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American Indian PeopleThe Office of Tribal Affairs (OTA) supports identified tribal needs by establishing and coordinating tribal-specific programs and projects.

Key services:

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A point of contact for tribes to access ATSDR and its environmental public health programs.

  Bullet Point Trained staff to assist ATSDR in coordinating effectively with tribal governments.
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Environmental perspective that incorporates native culture and traditional values.



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Assistance to ATSDR in responding to presidential executive orders and federal mandates (719KB PDF) Exit ATSDR impacting tribes.



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A vehicle for developing policy and programs for American Indian and Alaska Native governments, organizations, and communities.



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Coordination of activities to support tribal-specific public health needs.


Technical Support. OTA works directly with tribal governments and representatives on site-specific work, responding to requests for information and evaluating environmental health data and community health concerns.

Site-specific Activities. For hazardous waste sites that may affect tribal populations, ATSDR conducts public health assessments and consultations to address multiple exposure pathways, determine who may come in contact with hazardous substances, evaluate whether harmful exposures are occurring and what public health actions/follow-up activities may be needed.

The following public health assessments illustrate sites where tribal issues have been addressed:

Tar Creek, Ottawa County, Oklahoma, ATSDR and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) will soon release their public health assessment (PHA) entitled Occurrence of Selected Health Conditions in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. The PHA addresses health issues relevant to the Tar Creek Superfund Site, including childrens’ health and cancer.

Flathead Reservation, Montana, Consolidated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Petition Public Health Activities Associated with Methamphetamine Lab Cleanups  (PDF, 442KB)

Kings Creek (Fort Belknap Indian Reservation/Zortman Mining Incorporated), Lodgepole, Montana

Eastern Michaud Flats Contamination, Pocatello, Bannock and Power Counties, Idaho

General Motors (Central Foundry Division), Massena, St. Lawrence County, New York

Alaska/FUDS Project. ATSDR has entered into an Interagency Agreement with Administration for Native Americans to assist in public health assessment efforts in Alaskan villages impacted by Formerly Utilized Defense Sites (FUDS). The project promotes training of village natives in the public health assessment process. ATSDR will work directly with these village health assessors to identify community concerns and other key site-related issues.

Hanford Nuclear Reservation. ATSDR worked with seven Northwest Tribes (Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Colville Confederated Tribes, Kalispel Tribe, Kootenai Tribe, and the Spokane Tribe) to develop tribal environmental health plans, address health issues from the release of hazardous substances and develop culturally appropriate health education materials to engage tribal community members in environmental activities related to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Cooperative Agreements. In 2002, the Gila River Indian Community became the first tribe to be funded under ATSDR’s 1043 states cooperative agreement program. The purpose of the program is to conduct site-specific health activities to determine the public health impact of human exposure to hazardous substances. The projects goals are to build capacity in coordination and cooperation with ATSDR in developing public health assessments, health consultations, exposure investigations, community involvement activities, health education, follow-up health studies, and other programs related to exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.

Education. OTA provides training for tribal health and environmental professionals to build capacity of tribal programs to better identify, prevent, and respond to health issues related to environmental pollutants. OTA also develops environmental health education programs to address tribal concerns and meet tribal needs.

Tribal Environmental Health Education Project. OTA, in cooperation with ATSDR’s Division of Health Education and Promotion, has designed this project to raise awareness and improve tribal clinician knowledge, skills, and access to resources to identify, prevent, and respond to health issues related to environmental contaminants.

Basic Course for Health Assessment and Consultation in Alaska. ATSDR, in partnership with CDC and IHS, conducted ATSDR’s Basic Course for Health Assessment and Consultation in Alaska. The course focuses on the process of assessing public health implications of exposures to contaminants being released from hazardous waste sites and conducting public health actions. This effort was aimed at building the core capacity of tribes and providing the tools and guidance for Alaska Natives to conduct these types of assessments. View a photo gallery from the course.

Tribal-Specific Training for Agency Staff. OTA coordinates the education of agency staff on the uniqueness of working with tribes. OTA has developed a 1-day course titled “Working Effectively with Tribal Governments.” The course conveys general and practical information about working with American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, organizations, and communities. This training raises awareness of American Indian/Alaska Native issues and enhances staff cultural competency. This training is generally provided two times a year.

Program/Project Development. OTA partners with others to develop environmental health programs/projects for the betterment of tribal populations.

Tribal Emergency Preparedness. OTA is working cooperatively with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate (1) tribal emergency response capabilities related to chemical, biological, and radiological emergencies and (2) tribal knowledge of deregulated commercial and medical radioactive material, and the potential of it being illegally deposited on tribal land. Surveying tribes on these topics will help ATSDR and EPA to assess the present level of tribal emergency response infra-structure, knowledge, training, and equipment leading to the development of criteria for improvement, enhancement, or development of an integrated tribal emergency response program.

Program to Build Capacity to Develop, Implement, and Evaluate Health Education and Promotion Activities in Tribal Communities. ATSDR developed this cooperative agreement to facilitate the development of a variety of environmental health education and training programs for health professionals and tribal communities.

Lifestyle and Cultural Practices of Tribal Populations and Risk from Toxic Substances in the Environment. Partnering with EPA, ATSDR is working to develop methods to assess subsistence-based exposure and to increase the capacity of tribes to assess environmental threats from a subsistence lifestyle.

Alaska Traditional Diet Project. In collaboration with partners in Alaska, the ATSDR Alaska Traditional Diet Project (ATDP) was developed to assist consumers of Alaskan traditional foods in making informed dietary decisions to prevent adverse health outcomes that might be associated with environmental contamination. The project was developed in response to concerns about the effects of environmental contamination present in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Many Alaska Natives have expressed concern about exposures to contaminants resulting from a subsistence lifestyle, or through commercial and recreational activities. They have requested more information about the possible risks from these exposures and the nutritional benefits of traditional foods.

Tribal Colleges and Universities Support. Through cooperative agreements, OTA provides technical assistance and funding to support environmental health science, education, and nursing curricula. The program promotes community awareness about secondary education and provided a resource for tribes in addressing various environmental health issues.

Ad Hoc Tribal Workgroup. The workgroup advises OTA on how to better serve American Indian and Alaska Native people and address tribal environmental health needs. ATSDR invites all tribal governments, organizations and community members to participate in workgroup activities.

This page last updated on November 15, 2006

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