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Facing the wind

At Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health, Dr. Don Warne calls for recognizing historical trauma’s impacts on health 

Dr. Don Warne, director of the UND School of Medicine & Health Science’s Indians into Medicine Program, delivers the first keynote address at the 37th annual Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

 In giving the first keynote address at the 37th annual Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health, Dr. Don Warne, director of the UND School of Medicine & Health Science’s Indians into Medicine Program, shared a piece of knowledge gleaned by indigenous people from observing the natural world of the Dakotas:

As a blizzard blows down on a herd of bison, the strongest face it, absorb it, and in so doing protect the ones behind them – the vulnerable, the young and the elderly. It’s a piece of knowledge Warne said should remain in the minds of healthcare and public health officials as they treat individuals in, and craft policy for, rural communities.

“That’s our role, isn’t it?” asked Warne. “We have populations who are vulnerable, populations who are suffering and dealing with tremendous adversity. It’s up to us to face the wind, face those challenges and to be strong for all of our brothers and sisters, here in North Dakota and beyond.”

Warne was among four keynote speakers at the conference, which is coordinated and facilitated by the UND SMHS’ Center for Rural Health. The planning committee is a partnership between Altru Health System, Center for Rural Health, North Dakota Public Health Association, North Dakota Rural Health Association and the UND College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines. Held at the Alerus Center from June 8-10, this year’s conference drew more than 300 attendees, speakers and participants back in person, after having been held virtually in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Along with the keynote speakers, the conference featured 18 educational sessions, four intensive sessions designed to focus on the specifics of a particular issue and a legislative policy panel. Continuing education credits were available to attendees, who included local health care providers and public health officials from within North Dakota and beyond. Recipients of the Rural Health and the North Dakota Public Health Association Awards were honored at a banquet on the evening of June 9.

Warne’s keynote address, called Historical Trauma in Health and Healthcare, conveyed the need for understanding traumatic impacts on health, which he said may not show up on a laboratory test. Warne, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from Pine Ridge, S.D., used the history on indigenous people in the United States to elucidate the idea of historical trauma, and its impact on the intergenerational health outcomes of people in those populations.

For example, the colonization of the nation meant the loss of traditional food sources and food self-sufficiency, plus the forced migration of American Indians disrupted their connection to their language and culture. The loss of those resources and culture has an intergenerational impact on poverty, which he said is directly correlated with health disparities such as diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases, as well as higher rates of dropout.

Knowledge of historical trauma, and a sense of compassion – “We should care about this, right?” Warne said, “We should care about each other” – are necessary to develop trauma-informed care and trauma-informed public health policies. These stand apart by recognizing the disparities on health outcomes between different populations of people and individuals.

With that knowledge and understanding, healthcare providers and public health policy makers can “stand facing the wind.”