By Alli Benjamin, College of Nursing

spokane-tribe-logo-200SPOKANE, Wash. – The WSU College of Nursing and the Spokane Tribe of Indians are beginning a new project aimed at helping the tribe deal more effectively with substance abuse and mental health problems among its youth.

They’ve won a three-year, $825,000 grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (an arm of the National Institutes of Health) to conduct a community-based participatory research project.

The seed for the grant was planted five years ago when the Spokane Tribe conducted a series of focus groups, according to nursing associate professor Janet Katz. She says the tribe learned that its members are most worried about their young people’s emotional state and substance abuse.

She says tribal leaders then approached the university about collaborating on a research project that focuses on preventing suicides and substance abuse and helping young people deal with their unresolved grief.

“Instead of us going to the tribe and saying ‘we’d like to do this’, we’ll be working with them to do the work they want,” Katz said.

Many of the details of the project are yet to be worked out, she said. “This is the perfect grant because it’s flexible enough to allow us to develop something with the Spokane tribal community that is designed for their needs.”

Katz says they’ll start by creating a community advisory board that will develop a focus for the study, make sure it is culturally relevant and then oversee it. The board will consist of tribal members and WSU representatives, in addition to professionals in education, substance abuse treatment, community and mental health.

Katz says the process of preparing for the study will take about a year and include community assessments to identify the tribe’s needs, strengths and priorities. Then they’ll create, implement and test a pilot intervention program. She says the grant money will allow the tribe to hire at least three of its people to help with data collection and analysis.

“We hope this community approach will give the tribe more capacity to help them deal with these issues themselves,” Katz said.

If the project is successful, Katz says the College of Nursing and the tribe could seek another multi-year NIH grant to continue it and perhaps even expand the study to other tribes.

Carol Evans, the vice chair of the Spokane Tribal Council, says she has an ambitious goal:  eliminate alcohol and drug use among the tribe’s underage members within 20 years.

The college has a long history of working closely with the region’s tribes. Its Na-ha-shnee Native American Health Science Institute has worked for nearly 20 years to expose Native students to health care professions, holding an annual summer camp on the WSU Pullman campus.

Janet Katz, WSU College of Nursing, 509-324-7274, Alli Benjamin, WSU College of Nursing, 509-324-7340,