Sherry Treppa The Health of Our Tribe, Living to Contribute

This article was originally published in the Tribal Business Journal.

Sustaining a community, appropriately enough, takes a communal effort, something our Tribal leadership has established as a guiding focus for the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. In order to see our membership and neighbors grow and thrive, we take seriously the importance of establishing group well-being. It’s about more than making sure our members are healthy. It’s about sustaining a base from which our community can flourish. 

The health of any group is not too different than the health of the individual. In both uses, the word refers to a sustainable state of good fitness and well-being, along with a readiness to take on the challenges that everyday life presents. Without a strong, healthy foundation upon which to build their lives, our community members run the risk of falling short of their potential. 

Health is often an immediate concern for us and our neighbors. In addition to receiving adequate medical care, it’s also about creating and fostering the vital connections to maintain strong emotional well-being. As defined by the Federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, social health is a key component of a healthy lifestyle, something that we strive to establish for Tribal citizens and family members across the region. 

A number of additional organizations dedicated to public health like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization emphasize this point, with extensive research and reports about the social determinants of health. In essence, this concept of social determinants states that the collective health of a group is inextricably tied to the health and productivity of each individual. This means empowering our Tribe and neighbors who find themselves in temporary need, so that each individual can attain their full potential. 

We’ve partnered with groups with a similar mission: to improve overall health and medical care for Tribal members. The Lake County Tribal Health Consortium (LCTHC) has been a vital partner in promoting healthy habits among our population. Along with LCTHC, we’ve held informational seminars and events focused on promoting good health and positive lifestyle habits among our members and other friends. 

These regular self-management seminars are one way we’ve prioritized the health of our members. At these friendly meetings, attendees hear speakers and experts give advice on making daily healthy choices, geared towards the specific needs of our population. The gatherings also serve as community meetings, where neighbors can come together to share in common interests and life goals. 

 November was National Diabetes Month. This debilitating condition has unfortunately been a persistent issue for too many of our family members and friends. In partnership with Lake County Tribal Health, we’ve taken a leading role in prevention and awareness and will keep that tradition going this year as part of our continual health outreach.

 Economic health also is an important part of the well-being of a community. An unstable financial situation has been proven to have negative health effects, and is often a clear impediment to happiness. It’s an unfortunate fact that, for most people, there will be money concerns at some point. This goes especially for families with children, who can find themselves in great need at inopportune times through at no fault of their own.

 This is why the Upper Lake Pomo have prioritized a few programs, which provide a modest financial lifeline to our members in desperate need. If one family in the Tribe is suffering, that’s an impediment to our collective wellness, and we all share in their suffering. As such, we make it a part of our holistic approach to help out those who have fallen on hard times through the Tribe’s Charity Program. It’s an integral part of serving the people who make up our extended tribal family.

When we can combine the promotion of body health with community health, that’s a project worth pursuing at every opportunity. We established a community garden in 2015 in order to provide a safe, fun way for neighbors to come together and receive the benefits of organically grown, fresh produce while strengthening friendly relationships. The program has been forced to contend with some unfriendly weather conditions, but we’ve gone all in to make this garden into the community pillar that our membership deserves.

Health also encompasses the maintenance of a consistent, beneficial set of values that carry on throughout the generations. The continuity of rites and traditions connects us and our children to the many who have come before us, who fought to keep our ways of life alive. This is a particular source of strength for us as a Native American Tribe, as our tribal customs have sustained our people for centuries through severe hardships and suffering. We’ve thrived in the face of incredible adversity, and passing down these traditions to our children assures us all of sustained spiritual health.

 Spiritual health is achieved by anchoring ourselves to the legacy handed down by our ancestors over many centuries. By endeavoring to continue their practices, our proud history becomes the living, vital present for us and our children. For so many years, we’ve derived our health and strength from the natural world. Nowadays, there are more distractions than ever from that world, so we consider it a crucial effort to maintain that connection.

Studies have shown that communities with strong social ties respond better in crisis situations, and community health gives us the strength to rise above the many challenges that we and our neighbors will encounter. As shown in the recent wildfires that have plagued our area, the need for strong responses to challenges is ever present. We may not be able to prevent all disasters, but our response to them will be defined by our group’s emotional, physical, economic, and spiritual health. When we consider the legacy, we’re leaving to our children, it’s the most vital task we have.