Health Board CEO Says Racism is a Threat to Public Health
The Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board and the Oyate Health Center would like to offer our thoughts and prayers to the victim and family from this past weekend’s shooting at the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, SD.
The Rapid City Native American community has endured tremendous pain and trauma due to the violence we have experienced over the last several months and years. Many of our relatives have been lost, and families still suffer from the impacts of trauma.
Violence in a community can be experienced at different levels, including victimization, directly witnessing acts of violence, or hearing about other community members’ encounters with it. Like violence, racism can be experienced in these same degrees and has many of the same impacts on a community.
The recent repugnant and appalling comments made by the owner of the Grand Gateway Hotel calling for the banning of Native American people from the business have caused great harm to the mental health of our Native American community here in Rapid City. These comments are not the first incident of this nature and are a prominent reminder of the imminent and ever-present public health threat posed by racism and violence to our relatives living in the Black Hills region.
Encounters with violence and racism are linked to mental distress, reduced quality of life, and increased adverse health outcomes for minority communities. When considering the impacts of violence and racism on a community, it is impossible to differentiate between them. Racism is an act of violence that profoundly affects public health.
Both racism and violence influence where we live, the schools our children attend, where we work, worship, play, and the social and economic opportunities we encounter. These social determinants of health are what create health inequities. As many are aware, Native Americans already suffer from higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to our non-Native neighbors.
The CDC has found that children exposed to violence may experience behavioral problems, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Those exposed to violence may also show increased signs of aggression starting in upper-elementary school. When considering what is at stake, it is of utmost importance that significant steps be taken to prevent incidents of violence and racism from occurring.
The Oyate Health Center encourages our relatives experiencing mental and physical stress to reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our providers. Our mental health is essential during these difficult times as we work to be better relatives to our families.
You can contact the Oyate Health Center at (605) 355-2500 or our behavioral health teams located at 725 N. Lacrosse Street at (605) 718-5095.
Jerilyn Church is an enrolled citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the CEO of the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board in Rapid City.
*Established in 1986, the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board represents tribal communities in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. The organization is overseen by the elected tribal leaders of 17- tribal entities in the area. Through public health practices and the formation of tribal partnerships, it works to improve the health of the American Indian peoples through health support, health care advocacy, and direct-patient care at the Oyate Health Center.