Perceptions of the Environment and Health Among Members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation

Environ Justice. 2013 Jun 1;6(3):115-120. doi: 10.1089/env.2013.0022.

Abstract

Indigenous cultures perceive the natural environment as an essential link between traditional cultural practices, social connectedness, identity, and health. Many tribal communities face substantial health disparities related to exposure to environmental hazards. Our study used qualitative methods to better understand the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) members' perspectives about their environment and its connections with their health including views on environmental health hazards. Three 90-minute focus group sessions with a total of 27 participants were held to elicit opinions on meanings of health and how the environment interacts with health. A systematic text analysis was used to derive themes across focus groups. Participants expressed a holistic view of health that included environmental, physical, mental, spiritual, and social components. A healthy natural environment was identified as an essential component of a healthy individual and a healthy community. Participants also described many environmental health concerns including second-hand smoke, outdoor smoke, diesel exhaust, mold, pesticides, contaminated natural foods, and toxic wastes from the Hanford nuclear site and methamphetamine labs. Many believe the identified environmental hazards contribute to diseases in their community. The natural environment is an important resource to CTUIR members and plays an integral role in achieving and maintaining health. Knowledge about the values and concerns of the community are useful to the tribal and federal governments, health professionals, environmental health practitioners, and community members who seek to achieve sustainable and healthy rural Native communities.