Native American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the diverse culture, accomplishments, and contributions of people who were the first inhabitants of the present-day United States, including American Indians, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives. Sadly, these communities have disproportionately high rates of asthma, COPD, and commercial tobacco use. The American Lung Association is partnering with Indigenous organizations and communities across the country to expand access to new resources and begin addressing these health disparities.

Indigenous Communities Tobacco Toolkit

The American Lung Association is working on a toolkit that examines issues related to commercial tobacco use and nicotine dependence in Indigenous communities. The toolkit provides culturally competent strategies, tools and lessons learned that can be implemented by public health professionals, clinicians and community partners serving diverse American Indian and Alaska Native communities. It also presents a model that honors the vision of decolonizing tobacco among Indigenous communities as a path to fostering wellness and achieving health equity among these communities.

Upper Midwest Inter-Tribal Electric Vehicle Charging Community Network

We are excited to work with and support Native Sun Community Power Development and Standing Rock Renewable Energy Power Authority with implementing the Upper Midwest Inter-Tribal Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Community Network. With funding support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the contributions of many partners, this project will expand access to electrified transportation and strive to ensure that everyone can benefit as cleaner vehicles become more widely available.

Rural Tribal Reservations and other remote communities experience a greater burden related to transportation. Travel costs tend to cost consumers a higher portion of a household budget and many communities are often underserved with supporting infrastructure. Tribal members living in Standing Rock or Red Lake Reservations often need to travel 100 to 250 miles one-way for medical appointments, to visit family or for other needs. Electric vehicles offer an opportunity to reduce transportation fuel costs, but charging infrastructure needs to be more robustly available.

The Inter-Tribal EV project is working to address barriers to electric vehicles through several components. The project will provide 19 vehicles to Tribal-owned businesses and agencies. These will include work trucks, vehicles providing long-distance trips for Tribal members, and transit and school shuttles. In addition, electric vehicle charging equipment will be installed in Tribal communities and along popular travel routes for Tribal members. The first charging stations from this project in Red Lake and Standing Rock will be installed in early 2023.

Native Hawaiians and Asthma Friendly Schools

In partnerships with Papa Ola Lōkahi, the Native Hawaiian Healthcare System, the American Lung Association in Hawai‘i has advanced its Asthma Friendly Schools Initiative to reach Native Hawaiian youth on Oahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Counties. Because of the particular disparities faced by Native Hawaiian youth in rates of asthma, we created a tailored train-the-trainer model for the state's Keiki (child) Nurses on the islands to deliver Asthma Basics, Kickin' Asthma, and Open Airways for Schools® curriculum to Native Hawaiian youth. Hawaiian asthma disparities in asthma prevalence are seen across race/ethnicity and regions with Native Hawaiians being disproportionately affected and experiencing the greatest burden. The Office of Minority Health showed that in 2014 Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders were 30 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic whites. The programs have helped Native Hawaiian youth, their families and school personnel to raise awareness, improve asthma self-management skills and decrease asthma emergencies.

Lower Kuskokwim School District, Alaska

The Lower Kuskokwim School District is an expansive rural school district located in southwestern Alaska that is comparable in size to West Virginia. The district is made up of 27 schools and has a total enrollment of just under 4,000 Yupik Eskimo students. The only way to travel between schools is either by bush plane, boat or snowmobile. The region is known for a spit tobacco called Iq’mik which is made from the ashes of a tree fungus, leaf tobacco and coffee. Alaska Native children in the area are often introduced to this unique form of tobacco at a very early age and it is not uncommon to have children as young as five struggling with addiction to Iq’mik.

With school district tobacco policy violations increasing, the district was looking to replace suspension with a more restorative approach. The district decided to pilot the American Lung Association’s Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health (INDEPTH) as an alternative to suspension at Bethel Regional High School. Trained facilitators from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation are currently offering the classes, supported by local Alaska American Lung Association staff. Principal Alicia Miner said she hopes INDEPTH will eventually replace suspension as the school’s preferred tobacco policy violation response.

Traditional Tobacco vs Commercial Tobacco from a Native Lens

Commercial tobacco (e.g. cigarettes, snuff, snus), can contain more than 7,000 chemicals and is manufactured by companies to addict people to harmful products that cause death and disease. Traditional tobacco has been used in sacred ways by Native peoples for centuries. Join us on November 29 at 2pm CST for an informative discussion with Melissa Doud, Program Director, Wisconsin Native American Tobacco Network, on the difference between traditional tobacco (i.e. medicinal, sacred, ceremonial tobacco) versus commercial tobacco and the importance of tailoring commercial tobacco use prevention activities and language. You will also hear from Jennifer Folkenroth, the American Lung Association’s National Senior Director for Tobacco Programs about valuable new Lung Association resources to support Indigenous peoples looking to overcome their addiction to commercial tobacco products.

To learn more, visit our registration page.

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, | May 15, 2024