Research News

Shedding light on the poor state of American Indian health

Margaret Moss.

UB nursing researcher Margaret Moss will explore why the health of Native populations remains a mystery in a talk on May 4. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published April 29, 2016 This content is archived.

“Natives have the worst health statistics in the country, but nobody sees it, hears it or knows about it. ”
Margaret Moss, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion
School of Nursing

American Indian health researcher Margaret Moss always begins her lectures with a question.

Sometimes she asks her audience, which is often made up of health care professionals and researchers, if they know the life expectancy for Native populations. At others, Moss queries about suicide rates or the murder rate for Native women.

No one has ever guessed correctly, she says. The epidemic of health problems facing the nation’s American Indian population is largely unknown.

Moss, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Nursing, will shed light on these health issues in the upcoming discussion, “Time to Take Notice: From Hidden to Healthy, Reclaiming Equity for American Indians.”

“Natives have the worst health statistics in the country, but nobody sees it, hears it or knows about it,” says Moss, also a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

“I want to challenge people to think, if they do know these statistics, what can we do about it? And if they don’t know, to question why they were unaware.”

The free event will take place from 5-7 p.m. May 4 at Hyatt Place, 5020 Main St., Amherst.

The lecture will take the form of an 18-minute TED-style talk, followed by questions from the audience and a reception. Guests can RSVP online.

The topic is what inspired Moss to write “American Indian Health and Nursing,” the first nursing textbook tailored to perhaps the least understood minority population in the U.S.

American Indians have the highest suicide rate for teens, the highest prevalence of diabetes and one of the lowest life expectancies in the nation, according to data from the Indian Health Service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And on some reservations, Native women are murdered at 10 times the national rate, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Since 78 percent of American Indians don’t live on reservations and more than half live in urban areas, according to U.S. Census data, there is a greater likelihood that this population will receive care from non-Native nurses, Moss adds.

Part of the reason that the health of Native people flies under the radar, Moss says, is that historic American policies were designed to assimilate or remove the Native population, a population that now makes up roughly 1.5 percent of the country, or 5 million people.

However, Moss notes, these numbers are from self-reported Census data, as the number of American Indians who are registered members of a tribe are far lower.

“The numbers are so small that they are disregarded,” she says. “Until we recognize that they exist, how can we make them a priority and help them recover from the direst health statistics.”