Improving Wellbeing by Honoring Culture and Addressing Needs
The Blackfeet Nation Reservation was created by treaty with the United States in 1855. The capitol is Browning, Montana and home of the Tribal Business Council. The Reservation has 17,321 members. The community has a strong history involving food, including traditional foodstuff, devastation from starvation in late 1880’s, food sovereignty, and community sharing.
In 2012, employees from Manpower, a one-stop center, on the Blackfeet Nation Reservation, met with Montana officials about launching a teen pregnancy prevention and parenting program. The Healthy Montana Teen Parent Program awarded a grant to initiate a program coalition aimed to empower pregnant and parenting teens to overcome barriers and achieve their goals. The Teen Pregnancy/Parenting Coalition (Coalition). Several key participants for the Coalition are also participants on the Families in Transition (FIT) committee through the school district, Montana’s No Kid Hungry (NKH) nonprofit organization, FAST Blackfeet team of diverse participants from a range of groups, the Breastfeeding Coalition, and the Montana’s Graduation Matters Committee. The Coalition is a group of individuals who are flexible in their participation, goals, and process while holding true to the ultimate objective to provide complete support to teens who are pregnant or parenting. There are members who do not need to actively participate and who can be called on to provide a resource or assist with a project such as an event.
Blackfeet Food Access and Sustainability team (FAST) is a coalition that began Sept. 18, 2015 to increase awareness of and work together to reduce hunger within the Blackfeet Nation Reservation. FAST’s most active core group is made up of tenacious and well connected individuals who set aside personal ego and focus on the success of the community. If a community leader is hesitant of participating, the group members have their focus on the ultimate goal instead of who gets credit for the program which has helped with engagement of all of the leaders.
The Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana was selected as a NOW Bright Spot because of its work to improve health and wellbeing by addressing basic needs and community issues through organic grassroots programming by and for neighbors encompassing traditional practices and history. The Teen Pregnancy/Parent Coalition is an example for a flexible Coalition model. FAST Blackfeet is an example of a community coming together with positivity, informed by community hardships and stressors, to be flexible and learn and address systemic barriers so all neighbors in the community may succeed. The mobile cafeteria is an initiative supported by FAST which provides summer meals to children.
LEADERSHIP & COOPERATIVE GOVERNANCE
In the Blackfeet Nation Reservation professional and volunteer community, there is overlapping participation across different Coalitions, committees, and programs. There are seven active members, consisting of nurses, health educators, and professionals, in the Teen Pregnancy/Parenting Coalition (Coalition). The Coalition is made up of “active” members and “silent” members and has bimonthly meetings. Teens participate in the Coalition. Silent members represent area resources and participate as needed. Decision making is by the person’s present in the room at the time of the Coalition meeting.
Blackfeet Food Access and Sustainability team (FAST) is a coalition that began September 18, 2015 to increase awareness of and work together to reduce hunger within the Blackfeet Nation Reservation. There are fifty-four people in the FAST Blackfeet network. The leadership committee, consisting of six people, participates in bimonthly meetings. The state is supportive of the efforts and includes representation of the Governor and federal agencies.
Engagement is part of the Teen Pregnancy/Parent Coalition model and includes peer mentors. The program is identified as a success by the word of mouth effect from current and past teen parents when engaging new teen parents to participate.
FAST’s initial plan was to conduct a community nutrition survey and then develop strategic steps based on the learnings from the survey to ensure community input and engagement.
HOW IS SUCCESS MONITORED & ADJUSTMENTS MADE?
Teen births in the United States and Montana are at their lowest in history with overall US births to teen women ages 15-19 at 26.5 live birth rate per 1,000 women in this age group. Montana’s overall births to this age group are at 27.9 births per 1,000 teen women with a decline since 1991 by 40 percent. However, American Indian/Alaska Native teens have a 1.5 times higher teen birth rate than their white teen counterparts. (Montana DPHHS).
During a Coalition meeting, members or community members may raise a problem, need, focus population, or idea for discussion. Resources may be drawn on from the silent membership and could pivot to be led by one of these professionals if the topic focuses on their specialty.
FAST has a continuous improvement and learning core at its center. First Nation Development Institute (FNDI) provided a two-day training on the Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool, a survey tool, to the Coalition members. The training covered the assessment tool, how to conduct a focus group, and who to pull in to assist FAST with the project. The training also helped FAST, based on survey results, brainstorm activities to meet their goals and improve food security for the community.
EQUITY, ADVERSITY & THE EXPERIENCE OF TRAUMA
The Coalition is made up of a diverse group of health and social work professionals with seven who happen to also be former teen parents. All members have an equal voice though some have a lived experience that informs them. There is no more weight to one professional member over another person’s knowledge.
The focus of FAST is based on hardships, social stressors or inequalities. FAST works to identify marginalized individuals, teens, and families who are not reached by the needs of the current system. For example, school lunch programs are continually identifying if the children who need meals are getting regular access to food.