Resource Development Impacts on Human Health

This case study was written by Joshua Kryston, a lower division undergraduate student who is not an earth science major, as part of the DLESE Community Services Project: Integrating Research in Education. The pages in this case study reflect the personal views of the student author and not of MSU, SERC or the NSF.

Traditional Indian tribal homelands have been subjected to a broad range of environmental hazards as a result of industrialization and commercial abuse, including surface and ground water contamination, illegal dumping, hazardous waste disposal, air pollution, mining wastes, habitat destruction and resultant human health risks (Tribal Connections).

Health Issues

The Nez Perce as well as many other American Indian Tribes have been subjected to an unusually high risk of certain health issues that are directly related to changes caused by environmental exploitation. Health issues include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, lung disease, mental abnormalities, substance abuse, and suicide. Although none of these diseases are uncommon in U.S. society, the risk levels are. For the Nez Perce in particular, the decline in salmon from their environment and diet symbolizes the health problems caused by resource development.

Diabetes and Obesity

Diabetes, one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, has reached near epidemic levels among Native American adults. Diet, obesity and heredity are contributing factors in contracting the disease. The Centers for Disease Control has found diabetes in Native Americans at a rate more than double that of other adults, while the Indian Health Services has found that American Indian and Alaska Native children have obesity rates of 40%, four times the rate for the general population.

Substance Abuse

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found that rates of illicit drug use are higher among American Indians and Alaska Natives (9.9%) than other major racial/ethnic groups. Alcohol abuse is prevalent among American Indian and Alaska Native youth and drinkers over 26 years old, and the use of tobacco among Indian youth has reached alarming rates. New initiatives in recent years offer hope in reducing these trends through education and the integrated treatment of substance abuse with mental health concerns.

Mental Health

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that rates of co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse, especially alcohol, are higher among Native Americans, and that the suicide rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives is 50 percent higher than the national rate. Large-scale studies of mental disorders among older American Indians are lacking, but smaller studies have found rates of depression ranging from 10 to 30 percent. More research is needed to determine the full nature, extent and sources of these disparities (Tribal Connections).

To further investigate the health impacts of resource development on the Nez Perce, follow the links below.

Human Health Resources about the Nez Perce

Resources containing information about the health impacts of resource development on the Nez Perce.

For ideas on how to use these webpages in a classroom, a Study Guide is provided.