Covering Indian Health disparities

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye (Diné) speaks about Native groups working in medicine, such as, Rezzies in Medicine. (Photo by Hunter Hotulke)

PRIOR LAKE, Minn. — Covering health care is a challenge for journalists, both at tribal and non-tribal outlets. 

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye is a Diné journalist who has worked in health and education in Indigenous culture for eight years and is currently Washington editor for Indian Country Today. Bennett-Begaye spoke Tuesday at the Covering Health Disparities in Indian Country panel about the challenges in reporting about Native health disparities, such as the lack of Native health care providers, the interpretation of data, the different policies in each tribe and the availability of data and statistics. Bennett-Begaye talked about how to find a beat in Native health services and recommends learning everything possible when covering a tribe. 

“Make calls to learn, not to interview. Become if not ‘the’ expert, ‘an’ expert,” she said. 

Bennett-Begaye also talked about the history and cultural backgrounds, and understanding what is important to that tribe.

Antonia Gonzales is an anchor and producer of National Native News as well as a correspondent for New Mexico PBS and has been covering issues of fitness and wellness in Indian Country for nine years.

“When it comes to health issues facing natives, I think prevention is just as important as asking what tribes are doing to combat issues like obesity, fitness and nutrition and showing that many young people are taking steps to stop these issues in their tracks,” she said.

Gonzales also recommends doing extensive research and getting to know the community and their issues. 

“For any story in Indian Country I think that’s really important to make sure you get to know the communities you’re reporting on, visiting their tribal community, for health and other stories in general, looking at all the various levels and get sources from the grassroots level to a tribal health program to the federal level with the Indian Health Service and taking a solutions journalism approach, and looking at the work that groups are doing to solve the issue and not just the issue itself,” she said. 

Pauline Arrillaga is the Professor of Practice and Director of the Southwest Health Reporting Initiative at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and has been part of the Associated Press for 26 years. She suggested analyzing the data in ways that mainstream media might not. 

Pauline Arrillaga talks about Native Health Coverage. (Photo by Hunter Hotulke)

“Think creatively about the data and the different policies that each tribe would have that contribute to their health disparities,” she said. “Although Native healthcare has negative aspects, shedding light on the positives is equally important.”

Bennett-Begaye echoed that sentiment and talked about the importance of not just analyzing the negatives and bringing light to the positives. For example, Rezzies in Medicine and Natives in Whitecoats are getting Indigenous students interested in medicine by asking them what about medicine makes them passionate. 

“Although it is important to talk about the problems in Indigenous health it is important to include the unsung heroes and organizations that are making strides in healthcare for Native people,” Bennett-Begaye said.  

She also said it is just as important to talk about the good side as it is the bad side of native health. Mental health, obesity, and transgender health are some of the problems facing modern day Native society, but organizations such as Rezzies in Medicine are creating awareness for Natives in medicine working to solve these problems. “Don’t bring to the table the assumptions we’ve had or the things that we’ve heard through time, but instead look for a new way to talk about the issues we’ve had through time,” Bennett-Begaye said.