Parents and teachers help visiting children pick out their pumpkins on Oct. 18 at the Annual United Indian Health Services Harvest party.

Culture Connects with Nature and Wellbeing

United Indian Health Services provides health and wellness services for Native Americans throughout Del Norte and Humboldt County.
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United Indian Health Services provides health and wellness services for Native Americans throughout Del Norte and Humboldt County

When you’re sick with cold sweats, a cough and a runny nose, being home with someone who loves and cares for you is the ideal situation. Those feelings of comfort, security and warmth are at the core of the United Indian Health Services and their mission of healing the mind, body and spirit.

Elizabeth Lara-O’Rourke, the community health and wellness division director for the Potawot Health Village in Arcata, talks about the different realms of wellness UIHS strives for when treating their clients.

“Being able to meet the many needs of our clients is really important for overall wellness,” Lara-O’Rourke said. “It’s not just physical wellness, but also spiritual wellness and we really try to include a strong cultural component in the services that we provide.”

UIHS is a collaborative program between various local tribes within the Humboldt and Del Norte counties that provide medical services along with community and wellness outreach specifically for Native Americans, whether they are local tribe members or not.

“We work to heal mind, body and spirit. Culture is a part of that. Art can support the healing process.”

Andre Cramblit

There are seven clinics – Xaa-wan’-k’wvt Clinic in Smith River, Taa-’at-dvn in Crescent City, Elk Valley Office in Crescent City, Hop’-ew Puel in Klamath, Weitchpec Libby Nix Community Health Center, Potawot in Arcata and Tish-non in Fortuna that collectively serve 1,200 active clients. However, Tish-non is closing down its Fortuna location on Oct. 25 and relocating to Eureka where they will reopen their clinic on Dec. 2.

“The environment here is about bringing people home, making people feel comfortable and offering an environment that offers a family atmosphere,” Lara-O’ Rourke said. “So we really try to have that not just with our clients but also with our staff.”

Twenty-three-year-old Winona Vigil is a front office assistant for Potawot. She graduated from Humboldt State in 2018 with a bachelors degree in psychology and a minor in kinesiology. She works as the receptionist and is the first face and voice that clients meet and greet upon entrance. Vigil says she likes the work and also appreciates helping out clients that come through the doors or those who call seeking aid.

“All my coworkers and everyone who works here is super supportive,” Vigil said. “And working with the clients, they are all usually friendly. They’ve got life stories and it’s interesting getting to hear them.”

UIHS offers basic medical, dental, vision, behavioral health and pharmacy services. The availability of health services differs from each clinic and programs such as Title IV Elder Nutrition help deliver food to American Indian elders.

Andre Cramblit, traditional resources specialist for the Potawot Health Village, says that by including cultural components, whether it’s through art, displaying traditional items or hosting cultural events, like the Harvest Party and youth summer camps, there are opportunities for Native Americans to connect with their heritage.

“We work to heal mind, body and spirit,” Cramblit said. “Culture is a part of that. Art can support the healing process.”

“People need to make decisions that are right for them. Not necessarily what the provider thinks is right, but what that client feels is the right decision for them because in healthcare sometimes there isn’t a right answer.

Elizabeth Lara-O’Rourke

Other traditional resources include various methods of recovery such as inviting traditional healers, sweats and supporting language classes.

Lara-O’ Rourke says that another theme of UIHS is that health of the environment equals the health of the people. The organization highly values and honors the connection that Natives have with the earth, water, plants and animals.

Whereas other health facilities or healthcare providers might separate mind, body and spirit, Lara-O’ Rourke said that for UIHS it’s interconnected and that knowledge is important for their clients to make the best decisions.

“People need to make decisions that are right for them,” Lara-O’Rourke said. “Not necessarily what the provider thinks is right, but what that client feels is the right decision for them because in healthcare sometimes there isn’t a right answer. It is what is best for that person, and only that person can decide that.”

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