Patterns of Poverty and Disease

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold Spirit Jr. growing up on a rural reservation in Washington. Junior’s parents are uneducated and do not provide him with a strong support system. Burdened by serious health problems, Junior is frustrated by the lack of opportunities on the reservation. Junior describes his background, “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people.” The story documents Junior’s struggle to overcome the structural forces, his race, culture, socioeconomic status, that threaten to limit him to the same future as his parents and past generations. Junior’s story is undoubtedly inspiration, but he is the exception to an otherwise damning pattern of poverty experienced by many reservation communities.

The Havasupai Indian tribe has maintained residence in the Grand Canyon over the past 800 years. At the bottom of the Grand Canyon, resources to promote prosperity, education, proper nutrition, and to support a healthcare system are limited. The 600 member tribe has been allocated to a reservation where poverty and illness are the standard. As a result of a combination of these issues, tribe members have seen increasing rates of obesity and diabetes. Recently, the shocking prevalence of diabetes within the tribe has been a center of controversy as Arizona State University’s research methods have been called into question. Read more about this controversy here http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/us/22dna.html?pagewanted=all. The ethics of the university’s research was challenged because further research of blood samples obtained from tribe members than was conducted and published without the knowledge or consent of participants. Cases such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment have previously brought attention to the ethics of medical experimentation.

Much the same way certain populations are predisposed to diarrheal disease due to their socioeconomic, geographic, or cultural standings, both Arnold and members of the Havasupai tribe face difficult futures compounded by the structural forces that control their access to opportunities like healthcare and education.

Blood Journey – This video documents the experience of Havasupai Tribe members as they challenge the ethical conduct of researchers at Arizona State University.

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One thought on “Patterns of Poverty and Disease

  1. Your analysis of the Havasupai Indians brings up an interesting observation about the ethics and abuse of poor people. It seems easy for researchers to disregard public health standards for those that do not have a voice. As public health advocates, it is vital to understand the importance of giving the poor a voice. And not only that, listening to their voice. If we would just listen, we would understand the social injustice that is done to minorities.

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