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Many Paths: Intersections of Traditional and Western Healing

Caring for the “Invisible Tribe”

Today, two of every three Native Americans live in a city rather than on tribal lands. Unfortunately, urban Indians lack practical access to or sometimes lose eligibility for health care from tribal-managed systems or the U.S. Indian Health Service. A 2007 report by the Urban Indian Health Commission concluded that their health status is among the worst of any ethnic minority in the country. While there is not a national policy to address the needs of the “Invisible Tribe,” as the urban Indians are sometimes called, local efforts have fostered some creative, therapeutic responses to help medically underserved Native residents within American cities.

Among others, the Seattle Indian Health Board and the Native American Health Center based in Oakland, California, provide Native American patients with a wide range of Western primary medical care and dental services. They also foster community activities, help rejuvenate Native pride, and assist patients in obtaining traditional healing services. These two clinics exemplify the innovative efforts to address the medical and cultural needs of the diverse Native Americans living in large cities.

The Oakland clinic has a new Seven Directions Building with a Medicine Wheel motif. Its name symbolizes the Four + Three = Seven Directions (east, south, west, and north, plus above, on, and below the earth). The building combines housing and community development with medical and dental services. The National Council of Urban Indian Health represents over 30 Urban Indian Health clinics across the U.S.