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Prenatal program taking aim at Native American health disparities

Jodi Henry, the Little Moccasins program director for the Santee Sioux Tribe in Nebraska, holds a traditional cradle board. She plans to use the grant money to help prenatal and postpartum women make the boards. Special to The Forum

FARGO ‒ Indigenous communities in five states are gathering in September to launch their individualized prenatal programs to help Native American women through pregnancy and motherhood.

The Elbowoods Memorial Health Center in the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara (MHA) Nation in North Dakota, White Earth Home Health Agency in Minnesota, Santee Sioux Tribe Health Center in Nebraska, Rosebud Comprehensive Health Care Facility in South Dakota and St. Vincent’s hospital in Billings, Montana, have all signed on to receive a two-year, $10,000 grant for their programs.

Rotary International, a service organization with clubs worldwide, provided the grant to the Fargo-Moorhead AM Rotary Club to divvy up the dollars to the five locations looking to begin or bolster their Indigenous prenatal programs with the help of the March of Dimes Supportive Pregnancy Care Program.

On Sept. 17, the five groups, along with the March of Dimes, University of North Dakota Indians into Medicine and the FM-AM Rotary Club, will gather in Fargo at the Hilton Garden Inn for the kickoff celebration before heading back to their communities with ‒ literally ‒ a large check in hand. The five programs, though varying according to the individual communities, are looking to help re-incorporate cultural traditions into pregnancies as well as teach soon-to-be mothers how to take their own blood pressure, measure their weight gain, and breastfeed.

The program stemmed from a desire to help address “really high rates of health disparities” for Native American women and babies, said Jessica White Plume, who will serve as a consultant for each of the five programs.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native American women have lower birth outcomes relative to the overall U.S. population. The infant-mortality rate for American Indian/Alaska Natives is 9.4 per 1,000, while the rate for non-Hispanic whites was 4.9 per 1,000. A May report from the CDC also showed minority women are more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes.

White Plume, who lives on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota and has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a master’s in public health, will make regular visits and phone calls to each of the five sites in her role. She said the rural nature of many Indigenous communities is often one of the biggest challenges to receiving prenatal care.

Jodi Henry, the Little Moccasins director for the Santee Sioux Tribe in Nebraska, said there’s not a hospital close to the reservation. The nearest one is almost an hour away in Yankton, South Dakota. So Henry’s program, which has about 70 prenatal and postpartum moms, serves as a kind of catch-all, teaching breastfeeding and prenatal care, providing some basic health care tools, and helping to bring back some birth traditions.

Henry, who's also a lactation consultant, started a breastfeeding coalition for the tribe and has helped women understand and feel more comfortable with it. It’s been a “huge success,” she said. Henry also works to incorporate culture by hosting a cradle board class where participants create a traditional wood board used for breastfeeding and sleeping. And she hosts a star quilt class.

Henry said the grant money will help pay for educating moms and providing health care tools for checking blood pressure and monitoring weight. And it will help pay for healthy snacks at the meetings and craft kits to make the cradle boards and star quilts.

“If I can educate more moms on their bodies and having a healthy pregnancy, I definitely want to do that,” she said. “Sometimes all they need is that one support person to say we can get through this.”

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The Indigenous Prenatal Care Coalition met for lunch in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last September to celebrate their new partnership and program. Special to The Forum

Native American issues reporter and Report for America Corps member Natasha Rausch can be reached at nrausch@forumcomm.com.
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