Sovereignty and social justice: how the concepts affect federal American Indian policy and American Indian health

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The health disparities that are prevalent among American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities are connected to the ideology of sovereignty and often ignored in social work and public health literature. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to examine the health outcomes of American Indians from the time of contact with European settlers to the present through the ideology of sovereignty and federal government AI health policy. The foundation for the health outcomes of AIs and the governmental policies affecting them lie in the ideology of tribal sovereignty. This ideology has greatly impacted how the government views and treats AIs and consequently, how it has impacted their health. From the earliest treaties between European settlers and AIs, this legal relationship has been and remains a perplexing issue. With the examination of tribal sovereignty comes the realization that colonization and governmental polices have greatly contributed to the many social and health problems that AIs suffer from today. Understanding that the health disparities that exist among AI/AN populations cannot only be attributed to individual behavior and choice but is driven by societal, economic and political factors may be used to inform social work education, practice, and research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-270
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Work in Public Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 19 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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