By Alan Sorensen
Faith and medicine have always been united in the traditional holistic healing practices of the American Indian, according to Chippewa Cree tribal elder Pat Chiefstick.
Chiefstick told an audience at the Rocky Boy Health Fair Friday afternoon that the Indians shared their knowledge of herbs, roots, barks and other medicines with the white man. In return, the white man gave the American Indian his diseases.
America's European settlers further crippled Indians, Chiefstick said, when they declared the United States a country of religious freedom but made Indian religion illegal.
Today, Chiefstick said, 90 percent of the medicines Indians shared with whites are still being used in pharmaceuticals. Now, too, it is legal for Indians to follow their native religion thanks to an act of Congress late in the last century.
Before Chiefstick shared his cultural message and a prayer, more than 20 booths provided fairgoers with a glimpse at health problems and solutions on this isolated reservation in north-central Montana.
The fair, "Taking a Step into Healthy Living," was the third hosted by the Rocky Boy Health Board. Co-sponsors this time were 10,000 Steps Kickoff Program and Bristol-Myers-Squibb.
"Last year we had our first one," said Renita Watson, alternative resource benefits coordinator for tribal health. "It was in the Stone Child College gym and we had about 20 booths. Then, in October, we held one at Box Elder School."
Watson said the first health fair was intended primarily as an opportunity to recruit children into either the Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance program. The two medical insurance coverages are available to children throughout the state. Medicaid has strict financial-need guidelines that make it accessible to the poorest of the poor. CHIP is provided as a stop-gap for families whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford insurance coverage.
Watson said the organizers for Friday's health fair were hoping to attract 300 people. About 5 p.m., the midway point in the eight-hour fair, more than 200 people had signed in.
"We had 150 the first time and then 80 (in Box Elder)," Watson said, "so over 200 isn't so bad and not everyone signed in."
Among the booths were some geared strictly to children lead screening, the Women, Infants and Children program, child passenger safety and hepatitis vaccinations. Others focused on women's health, diabetes, heart problems and cancer.
The lead testing and WIC programs more or less shared a booth because of their similar goals and target group. Roberta Goggle at the lead booth said her goal is to continue checking children 6 months to 6 years of age for lead poisoning. The process is simple: take a small sample of blood from a child's finger and send it in to the state lab in Helena. If the reading is suspect, a larger blood sample will be drawn and treatment will begin.
Melissa Swan and Lois Gopher handed out information at the WIC booth about the program, which provides nutritional information, medical referrals and food products to young qualified mothers in need.
"We coordinate the two (lead and WIC) together because sometimes we have to go into the community to get (parental) consent (to test children)," Swan said.
Theda Morsette, who was hired in February, is the tribe's injury prevention coordinator. The position was created, she said, because injuries are the No. 1 reason for visits to the Tribal Health Center.
"I'm trying to cut down on injuries," Morsette said. "Our highest injury around here is falls."
Among projects she's already initiated are lighted crosswalks in Box Elder, a child passenger safety program, and handicap signs at various locations. Her next big project, she said, will be a bicycle helmet rodeo for children in a couple of weeks.
Shane Patacsil, a community health representative who makes home health visits around the Rocky Boy community, provided free blood pressure and blood sugar readings.
The day's activities culminated with a barbecued chicken feed and golden oldies rock 'n' roll by the Green River Band.