NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 12, 2007

Challenging One-Size Fits All: Traditional and Contemporary Medicine as Partners in Healing Addictions in Native Communities

Dr. Dale Walker, a psychiatrist and member of the Cherokee tribe, spoke today about ways to prevent and treat addiction in native communities. Walker is the director of the One Sky Center, an organization focused on promoting effective and culturally appropriate prevention and treatment in American Indian and Native Alaskan communities.

Walker said the best practice for gambling prevention and treatment within native communities is to combine evidence-based knowledge with indigenous knowledge, through what he called integrative medicine. He explained that integrative medicine combines the best aspects of traditional and conventional medicine by focusing on patient-centered care that combines science and evidence-based medicine with cultural sensitivity and an understanding of wellness and the power of the mind. He went on to say that this model would be the best approach for any group bound by ethnic, religious or geographic similarities.

Walker said the principles of integrative medicine state that is better to prevent than to treat later. He explained that because people are unique, treatments must be customized. Walker pointed out that important tenets of integrated medicine include recognizing the interaction between the body, mind and spirit, and the belief in the innate healing power of the body.

Walker said native casinos are an important part of life on the reservation, regardless of whether they yield revenues, because it is the gathering place and a central part of community life, as well as a place for interaction with those living outside of the reservation.

He also pointed to a World Health Organization study that found that alcohol use was the fourth leading cause of disability around the world. Walker went on to say that the native population has six times the rate of alcoholism than the population at large. Walker explained that treatment of both addiction and other health problems faces difficulties in native communities due to lack of access to health care and information about health care. He further explained the health care system available to natives is highly fragmented, with coverage gaps, a lack of resources, and clashing ideologies about medical training and treatment between traditional and conventional medical practitioners.


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