to educate and encourage
Messengers for Health is an Indigenous 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located on the Apsáalooke (Crow) Reservation in Montana. Our mission is to improve the health of individuals on the Crow Indian Reservation and outlying areas through community based projects designed to strengthen the capacity of communities and empower them to assess and address their own unique health-related problems.
We accomplish our mission through community outreach and education.
We train community members as advocates who go out into the community and use the Crow cultural perspective to educate their relatives and neighbors about disease prevention, accessing resources and support.
Messengers for Health began in 1996 with a dialogue between members of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation and a Montana State University faculty member who were invested in health equity. They jointly developed a program to study the effectiveness of utilizing community women (called Messengers) to deliver education and encourage Crow women to receive cancer screenings and to partner with the Indian Health Service to provide high quality care to tribal members. They received two research grants from the American Cancer Society in 2001 and 2005.
The program was successful with these outcomes:
Before Messengers for Health:
There is no Crow word for cancer and saying this word outloud was to ask for it to come upon you. Women did not talk with other women about cancer screenings or share with others – including family members - when they had a cancer diagnosis. Women received cancer diagnoses alone, went through treatment alone, and often only at the end of their life shared their diagnosis. There was a lack of communication between mother and daughter relationships regarding sex. It is difficult to convey the strength of these cultural taboos and the efforts it took for Messengers to breakthrough these barriers. Many community members shared that the health care providers at the Indian Health Service could do much better at building positive patient-provider relationships.
Effects of the Program:
The community impact of Messengers for Health has been dramatic. Not only are Crow women now talking about cancer screenings to each other, they are approaching project staff in public and asking for appointments to be scheduled. Cancer survivors are speaking out in public and a support group has started where people publicly show that cancer is not a death sentence. Cervical cancer, once a quiet and deadly epidemic among the Crow women, is now discussed openly. The statistically significant increase in knowledge of cervical cancer and the positive shift in attitudes regarding screening and care are notable.
Culturally sensitive training materials for community outreach workers, as well as videos, training, and a mentoring program for the education of providers at Indian Health Service are in place. One tribal member viewed the overall impact of the Messengers for Health with, “Women are the backbone of the Crow community. Cure the women and you cure the community.”
Messengers for Health has now broadened the scope of their community work. Learn more about the Baaniilaa Project, a new research project with Montana State University - "Chronic Illness and Self-care Management for the Crow People."