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Is Successful Healthcare a Question of Culture? Native American Clinic Treats the Whole Self

Posted: October 04, 2018

For Anne*, recovering from substance abuse, depression, and a 20-year eating disorder meant seeking help. But having moved around quite a bit as a child, she struggled to find adequate therapy despite decades of battling her issues. Because for Anne, physical, mental, and behavioral health was about more than clinical treatment; it was about working with professionals who understood her culture and her unique perspective.

Anne, part of the Ojibwe and Odawa tribes, is a Native American and native Grand Rapidian. One of the approximately 130,000 American Indians in Michigan and part of the 67 percent that live in cities, Anne refers to herself as an “urban Indian,” or a Native American that does not live on tribal land. Many West Michigan Native Americans just like Anne — though not receiving healthcare in their home communities or reservations — find culturally-specific treatment at the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) Northern Facility Health Clinic on State St. NE.

Here, patients of all federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan native tribes can take advantage of free health and dental care (no out-of-pocket fees are required, but available insurance may be billed), as well as cultural activities like crafting and drum circles. With a community eager to rally around Michigan American Indians with medical, cultural, and emotional support rooted in a shared cultural perspective, the clinic seeks to tackle historical health disparities for the population, while offering Native Americans who live in cities a chance to reconnect. 

“I’ve done therapy outside of that clinic before and I have to do a lot more explaining about my background than I do with my therapist here,” says Anne, who takes advantage of the NHBP clinic’s Access to Recovery program, which provides her with a case manager and therapist. Free to work with others who understand her desire to treat the whole self, Anne says, “I don’t have to explain myself that way. And I feel a little bit more freer to share things … than I do outside of clinic.”

Anne also participates in a crafting group and a talking circle. “We kind of go over a meditation, we eat, and we participate in traditional crafts,” says Anne. “It’s been wonderful, I’ve got connections within the community.”

All of these things, in addition to the access to regular healthcare, help Anne stay substance-free. “For me, culture is part of that process,” she says. When fighting alcoholism, drug use, and depression, “You tend to feel pretty isolated in those things,” she adds.


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