SPOKANE, Wash. — Students at the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/Washington State University have an opportunity to work with Native American populations through a unique summer school course, “Plateau Tribes: Culture and Health,” one of nine classes offered through the College of Nursing this summer.

The course, which began May 21, addresses the history, culture and health care needs of the Plateau Indian tribes. The 10 tribes consist of the Colville, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Kootenai, Kalispell and Salish-Kootenai.

The six days of student classroom instruction is already underway. Students will then go on to complete one week of clinical work at a local reservation June 10-14. Class speakers include tribal attorneys speaking about sovereignty and legal issues and tribal members discussing pertinent history, geography and cultural practices of the Plateau Tribes.

Native nurses and physicians are presenting information on the Indian Health Service, other approaches to native care, health care needs of their people and how they integrate traditional and medical healing practices. Tribal herbalists and musicians will share information related to plants and music as healing therapies. Students also will travel to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane to examine the archive collections related to native peoples.

Previous clinical experiences have allowed students to work closely with nurses and other tribal health personnel. Experiences may include home visits to the elderly, camping with children in a summer camp, assisting with diabetes education, health care visits, and working at tribal and Indian Health Service clinics.

Of the more than two million Native Americans in the United States, Washington state has the sixth highest population of native peoples at 93,000. There are 38,000 Native Americans living in the Plateau Tribes region that extends from the Cascade Mountains to the Rocky Mountains and includes central and eastern Washington, northern Idaho, parts of Montana and all of Oregon.

“Native peoples live on both reservations and are integrated into cities and other communities. However, many other citizens do not understand the history and culture of these groups,” said Robbie Paul, Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU Native American coordinator. “With a shortage of native health care providers, many nurses from other cultural backgrounds have and will care for native people. They must acquire an understanding of the culture, health care needs and culturally competent nursing intervention.”

“The Plateau Tribes: Culture and Health” class, first offered to 12 students in 2000, was funded through a WSU diversity grant. This year’s class of 10 students is being offered with assistance from a Smith Foundation grant.

“After participating in the class and gaining a greater understanding of the unique needs of the Plateau Tribes, several students have stated they wish to work with Native Americans, and all students have a better understanding of integrating various cultural practices into care,” said Paul.

Established in 1968, the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing is the nation’s first and most comprehensive nursing education consortium. The College of Nursing offers baccalaureate, graduate and professional development course work to nursing students enrolled through its four consortium partners, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, WSU and Whitworth College. Each year, the college educates more than 600 graduate and upper-division undergraduate students and prepares more entry-level nurses than any other educational institution in the state. For more information about the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing, visit the college Web site at nursing.wsu.edu.