November is Native American heritage month, and we are excited to share one of many ways the communities with this rich heritage have been leaders in public health. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Indian and Alaskan Native population has had some of the highest vaccination rates in the country. How did this happen? Native American agencies and initiatives stepped up using their unique history and strengths to connect and build trust with people. A perfect example of this comes from The Native Project right here in Spokane.

SRHD Health Officer, Dr. Velazquez, at the Native Project COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic, April 2021

SRHD Health Officer, Dr. Velazquez, at the Native Project COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic, April 2021

The Native Project has been nationally recognized for the work they have done reaching our community with their vaccination efforts. As a leader in vaccination roll-out in our region, their work began with their community and quickly expanded to reach other communities of color that have been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 and have historical reasons to distrust public health initiatives. They knew from experience that some communities are at higher risk for COVID-19 and adjusted their outreach to reach those in most need of protection. By partnering with community organizations like Latinos en Spokane and The Carl Maxey Center, they were able to make sure vaccines and the information about them were accessible and available in an environment where they felt safe and supported. There was an overwhelmingly positive response resulting in increased vaccination rates and much more positive experiences with healthcare.

Again, this is only one of many examples of the Native American community demonstrating that public health can be equitable and community focused. Through the practice of embracing their culture and traditions, they have and will continue to create a healthier community for everybody.

For more inspiring stories of how Native Americans have contributed to public health, check out this article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.