Speaking Up for Your Health
by Cari Cuffney, Program Officer, Headwaters Foundation
All Montanans deserve to have their voices heard in the decisions that shape how long and how well they live. Years of research show that the health of our communities – having access to good jobs, safe housing, healthy foods, and affordable childcare – has more to do with our health than the care we receive at the doctor’s office. Yet, too often unnecessary barriers make it difficult to participate in the decisions that shape our health.
Headwaters Foundation is privileged to support Western Native Voice, a non-profit, non-partisan organization working to inspire Native leadership across Montana through civic engagement, education, leadership development, and public policy advocacy. Says Western Native Voice Deputy Director Ta’jin Perez: “We envision a world where every person can live in a just and sustainable community and know that their voice is being heard at all levels of government.” For example, Montanans living in rural areas experience longer drive times to get necessary medical care and also longer drive times to county election offices. Western Native Voice is reducing these barriers to access by installing voter registration kiosks and advocating for policy change, with measurable increases in voter registration and participation.
Voting in elections is one way to speak up for the policies that shape our health. However, voting is not the only way to show up for our community’s health. Western Native Voice Executive Director Ronnie Jo Horse says “At Western Native Voice we envision leadership as a stream. The stream has many branches – you might become a member of our organization, run for office, fund community projects, or volunteer in your local community. People are doing things and they don’t even realize it’s a leadership characteristic.” In addition to their work on voting rights, Western Native Voice launched a volunteer program in 2022, is exploring youth engagement activities, and offers education, civic engagement, advocacy, and leadership development programs to uplift Native voices in the decisions that shape their health.
The Social-Ecological Model of Health shows the many levels at which we can show leadership for health – in our own lives, in our families and neighborhoods, our places of work and worship, and through the policy decisions that shape our communities.
What are you doing that exhibits leadership skills? How do those actions speak for (or against) the health of your community?
Follow the work of Western Native Voice through their social media channels at:
YouTube: Western Native Voice
To learn more about civic engagement as a social determinant of health check out the new report from Grantmakers In Health