Native Americans face more racial disparities and higher poverty rates than any other group in the United States, according to World Population Review. With Native Americans making up about 8% of Montana’s population, and the majority living in urban areas, it’s important to provide services that meet their and their communities’ needs.
“The Helena community needs to know and has to know that our Native community is still here,” said Todd J. Wilson, who is a member of the Crow Nation. “We have strong families that have been living here for generations, born and raised throughout, and they still have a voice in this community, and they’re rich in tradition.”
Wilson is the Executive Director of the Helena Indian Alliance, which serves Native Americans and the rest of the local community.
“An urban Indian health center is an organization that is established in urban areas to serve those Native American communities in those urban settings,” Wilson said.
Members of federally recognized tribes are eligible for services provided by the Indian Health Service, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. Among other issues, the IHS addresses discrimination in the delivery of health care faced by Native people.
“American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to die at higher rates than other Americans in many categories, including chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases,” according to the IHS.
The Helena Indian Alliance works to address disparities by providing the following:
- Medical care
- Mental health services
- Behavioral health services
- Native Connections and children’s activities
- Certified Application Counselor service that assists with signing up for Medicaid and for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace
- Tobacco prevention quit kits and informational packets for smokers and parents of youth who smoke
“Urban Indian health centers are important because they provide those much-needed services locally rather than traveling back to their respective reservations for that care,” Wilson said.
Care provided by the Helena Indian Alliance is intended to treat mental and physical health, rather than focusing on only one aspect. That is particularly important when considering that historical trauma, violence, poverty, and racism contribute to high rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide in Native communities, according to American Addiction Centers.
Additionally, when accessing health care is difficult, people are less likely to get the help they need with those issues.
“There are many challenges that face our Native American families in urban settings such as Helena — access to care, transportation,” Wilson said. “That’s why we provide the services here for them, so they don’t have to take on that burden.”
The Helena Indian Alliance staff is trained to focus on building bonds with clients to help them increase well-being and live a happy life. Its mission is to advocate for and responsibly serve the mental, physical, spiritual, and social welfare of the Native American population and the Helena community.
“The Helena Indian Alliance mission statement I believe speaks for itself,” Wilson said. “It helps us formulate our delivery of services and what we need to provide for our Helena community. For me, it is very important that we are true to that nature, true to our word, and that we provide that, and that is something that I will strive to do as long as I am here.”
For more information about local health care resources or to schedule an appointment, visit hia-mt.org.