Don’t Get Sick After June: American Indian Healthcare

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country October 2010

In their latest documentary in the Circle of Life Series, Cherokee award-winning filmmakers Steven Heape and Chip Ritchie uncover the story of Indian healthcare and the Indian Health Service, told from the Native American prospective.

Narrated by actor Peter Coyote and featuring: Ben Night Horse Campbell, Tim Giago, President Theresa Two Bulls and Principal Chief Chad Smith. "Don't Get Sick After June: American Indian Healthcare” is a one hour, Hi Definition feature-length film that chronicles the history of Indian healthcare from the early 1800’s to President Obama’s recent Healthcare Reform Act signed into law in 2010.

It’s not a healthy picture.  The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a shameful example of how patients suffer when their care is relegated to a government bureaucracy that doles out care in small measures. IHS, in fact, characterizes the service it provides as a "rationed health care system." As many in Congress continue to push for a public option run by the government, people need to familiarize themselves with the tragic story of IHS.

Drastic changes in lifestyle, from hunter-gatherer-farmers to sedentary fast food and ration eaters, American Indians experience far worse health outcomes than the rest of the nation. The numbers are staggering: Americans Indians have a 40 percent higher infant mortality rate, are twice as likely to die from diabetes, 60 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, and 20 percent more likely to have heart disease.

American Indians born today can expect to live 5 less years on average than the average American. The IHS is as much as 55% underfunded, leaving clinics to open one week a month on skeleton staffs. The funding gives them just enough to survive but not thrive. This is not a welfare service, the IHS is a pre-paid service supposedly guaranteed to the Indian population by the government in exchange for their land and resources.

The film also touches on how women were involuntarily sterilized by the thousands in the early 1970s to reduce native populations. Boarding school abuse has been passed on from generation to generation.

But in the midst of all the darkness, tribes that have the advantage of casino money, such as the Cherokee, have invested in their own healthcare systems. Principal Chief Chad Smith says that he sees the future healthcare picture will improve when tribal people hang onto the old ways but also integrate technology. It takes a community and a family to keep a population healthy and learning.

About the host:
Born October 10, 1941 in New York City, Peter Coyote has been involved with both politics and acting since high school. At fourteen he was a campaign worker in the Adlai Stevenson presidential campaign in his home town of Englewood New Jersey. Two years later, he began acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. After graduating from Grinnell College with a BA in English Literature in 1964, and despite having been accepted at the prestigious Writer's Workshops in Iowa, Coyote moved to the West Coast to pursue a Master's Degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. After a short apprenticeship at the San Francisco Actor's Workshop, he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical political street theater which had recently been arrested for performing in the City's parks without permits. In the Mime Troupe, he was soon acting, writing and directing. He directed the first cross-country to tour of "The Minstrel Show, Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel," a highly controversial piece closed by the authorities in several cities. From 1967 to 1975, Peter took off to "do the Sixties" where he became a prominent member of the San Francisco counter-culture community and founding member of the Diggers, an anarchistic group who supplied free food, free housing and free medical aid to the hordes of runaways who appeared during the Summer of Love. In 1978, he began to work at San Francisco's award-winning Magic Theater doing plays continuously "to shake out the rust" and get his unused skills back in working order. He has continued to act in theater and films ever since.

About the Director:
As Producer/Director, Chip Ritchie  has been responsible for telling stories through a wide variety of corporate image and marketing communications films and videos, as well as documentaries and training presentations for many Fortune 500 companies. He has also produced and directed television documentaries, sports entertainment, and many television commercials.