A CONVERATION WITH A CURRENT SPH STUDENT...
You’ve just returned from an internship in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
I actually did my internship in Sault Ste. Marie, with the Intertribal Council of Michigan, which represents the 12 federally recognized tribes of Michigan.
You’re part Native American, aren’t you?
I’m a member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians.
What sorts of health problems did you encounter in Sault Ste. Marie?
Everything. Native Americans—all minorities—tend to have a lot of health disparities. It’s pretty common knowledge that Native Americans tend to be more diabetic, more overweight. So we’re just trying to figure out exactly where our tribes are and what we can do to improve that situation.
What kind of impact does the environment have on their health?
There are always general problems that any city has. The Sault tribe, specifically, is not isolated—its reservation is within the city limits, so those basic problems arise. When you get out into more western tribes, where they are more isolated, water quality is always an issue. They don’t have running water a lot of times, and they have to come up with their own water system. With the Great Lakes, fish contamination is a huge issue. Should we eat fish? Should we not eat fish? How do you interpret the fish warnings that are out there? For the tribes in the Upper Peninsula, that’s a huge issue. Obviously these people were fishermen, and they ate a lot of fish, and now the fish are contaminated.
Did the internship help you learn about your culture? Do you feel like a different person?
Not different, just more knowledgeable. I’m more aware of how culture influences your health.
In what ways?
It depends. For example, tobacco in the Native American community is supposed to be used for sacred traditions and medicine. And if it was used traditionally, it wouldn’t be such an issue. But a lot of times commercial tobacco use is not a sacred use, and yet commercial tobacco use is very high among Native Americans.
Do you hope to continue working on these issues?
I am thinking about trying to get a job with the Indian Health Services. I’m definitely interested in promoting the health of Native Americans.
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Name: Stephanie Ross
Hometown: Adrian, MI
SPH Degree Program: MPH, Environmental Health Sciences, Program in Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology
Graduating Class: 2006