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Engaging a Native American Community

SagmillerSagmillerFar from the congestion and bustle of the city, Nursing 409 students who choose to study under Associate Professor June Strickland travel several hours by car and ferry to reach the American Indian reservations located on Washington's rural Olympic Peninsula. The students combine their clinical studies into one full day each week and always work under Strickland's close supervision.

"It is important that students recognize that these are sovereign nations, with their own laws and deeply held traditions," she explains. "I am careful to only select students with a sincere interest in learning about Indian culture and traditions as well as about health concerns. Because of this, tribal leaders will often allow me to bring my students into very private ceremonies, if I feel they are ready for the experience."

Strickland, who has developed very close ties with Pacific Northwest Indian tribes over the past quarter century, also invites students to her home for a video presentation and traditional Indian foods before they make their first visit to tribal lands. Her work is a "textbook example" of how to engage another community and gain their partnership, says Department of Psychosocial and Community Health Chair Bobbie Berkowitz.

Some five years ago, Strickland initiated broad-based studies of different Northwest tribes, their land, and their governing systems. Each year since, the focus has narrowed. For example, during the past year tribal leaders gave Strickland a list of needs that included information about tobacco use, diabetes, cancer prevention, and fetal alcohol syndrome. They also asked for help in their daycare center, and with teaching children in the tribe their native language. In each case, the tribal community decides on the projects they would like assistance with. "With community health," says Strickland, "you have to understand the whole assessment process."

"We now have a wealth of information about some of these tribes," Strickland notes, "supporting our own studies, other studies, and best practice procedures." On the reservation, she explains, "practice and research need to be integrated." As a full-blooded Cherokee, Strickland has a special bond with tribal leaders and is often called upon for advice or assistance when problems arise.

"Attracting and holding health care providers on the reservations is a major problem," she observes.

"Your commitment must be to the people first."

Strickland's current research focuses on developing prevention strategies for youth suicide, pain, depression and cancer using culturally appropriate instruments. Although born in Seattle's Rainier Valley, Nursing Clinicals 409 lives on today in many diverse communities of color throughout the Puget Sound area, developing true partnerships that "go beyond buzzwords," according to nursing student Mark Fessler, to "meaningful relationships fostering genuineness and mutual respect."

CREDIT: BSN Student Janelle Sagmiller talks about nursing careers at a powwow in Montana.