On October 14, the Schubert Center in collaboration with Sigma Xi, Science Cafe Cleveland, and the Departments of Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology hosted Dennis K. Norman, Professor of Psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Faculty Chair for the Harvard University Native American Program, and Associate Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School. Norman spoke about the historical factors that have led to Native Americans having the worst overall mortality and health outcomes of any population within the United States. Norman also spoke about the challenges in changing structural factors that continue to make it difficult for many Native American communities to have successful economic development.
Norman highlighted the historical trauma suffered by Native Americans. In the first 100 years after contact with Europeans, previously unknown diseases reduced Native populations throughout the continent by an estimated 90%, despite Native communities’ generally good health. Norman also discussed the important political identity of many Native Americans, whose right to federally-funded health care through Indian Health Services is a result of treaties between the United States and sovereign Native nations.
Norman went on to discuss the challenges faced in working with health care services in Native communities, including his own experiences as a psychologist and taking Harvard students to Native communities for collaborative research projects. Key difficulties include the low amount of funding per capita of Indian Health Services compared to programs such as Medicare and recruiting doctors to less-lucrative specialties needed in Native communities who are willing to work in rural isolated areas. Throughout his talk, Norman emphasized the importance of addressing the underlying social determinants of health among Native Americans, such as access to economic opportunities and development for Native communities. After his talk, Norman answered audience questions, discussing possibilities for the integration of traditional Native healing practices with medical practices and ways to increase the number of doctors working in Native communities.