Culture is Critical

By on March 6th, 2014

Nickole Fox

Nickole Fox

Culture is Critical

March 7, 2014

American Indian people continue to be one of the most invisible, underserved, underrepresented and overlooked populations nationally, but continue to be vibrant, resilient communities in both rural and urban areas. Southeastern Michigan is no different; the seven county region of southeastern Michigan holds the largest American Indian population in the state, with approximately 1/3 of the population (over 48,000 Native Americans). Serving the unique needs of this diverse Native American community, American Indian Health and Family Services of Southeastern Michigan (AIHFS) is a cultural home and wellness center.

Located in Southwest Detroit, the mission of AIHFS is to enhance the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being of Native American families and other underserved populations in Southeast Michigan. Through our integrated comprehensive ambulatory medical services, our high quality mental health and recovery programs, and community based prevention strategies, AIHFS strives to be community based and data driven to improve health and wellness outcomes.

Due to historical trauma, policy and other factors, American Indian Families suffer significant health disparities including higher rates of heart disease, cancer death, stroke, diabetes, obesity, accidental injuries, suicide, substance abuse, infant mortality, liver disease and hepatitis ( Using the knowledge of our cultures, ancestors and elders, paired with evidence based practices, we work together with our communities to promote healing, hope and wellness.

Our medical clinic is proud to serve as a medical home for many families in Southeastern Michigan that continues to integrate behavioral health into clinic visits. Our ambulatory family practice offers well child visits, weight management, nutritionist services, dental referrals, diabetes education, HIV/AIDS testing & referrals, immunizations & flu shots, health education & outreach, cancer screenings and more.

American Indian Health is also taking leadership as a navigation site for the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace. Ashley Tuomi, AIHFS Executive Director, describes
“American Indian Health and Family Services is one of four organizations in Michigan awarded a grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. As navigators, we are responsible for providing outreach, education, and enrollment assistance. Consumers can get one-on-one assistance with enrollment, filing for appeals, and completing exemption forms.”

Our certified navigators are helping community members with their enrollments online, taking appointments and setting up tables at community events. Health access is a priority for AIHFS’s leadership and we are excited to serve in this role for the community.

AIHFS’s Department of Emotional and Spiritual Wellness works closely with consumers to help them restore balance in their lives. Our qualified mental health providers are highly trained and experienced therapists supplemented by graduate student interns. They function as guides along a path to wellbeing incorporating culturally based treatment methods with larger community supported approaches to nurture the mind, body, and spirit balance. Each provider is committed to helping community members and families listen to themselves in new ways and to move beyond obstacles to wellness and focus on positive change and meaningful healing. We offer wrap around care, family counseling, outpatient substance abuse treatment, substance abuse counseling, recovery services, residential treatment referral, Wellbriety(Native American Based Recovery Group) meetings, Women’s Circle and Men’s Circle.

Our Department of Community Health and Family Wellness hosts a number of prevention based programs, trainings and community events including our Healthy Start Family Spirit maternal child health program, youth substance abuse prevention and leadership, suicide prevention, nutrition education, physical activity, sweat lodges, powwows and other health education. We know that community based initiatives, skill building and prevention efforts are imperative to building healthy lifestyles and welcome everyone to get involved.

Grounded in the organization’s values set by the strong native people who founded this organization, AIHFS staff members are guided by the seven grandfather teachings of the original people of the great lakes region-the Anishishinabe. Following these teachings-love, honesty, respect, truth, bravery, wisdom and humility, our staff, board, community advisory councils and volunteers provide the high quality services that value the beauty and strengths within our community.

While we have a strong funding base and infrastructure, we are always seeking new partnerships and sponsors to increase our reach and improve our services. We encourage legislators to support initiatives that support health care access, healthy food access and improved opportunities for safe and healthy neighborhoods. Currently we are seeking funding opportunities for a new parking lot and flooring in one of our meeting spaces. If you are interested in getting involved, would like more information or would like to donate, please contact us.

Nickole Fox is the Director of Health Education and Prevention at American Indian Health and Family Services of Southeastern Michigan ( She can be reached at [email protected] or (313)846-3718.

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