American Indian Health

Montana is home to federally-recognized tribes on seven reservations, one state-recognized tribe, and a large urban Indian population. In a 2014 report on the health of Montanans, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services documented severe health disparities among American Indians living in Montana. The report found that American Indians in Montana die at a median age of 50 years (more than 20 years earlier than non-Indian Montanans). Death rates for specific illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, injuries, and suicide were all found to be substantially higher as well.

Statistics such as these are only a starting point for understanding the health challenges facing American Indians in Montana. These health disparities are rooted in longstanding challenges, including poverty and unemployment, racial discrimination and historical trauma, inadequate housing, and food insecurity, among others. To address these challenges, MHCF works directly with tribes, tribal health programs, and urban Indian health centers to develop long-term, effective solutions. Specific challenges and needs that tribal leaders and stakeholders have identified through discussions with MHCF include:

  • Inadequate funding of tribal and urban Indian health services and disease prevention programs.
  • The need for technical assistance to strengthen coding and billing for health services, and to access state and federal health programs.
  • A high prevalence of drug and alcohol problems, and limited availability of treatment.
  • Challenges for young families, including lack of economic opportunity, poor educational outcomes, drug and alcohol use, drug use in pregnancy, and adverse childhood experiences perpetuated by historical trauma.
  • Suicide, aggravated by underlying problems of historical trauma, mental illness, and drug and alcohol use.
  • Traffic injury, with risk factors including driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and low rates of seat belt and child safety seat use.
  • Prevalent tooth decay, which is a common cause of missed school, pain, and poor nutrition.
  • Diabetes mellitus, obesity, and other diet-related risks including limited access to healthy foods and lack of culturally-relevant dietary information.

For more information on our work with tribal and urban Indian health programs, visit the American Indian Health Leaders coalition page.

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