Native American death rates soar as most people are
Babies die at a rate 44% higher than decade ago
By VANESSA HO
Condensed by Native Village
From reservations to urban areas, Washington's Native Americans are dying at higher rates
than a decade ago while non-natives are living longer, healthier lives.
state Department of Health report showed that:
Native American men's
life expectancy has changed little since the early '90s. Their life expectancy
is 71, compared to a white male at 77.
Native American women's death rates have soared by 20% in a 15-year period.
For others, the overall death rate had decreased by 17%.
American babies are dying at a 44% higher rate than
a decade ago. The overall rate of infant deaths had
"People are suffering," said Marsha Crane, health director
of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe in Western Washington. "It's,
'Here's the bad news, here's your diagnosis. But here's the
worse news: We can't afford to pay for your drugs, or your
surgery.' That's happening every day with tribes across the
Despite a century of progress by the Indian
Health Service, "what I'm starting to see, in some of the
data, is that that progress has either stagnated or is
starting to reverse itself, "said Joe Finkbonner from the
Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board
IHS Service Area.
Experts say the downward shift:
Stems from health disparities
from years of inadequate funding.
funding for American Indian health care has fallen chronically short of medical
government spent more on health care (per capita) for federal
prisoners and Medicaid patients than for Native Americans.
some tribes are rich with casino monies, many just break even
and 50% of tribes don't even have casinos.
are so poor that they've invoked a "life or limb" standard, paying for
specialty care only in dire emergencies. "If the leg don't
have to come off, and if their eye don't have to come out,
they won't get referred out," said one Colville
Tribes also are running out of medical funds earlier in the
year's funding cycle which begin every October.
"A lot of tribes used to say, 'Don't get sick after June,' "
said Danette Ives, health director of the Port Gamble Tribe.
"Now it's like, 'Don't get sick after January.' "
Not enough rural doctors, high gas prices and terrible reservation roads also contribute to the
situation. Michael Buckingham, a Makah Indian, lost two
fingers in a fishing accident. He needed physical therapy for a third
injured finger, but couldn't afford the 70-mile trips
to the closest therapy clinic.
"If I can't get it fixed, I'm just ready to have it cut off,
because it's too painful," Buckingham said.
Elizabeth Buckingham, Michael's mother, is the tribe's
health director. She said lack of federal funds forces many
Makah tribal members to live with chronic pain. Pregnant woman
prenatal care and many people suffer from untreated
is a place already distraught from drug overdoses and an
unemployment rate of 50%
"I'm looking at the people I'm serving here," Buckingham
said. "They're staying in their houses with the lights
turned off, and they're literally hungry."
For the state's 110,000 Native Americans, the problems began
generations ago when white settlers brought their diseases to
Native Americans, then took away their homes, language and
culture. LoAnn Rochna, 56, doesn't understand how the U.S. took her
tribe's lands, then broke their promise to adequately fund
tribal health care. LoAnn suffers from a painful bone and
joint disease. She cannot afford surgery, and without dental
care, she lost most of her molars and has a difficult
LoAnn says her sorrows began the day Europeans
stepped into her mother's tiny village and spread
Her mother got sick, never recovered and died
young. Two brothers and her best friend drank themselves to death.
One friend's body was
found in the snow after a night of drinking.
"He died right in front of the welfare office, freezing to
death," Rochna recalled.