homes and they have been breathing this stuff years. Mel Sheldon: You know once we became aware of the mold issues in our homes, whether it be inside the home or underneath the home, the wood rot, all the tell-tale signs that you have mold issue, it became a task that was not just one department, but a number of our people coming together. Erin McTigue: A really unique role that EPA has is to be able to convene partners around environmental health issues. We can work directly with tribes on a government-to-government basis to help them address some of the really hard issues that they’re facing. Emma Mediine White Crow: We’re being proactive. I’ve seen a lot of creative efforts and that more importantly I’ve seen Indian country willing to work with potential partners. I really hope that we can highlight the collaboration and we can highlight the opportunity because we have to find our solutions. This is why I do what I do, because this is our future, and this is the future of Indian Country. Marie Zackuse: Because of the health conditions of our people, we need the funding. If it was possible today to find any monies are available for this issue, I’m sure we’re not the only tribe. If we lose one of those children because they couldn’t breathe right, then where do we sit? As a tribal leader we need to put that up on the top. Mel Sheldon: When we want to protect our young, our kids, and our elders, the most vulnerable population, it asked us, no it demands that we go into immediate action work with EPA, work with HUD, work with all entities as well to resolve this so that we can safeguard the health of our people. Dean Henry: I’d hate to have any kid suffer like I suffer. I mean, I live on sprays, I live on pills. Erin McTigue: Tribes and other partners are working together to help create, fund and sustain these community networks to address asthma in tribal communities now and for future generations [Music]


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