Native American Heritage Month: The Power of Visibility

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This November, the Office of Diversity and Equity celebrates Native American Heritage Month (NAHM).

With Thanksgiving, a holiday known to be controversial for Native American history, just around the corner, visibility of Native Americans during this month is particularly important. NAHM recognizes the contributions that native peoples have made for our community. It is a time to celebrate the diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of our local tribes and also educate ourselves about the challenges Native people have faced and currently face, including health disparities.

Native Americans face a large number of behavioral health challenges, including suicide risk. Across all ages, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/ AN) populations in the U.S. experience high risk for suicide, with an overall suicide rate of 11.7 individuals per 100,000. This rate is greater than that for all other subgroups except white males, who have a suicide rate of 23.4 individuals per 100,000. Source

The existence of Native American Heritage Month alone does not have the capability to improve the lives or health outcomes of Native Americans living in San Mateo County. We as individuals and as a community must make an active effort to celebrate Native American achievements and educate ourselves about current challenges to make the month meaningful.
The concept of cultural humility provides us a roadmap to understanding and addressing challenges Native American community members experience in our Health System:

  • Embrace lifelong learning & critical self-reflection by considering our own experiences of feeling different and asking about the impact we have on others
  • Practice client-focused care to acknowledge how intimidating clinical experiences can be for clients and to build care plans that take into account clients’ perspectives, motivations, and goals
  • Practice community-based care and advocacy by respecting the health priorities that define clients’ experiences and building on community strengths to provide care where, when, and how clients need it
  • Work towards institutional consistency by incorporating these principles in all of our work—whether clinical, administrative, supervisory, or other.

This Heritage Month provides an opportunity to consider how our work impacts and responds to the needs of Native Americans in our community. Let’s take it!

For more info about how to support San Mateo County’s Native American Community visit or contact Gloria Gutierrez at

Written by Briana Evans, Diversity and Equity Council (DEC) Co-Chair and ODE Senior Community Health Planner