A Special Blanket Supports Native Women’s Health
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and we thought that would be a terrific time to tell you about a special version of our Chief Joseph blanket.
A purchase of this beautiful cherry-pink blanket benefits the women’s health program of NARA, the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest, INC. NARA is a Native American-owned, Native American-operated, nonprofit agency.
NARA is an Urban Indian Health Program that provides integrated healthcare in the Portland Metropolitan area. They offer a broad array of services including medical, dental, mental health, addiction treatment, and culturally based services. Culture is a critical and integral part of everything they do.
We had a conversation with Yolanda Moisa, most current director of the newest clinic run by NARA and the BCCP Director (Breast and Cervical Cancer Program), to learn about NARA’s women’s health program.
PWM: Can you tell me about your organization’s mission?
YM: Our mission at NARA is to provide education, physical and mental health services and substance abuse treatment that is culturally appropriate to American Indians, Alaska Natives and anyone in need. Our purpose is to achieve the highest level of physical, mental and spiritual well being for American Indians and Alaska Native people.
Our women’s health program is a critical part of our larger physical health outreach. It’s the women who make this program so rewarding. Throughout the 20 years of this program, we have helped women from all backgrounds. Each person is unique and has a story to tell. We save lives daily. Our hope and goal is prevention and no cases of cancer ever, however, the reality is that catching cancer sooner than later makes for a much better prognosis.
PWM: Can you tell us about some of your more rewarding moments?
YM: There are so many stories of success and how we help women, we are helping generations of women. A story that comes to mind is that we had a woman who had just moved to the Portland area and came in for another visit and our staff noticed she was due for her yearly women’s exams. When she received her results from her mammogram a small lump in her breast was detected. She did find out that it was cancerous, it was caught at Stage 1. We walked her through her options and our team was there to answer all her questions. Just having someone listen to her and help manage the many appointments that come with cancer treatment was a comfort. More importantly, she brought her daughter in and sisters in to be tested, again changing lives.
PWM: When did NARA form and how many people have you served?
NARA has been in the community since 1970, and offering medical care since 1993. Since 1996 we have helped Women receive 5,160 MAMS and 6,391 PAPS. We have two clinics, one at North Morris Street and our new Wellness Center on East Burnside. The women’s health program is housed in our clinic at 12360 E Burnside, Portland, OR 97233. The program offers women’s services at both clinics where screenings, and references for mammograms to low income, uninsured Native women. We want to provide early detection for breast and cervical cancer. As an urban facility, we’ve been able to serve members from over 250 tribes, nations, bands, who are all able to access any of the services here.
PWM: That’s fantastic. What drew you to this program, Yolanda?
YM: I came to NARA after many years in the corporate legal field. I’m a member of the Tule River Tribe in Porterville CA, and it was always my intention to return to working with Native Americans–to give back. Throughout my career I have volunteered and advocated for women and children. Coming to NARA was like finding a family that truly “got it”, understanding what it means to help our community. I see my family in the many faces in our waiting rooms: my grandmother, aunties, uncles, mother and siblings. I came in as a grants manager and was here for almost two years. I became clinic director two years ago, and was pleased when we received a HRSA grant that helped set up the pharmacy and pediatric program at the site. I’ve been here close to five years and have continued to appreciate all that NARA does. It’s pretty amazing!
PWM: Are there special challenges within the Native American community?
YM: For Native women, there is a history of trauma around medical services. Along with assault, abuse and harassment, there is a documented history of forced sterilization. This painful history plays into fear and mistrust of medicine.
Our CDC (Center for Disease and Control) grant allows us to do something special for Native American and Alaska Native women—weekend clinic sessions that we call the Well Women’s Event. These events are designed as a safe place for women. It’s not uncommon to have generations of women from families come together. The grandmother, mother and daughter will all come for the daughter’s first mammogram for support. We open the clinic to women only. Our guests are welcomed to a Native crafts night, and a women-only talking circle. The nurse on staff gives one-on-one advice and education. We offer cervical cancer screens here, and transport woman safely to and from an off-site mammogram facility.
Any woman who gets a screening receives culturally specific books about women’s health, including “Journey Woman: A Native Woman’s Guide to Wellness”. Through the generosity of Pendleton we were allowed to use Pendleton art forms in the books.
When women see themselves in health materials, it builds trust and adds warmth to what can be a very cold environment. Some women come just for the community events, and that’s fine. Our goal is to make women’s healthcare safe and communal, almost a celebration of womanhood.
PWM: How does the Pendleton blanket help?
YM: Each purchase of the blanket generates a donation to NARA. The money will go into the women’s health program, helping us expand our outreach to various underserved and marginalized communities within Portland. We hope to start momentum that leads to continuing healthcare. If we can save one life, we’re proud. Hopefully with these added donations we will continue to help many more women. Thank you Pendleton!
If you would like to help NARA through direct donation, feel free to contact Yolanda Moisa at [email protected] or 503-224-1044.
If you would like to help through the purchase of the special edition Chief Joseph blanket, see it HERE: Chief Joseph.