INDIAN TOWNSHIP, Maine — The sound of native drumming and children’s laughter filled the air, and the smells of healthful food teased the senses as hundreds enjoyed the Indian Township Health Fair on Tuesday.
More than 350 people, including every child in the Indian Township School, were able to get cholesterol screenings, blood pressure readings and learn about state and native services, while enjoying a true community gathering.
Nakia Dana, assistant director of the IT Health Center, wore one of the T-shirts each visitor received. “Pride in our past, Hope in our future,” it read, a clear indication, she said, that health is a major concern for the native population.
“[The Passamaquoddy Indian] life expectancy is 48 years old,” Dana said. “That’s about 30 years less than the rest of the population.
“We have the highest rate of diabetes in the state. The highest rate of heart disease. The highest rate of cancer,” she said.
Dana said the reasons are twofold: genetics and poverty.
“I think we are genetically different and then we are introduced to a different diet than our culture,” she said. “The socioeconomic factors are huge. If you get $150 in food stamps a month, you are going to buy $1 packages of macaroni and cheese rather than fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Events like Tuesday’s health fair provide an opportunity for education and medical testing while in a community gathering, Dana said.
Tribal members were taking advantage not just of the medical offerings, but also the information provided by other tribal agencies.
Fire Chief Roger Brown of the Indian Township department helped schoolchildren try on firefighting gear.
“If I had to wear this heavy stuff, I think I would fall down,” said Darian Neptune, 11.
Police Chief Alexander Nicholas helped people look through special goggles to see what it looks like to be under the influence of alcohol.
“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed Donna Gagnon, a teacher at Indian Township School, as she looked through goggles that mimicked being two times over the legal limit for alcohol. “This makes me sick to my stomach,” she said.
Nicholas also displayed drug paraphernalia and seized contraband, including marijuana and opiates.
Pointing to a children’s lunchbox with colorful M&Ms on the cover, Nicholas said it was found in a tribal home during a recent routine probation check. He undid the clasp and opened it, revealing a box full of marijuana roaches.
In another booth, U.S. Census Maine tribal specialist David Slagger was pointing out how vital it will be for native populations to participate in the 2010 Census.
“All the federal monies that the tribe receives is based on those numbers,” he said. “Historically, tribes have been undercounted. That is why it is so important to fill out the forms and send them back for all tribal members.”