Published June 7, 2017
Margaret Moss speaks to thousands of people nationally, and internationally, every year.
She opens each talk — whether related to research, community and cultural issues or health and wellness — by asking audience members if anyone knows the number of federally-recognized American Indian tribes.
“Unless there is a Native American in the audience, nobody knows the answer,” Moss said. “Ever. It is 567 tribes.
“And this is the case no matter where I go.”
Moss, an associate professor and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Nursing, began speaking around the country — and out of the country — as she expanded her research.
“It goes beyond my role as a nursing professional, to my family and being a Native American, with that history,” Moss said. “My life as a Native American outside of the university is as involved in what I do as a Native American faculty member inside the university.”
Moss, who holds a PhD in nursing as well as a juris doctor, cited family preservation, health, economic self-sufficiency, workforce development, education and high levels of alcohol and substance abuse from among a long list of conditions that critically impact Native Americans’ lives.
“All of these areas deeply affect, and help strengthen, individuals and families emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially, while building a greater sense of community,” said Moss, who authored the first textbook focusing exclusively on American Indian health and nursing.
Moss has delivered 35 invited papers since 2010 and more than 60 presentations on health disparities, policy and healthy aging in American Indians. But this is a subject that transcends her position as an academic professional.
“My lifelong interest in helping to improve the lives of Native Americans in any way I can is part of who I am,” she said. “There is a great need within these communities.”
Moss’ lineage is in the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation on the Fort Berthold reservation in New Town.
“My mother grew up there. She was born on the reservation,” said Moss. “She left when she was 25 and went to Fargo … where I was born. While I haven’t been able to get out there for a few years, I did make a purposeful visit to my tribe in 2012.
“I talked to members of the reservation about nursing — they have a two-year program. They set up a community presentation where I met and spoke with community members, students and whoever came, really,” she said.
Moss added that while this does fit with being a nursing PhD, for her, the connections are personal and cultural. Advocacy is essential.
“Advocacy is invaluable. I did not go out there purely as a ‘professional’ speaker. I wanted to visit the Three Affiliated Tribes Nation to reconnect with those I know and others in that community in North Dakota,” she said.
“So much of the information regarding American Indians, such as economic, health, employment, literacy — the list just goes on and on — is unknown to almost all of the audiences I speak to, including Native Americans. Which means I am almost always in an advocacy position,” Moss stated.
“No matter how stunning the facts,” she said, “and the expected life spans are a good example — even given our media age, with TV, web, all of it — nobody knows anything about American Indians’ lives.”
A male born today on the Pine Ridge reservation, Moss noted, has an expected life span of 40 years: the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. The average expected life span for a female born on her reservation is 53.
“These sorts of facts are just not publicized and are therefore unknown. People know nothing about Indians. Anything I do moves the needle.”
Moss stated that stereotypes about Indians generally fall under two categories, romantic or troubled: The Old West, or something about health conditions, such as alcoholism, that make the news.
“What is missing is the context of Native Americans’ lives today,” she said. “The people in between: Native Americans who are living their lives, every day, just like everyone else. There are Native American doctors, lawyers, politicians and teachers. More than 70 percent of Native Americans do not live on reservations.”
Moss said it is important to disseminate information about those members of the Native American population to the larger U.S. population.
Moss has experienced nursing both in Indian Country and in metropolitan areas with large populations, such as Portland, Oregon; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. And wherever she has been, Moss said she has sought out the American Indian community and organizations that are connected to that community.
“I was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) for 10 years,” Moss said.
“I became directly involved with aging in the Native American community, supporting Intertribal Elders Services, Inc., a small social services agency in Minneapolis, and became part of the community. That was where my kids, for the most part, grew up, and we still have a house there.”
In Buffalo, Moss said Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties (NACS) is trying to set up a Native American Professionals group for Western New York.
“The numbers of American Indian professionals are generally pretty small,” Moss stated, “even in mid-sized cities, so I fully support it.
“Helping to build this type of networking and create Native American professional contacts — people who can connect, talk to each other and help others to succeed — is more than just being a professional myself.
“I have also been to their [NACS] events, and heard various speakers. I have been learning about the Senecas … I went out to a pow-wow in Salamanca last summer. That was pretty cool.”
Moss continually seeks out the national American Indian communities, staying in touch. But now more often than not, they find her.
“Among the thousands I speak to every year, you’re hoping just one person out of all those people might leave and take some new fact with them,” Moss said.
“Because, you know, people have lives, they’re busy ... they come, they hear it and they’re moved or they’re not. And they go home and go about their business.
“But, maybe somebody will say, ‘I heard this about Native Americans’ lives, and I had no idea.’ And maybe it will inspire them or motivate them to move forward on it. Things change slowly.”