Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thank you and let the work begin!

With the help of Pete Hill and Michael Martin with Native American Community Services (NACS), health researchers and some of our community Elders, I was recently awarded a prestigious two year grant with the University of Washington’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute (IWRI).

The Fellowship Award

The Indigenous HIV/AIDS Research Training (IHART) program is housed within University of Washington’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute and is an innovative research training program for Indigenous and other underrepresented ethnic minority scholars. The IHART program aims to develop a network of scholars dedicated to culturally grounded research that will contribute to ameliorating health disparities among American Indians/Alaska Natives. The fellowship provides $20,000 to fund a Native American focused HIV/AIDS and health-related disparities pilot study, $2,000 travel, along with mentorship, cultural and tribal consultation, editorial support for grants and articles, and on-site research conference and institute attendance.

Fellows will have the opportunity to work with and be mentored by some of the nation’s most respected researchers on the topic of Native American health. Karina Walters, PhD, Director of UW’s IWRI is one of the many mentors.  

The funds will be used to investigate a Native specific HIV intervention developed by Pete Hill and NACS. NACS have been providing health and cultural services to Native Americans throughout Western New York for 35 years. The intervention being studied is titled, Healing in Volumes©: A New Approach to HIV. The intervention focuses on historical trauma such as boarding schools and their impact on overall Native American health issues.

Why this research project is important in Native American communities

Programs that are interested in applying for HIV interventions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must choose from the CDC’s menu of HIV intervention options known as the Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions (DEBI) project. Programs funded through the CDC have to select and follow the intervention(s) within DEBI hoping that it meets the needs of their clients. Unfortunately, there are no interventions in the DEBI menu for Native Americans.
Pete Hill and NACS have developed and begun introducing the idea of Healing in Volumes©:  A New Approach to HIV but need some assistance with developing and carrying out a scientific evaluation of their approach.

In the NACS Health & Wellness component, they recognize the importance of the Native concept of balance.  “Balance” teaches that certain behaviors have the potential to do “good” or “not good” for individuals and their community.  It is up to each individual to make their own decisions and behaviors for the health and wellness of the Seventh Generation to come. Risk factors for HIV in Native communities include misuse or abuse of alcohol, drug addiction, poverty, other STDs, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence, poor overall health status, sexual abuse, lack of access to quality services for health care, lack of transportation, availability of medications, incarceration, etc. and are a significant cause for concern.  Native people have many, if not most, of the risk factors and behaviors that are well known to increase the risk of HIV infection (see; Hawkins et al., 2004; Kramer, 1992; Office of Applied Studies. 2006). 

Rather than thinking about HIV only as a virus, NACS’s new approach goes beyond simply teaching someone how to use a condom properly. It seeks to look at how all of the events in history shape someone’s responses in their current and future lives.  According to Pete Hill and NACS, people can learn to have different choices, healthy lifestyles, and a meaningful life once they understand how their histories influence their thinking.  The new intervention looks at historical trauma issues which leads to high risk behaviors for HIV.  The long-term goal is to learn, or re-learn, how individuals can live in a good way.

This new approach to HIV—“Healing in Volumes”—can help make different decisions for individuals, their families, and generations that will follow.  “Healing” can have a lot of meanings for Native people.  First, as stated by Pete Hill, “Native people should be able to learn about the residential boarding schools and their impact on their people, languages, customs, and culture.”  Pete goes on to state that, “They should understand why so many abuses exist within their communities and what to do about it.”  According to the new approach, healing also means being able to forgive those in the past who have wronged Native Peoples. Native people do not have to continue to be harmful to each other or to themselves. We can live in a good, kind, loving way.

The term “In Volumes” refers to being able to learn as much as possible about Native history so that they can create a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. Forgiveness may be a very difficult thing for Native people to do, and sometimes, there will never be an apology or an admission of guilt or responsibility by those who have wronged Native people.  Yet, forgiveness is very important to a human’s overall health. Forgiveness brings an understanding and acceptance of the past, holds people accountable for their actions today, and allows folks to move forward.  Natives can listen to the wisdom from their Elders and have a better understanding of how they can live their lives, especially in the age of HIV/AIDS.

So, the idea behind Pete Hill and NACS’s new plan, “Healing in Volumes©:  A New Approach to HIV” moves away from past thoughts of treating HIV/AIDS as a singular, disconnected issue of a current health behavior focus, and toward the idea of an overall (e.g., past, current and future) health and wellness approach. The problems associated with HIV/AIDS cannot be addressed separate from healing from other issues like, historical traumas.

Expectations from IHART Fellows

At the end of the two-year IHART fellowship program, Dr. Patterson, Pete Hill and NACS will have the needed materials and be prepared to submit a National Institute of Health R01 grant. This is an exciting and rewarding opportunity for UB, the School of Social Work, David Patterson, Pete Hill and Native American Community Services. The work being conducted will directly impact the health and wellness throughout Indigenous communities along with better educating professionals who are in positions to work with these communities. Peace, DAP

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