Reflections on a Workshop: Connecting Culture, Land, and Family to Health

(This commentary is cross-posted from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies' website)

An elder’s blessing began the workshop hosted by the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity and the Elimination of Health Disparities, and it was critical in grounding the entire day. While we did not know the meaning of his words, spoken with passion and authority, the reverence and respect of the elder-leader were undeniable. It opened us all up to new possibilities—a willingness to sit, listen and learn. I felt an unusual sense of collective humility in the room, even among the most scholarly presenters. I was ready to begin, eager to know more about the topic that we began focusing on two years ago in Seattle at an earlier workshop.

The goal of that first workshop was to deepen our understanding of the unique health inequities within Native populations and to identify what was making a difference. We convened a rich array of Native people from across North America, including representatives from Hawaii, various Pacific islands, and Alaska; the majority of participants in the room were from native populations. While we learned a lot and were proud to have facilitated a place where colleagues could meet, network, and hear about strategies, programs, research, and policies that seem to be gaining traction, there was a noticeable gap—it was clear that we needed to dive deeper into the unique challenges faced by Native youth. We wanted to know about their assets and resilience.