Traditional Garden bounty (Photos/NATIVE HEALTH)
Written by Jennie McLaurin, Senior Fellow, NACHC; Erica Weiss, Senior Writer, NACHC; and Susan Levy, NATIVE HEALTH’s Communication Coordinator and Community Involvement Leader
To some, Indigenous People Month – November – may seem abstract. To NATIVE HEALTH, it’s a year-long mission. While not all Community Health Centers serve large indigenous populations, like the members of 200 + Tribes from across the United States served at NATIVE HEALTH, all can embrace the foundational values of hospitality, respect, and dignity that guides human-centered indigenous care.
NATIVE HEALTH is a Federally Qualified Health Center and Urban Indian Health Program (UIHP) located in Phoenix, Arizona. It serves urban Native Americans and anyone seeking medical, dental, behavioral health, WIC, and wellness services. Beyond meeting the fundamental health center program requirements, NATIVE HEALTH incorporates its core values into all services and programs.
Celebration, Indigenous Heritage-Building, and Holistic Health
Indigenous values are expressed in everything NATIVE HEALTH offers. Virtual Talking Circles, a Traditional Garden, Cultural Group Connections for in-home visits, early childhood programs, an Indigenous Wellness program, and a Tribal Practices and Youth Resiliency program are just some of the programs inspired by indigenous cultures.
Their Traditional Garden is located two miles from the central clinic. It features traditional farming methods (flood irrigation and canal systems) that enable community gardeners to grow produce in Arizona’s arid and extreme conditions. There they can cultivate native, drought-tolerant plants like Tohono O’odham melons, Dine’ blue corn, Tepary Beans, and Navajo Copper Popcorn.
Community gardeners are invited to participate in weekly or monthly Garden Workdays, harvests, special programming, and At-Home Garden Warriors programs. Produce from the garden is distributed to NATIVE HEALTH’s food pantries and given to community members who may experience food insecurity. As children garden alongside elders, they learn about healthy eating habits, local sourced foods, and Native traditions. Social Drivers of Health are incorporated through such natural experiences, as NATIVE HEALTH supports generational wellness.
Creating Beautiful Synergy
NATIVE HEALTH inspires opportunities among community partners so indigenous values can be expressed. The Phoenix area government, for example, now hosts Native American Recognition Days. These days include an Annual Open House and Health Fair, drawing thousands of attendees across tribes. They also host an annual Traditional Children’s Pageant where Native American youth compete in their traditional regalia and perform an indigenous activity while being judged by Tribal Royalty. “This popular event encourages youth to continue their traditions, feel pride in their heritage, and connect health with a celebration of culture,” says Susan Levy, NATIVE HEALTH’s Communication Coordinator and Volunteers/Community Involvement leader.
Susan exudes the ethos of the center. She draws in many community agencies, such as food banks, recreation programs, libraries, and schools to collaborate. She gets her own hands dirty in the gardens and welcomes families in the lobby with a warm greeting. The leadership team at NATIVE HEALTH embodies their core values, being “ever-present and supportive — and we’re culturally responsive because we look for many ways to connect with our communities,” says Susan.
Year-Round Mission to Celebrate Native and Indigenous Culture
Truly partnering with the community and embracing local culture with hospitality, dignity, and respect can take us a long way toward eliminating health disparities — and is something we can celebrate year-round.