Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Primitive" Indians?

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

Based on what you see in most children's books, you likely think Alaska Natives have a primitive existence, living in igloos... Maybe you think their life is exotic and exciting, or beautiful, too. But! Let's set aside those stereotypes. Alaska Natives have some outstanding programs... 

A highlight of yesterday's events at the W.R. Kellogg Foundation's Healing for Democracy conference in New Orleans was listening to Valerie Davidson talk about an innovative program to provide dental care to Alaska Native communities.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium established a "mid-level" program by which Alaska Natives were trained to provide dental care to communities that were not receiving dental care. Sounds good, right?

It is, but they were sued by the American Dental Association who objected to the program. Obviously, the ADA saw the program as a threat, particularly if similar programs developed in other, less-isolated places.

Along with the lawsuit, there was an effort to cast Alaska Natives in a bad light. Members of the ADA in Alaska made outrageous statements, saying that Alaska Native parents were unfit parents for letting their kids get cavities, and that their kids should be taken from them.

Davidson said the ADA lost the lawsuit and the program is doing well. And, she pointed out, their program is innovative and successful enough such that 15 other states are seeking to replicate it.

Davidson concluded her remarks by talking about bias and how it can prevent people from stepping up to interrupt the care that all children should receive. To do that, we have to see the bias. Next time you pick up a children's book about Alaska Natives, give some thought to how they are being portrayed.

No comments: