It occurs to me as I go full swing into the fall conference season for academics; there will be a deafening silence. Again, I will have at my disposal literally thousands of papers and posters presented at nursing, gerontological and other health related conferences with few to none reporting on the health status, interventions tried, or clinical trial outcomes of America’s first peoples.
Year after year I attend these conferences, and year after year out of those thousands, I may see 5 or 6 presentations on American Indian health. I am usually giving one of them. For example, at the Gerontological Society of America’s conference in Boston next month, I searched for ‘Indian’ (and other related terms) and 1 symposium came up. The one of which I am a part. Now, I find it is part of my personal and professional mission to ‘spread the word’ surrounding the history, current circumstances, law, policy and related health issues of American Indians and especially elderly. But, if there is no one else speaking- then I can’t learn….I will be on a panel with others at the symposium, the usual wonderful suspects.
I remember many moons ago, I was giving a paper at a conference in Texas as a doctoral student and 3 people came to my breakout on American Indians and Aging. I am constantly baffled by the lack of interest in this population. Mind you I realize that I am somewhat biased, but it can’t be good that there is a whole slice of the American population that is constantly overlooked. Even at 1% of the population you would expect 40 papers at a conference with 4000 given. We are never even close.
To be fair, I spend a good amount of my time answering the call to ‘spread the word’ as requested by people and groups around the country. But, until we can increase the number of American Indian academics who do research and teaching, we can’t get more students in to learn to take over and so on.
There are around 28,000 doctorally prepared nurses in this country. A rough count of doctorally prepared American Indian nurses is – 20. Of those with doctorates in nursing itself– it is fewer. For the total to be representative of 1% of the population there should be close to 300 of us. Why aren’t there 300? The reasons are many. They include cultural clashes, high school dropout rates, identity and role issues, the written word, geopolitical barriers and the disturbances of historical trauma.
I was on faculty at the University of Minnesota in the School of Nursing for about 10 years. I chose Minneapolis to live as one of the largest cities with an urban Indian population, and I had access to 11 surrounding tribes. Eye-opening to me: Minneapolis high school graduation rates for American Indians are abysmal. Only 21% made it to graduation in 2009. 21%!!! No Child Left Behind? We are leaving 80% of our American Indian children behind! Race to the Top??? How about race to ANY rung on the ladder and hang on for dear life??
Until America can figure out the education gap issues in this country, many, many voices will be silenced. They will be silent from high school classes, high school graduations, college classes, industry, innovations, health care, policy making and conference offerings. I am blessed that I had total encouragement in the education arena but I don’t pretend that that is the total answer either. I hope to help make an impact on education and I call any and all to find solutions ASAP. In the interim, I will pack my bag, jump on the train northward and do what I can to break through the silences…