Occupational Therapy for Native Americans (OTNA)

Occupational Therapy for Native Americans (OTNA) was previously called the Network for Native American Practioners (NNAP). The number of Native American occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants is extremely minimal. Because most of the occupational therapy practitioners providing services to Native people are not native themselves, the focus of our organization needed to change. Advocacy for this population needs to come from occupational therapy practitioners of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disabilities/abilities, gender, political beliefs, etc. There needs to be one voice, and that is the voice of humanity that advocates for equality in the provision of occupational therapy services and social justice so Native Americans with disabilities, can also live life to its fullest!

Mission & Purpose 

The mission and purpose of OTNA is to advocate for Native Americans with disabilities, so that they can attain the highest quality of life possible through gaining physical, psychological, and spiritual independence. Advocacy can take many forms, such as education, knowledge of resources, development of resources, cultural competence development, and mentoring.


1. To advance an understanding of the unique cultural needs of Native Americans.
2. To advocate for Native Americans with disabilities.
3. To provide a venue where occupational therapy practitioners can learn more about the Native American culture so they can provide culturally competent services.
4. To serve as a place to network.
5. To recruit and retain Native Americans into the profession of occupational therapy.
6. To develop and share resources.

Lavonne Fox, PhD, OTR/L, co-chair:

Chanaé Jones BS, MOTR/L, co-chair:


The Native American and Alaska Native ethnic groups were established long before Europeans settled in North America. Many individuals know a nominal amount of the history of this diverse ethnic group, as many died from disease and were killed once the Europeans settlers arrived in North America. Their history has been difficult to preserve due to death, slavery, and inequality since the European settlement. They were once the largest ethnic groups in North America of people having origins in North, South, and Central America, yet they are now the smallest.

In 2012, collectively, this ethnic group represented 2% of the U.S population. It is estimated that out of the 318.9 million Americans, 5.2 million people were classified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone or American Indian and Alaska Native in combination with one or more other race (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).

Of these 5.2 million, 22% of American Indians and Alaska Natives live on reservations or other trust lands, and 60%live in metropolitan areas. There are 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, and more than 100 state-recognized tribes. There are also tribes that are not state or federally recognized. 

In the 2010 U.S. Census, tribal groupings with 100,000 or more responses were:

  • Cherokee (819,105)
  • Navajo (332,129) 
  • Choctaw (195,764) 
  • Mexican American Indian (175,494)
  • Chippewa (170,742)
  • Sioux (170,110)
  • Apache (111,810) 
  • Blackfeet (105,304) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], n.d.). In 2013, there were 14 states with more than 100,000 American Indian and Alaska Native residents: California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Washington, New York, North Carolina, Florida, Alaska, Michigan, Oregon, Colorado and Minnesota (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).
In 2013, the states with the highest percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native population were:
  • Alaska (14.3%) 
  • Montana (6.8%)
  • New Mexico (9.1%)
  • Oklahoma (7.5%)
  • South Dakota (8.5%) (U.S Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], Office of Minority Health, 2015). 


In 2012, 20% of American Indians/Alaska Natives spoke a language other than English at home (HHS, 2015).


As of 2012, 82% of the estimated 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, age 25 and over, had at least a high school diploma; 17% had at least a bachelor's degree; and 6% had at least an advanced graduate degree (i.e., master's, PhD, medical, or law) (HHS, 2015).


The median household income for American Indians and Alaska Natives is $37,353, and 29% age 16 and over work in management and professional occupations. Despite 82% having high school diplomas, 26% of these ethnic groups live at the poverty level (HHS, 2015).

Insurance Coverage

The percentage of American Indians and Alaska Natives who lacked health insurance in 2014 was 26.9%, of the 5.2 million Native American in the United States of America.(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).


American Indians and Alaska Natives frequently contend with issues that prevent them from receiving quality medical care. These issues include cultural barriers, geographic isolation, inadequate sewage disposal, and low income./p>

The top 10 leading diseases and causes of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives are: 1. Cancer
2. Heart Disease
3. Unintentional Injuries
4. Diabetes
5. Chronic Liver Disease & Cirrhosis
6. Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
7. Stroke
8. Suicide
9. Nephritis, Nephrotic Syndrome & Nephrosis
10. Influenza & Pneumonia (CDC, n.d.)


Native American religion is complex and difficult to explain, because many tribes passed down their religious principles verbally. Although the beliefs were similar, many tribes practiced their own religion. The religious aspects of this ethnic group normallyfocuses around nature: landscape, animals, plants, and other elements of the environment. . This also consists of several practices, ceremonies, and traditions. These ceremonies may honor of a number of events such as celebrating feasts, music, dances, and other performances (, n.d.).

Internet Resources

1. National Library of Medicine: Health Care to Native Americans

2. Medline Plus: Native American Health

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors
  • Access to care
  • Cultural factors

3. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)

Even though the BIA website has been essentially shut down for the last several years, they have a comprehensive list of related links. This is the link for the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs:

4. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Indian Health Services

The IHS is the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for Indian people, and its goal is to raise their health status to the highest possible level. The IHS currently provides health services to approximately 1.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to more than 556 federally recognized tribes in 35 states.

5. Register of Federally Recognized Tribes

Dated July 12, 2002, list of 562 tribal entities recognized and eligible for funding and services form the Bureau of Indian Affairs by virtue of their status as Indian tribes.

6. Register of Federally Recognized Tribes

Dated July 12, 2002, list of 562 tribal entities recognized and eligible for funding and services form the Bureau of Indian Affairs by virtue of their status as Indian tribes.

7. National Library of Medicine, American Indian Health Search An information portal to issues affecting the health and well-being of American Indians.

8. National Center for American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research (NCAIANMHR), University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
The NCAIANMHR is one of four minority mental health research Centers sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health and is the only program of this type in the country focusing specifically on American Indian and Alaska Native populations

9. National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)  
NICWA is dedicated to the well-being of American Indian children and families. The partnership with the Center for Mental Health Services and an interagency agreement with the Indian Health Service (IHS) allows NICWA to provide technical assistance to seven tribal service grantees and nine "Circles of Care" planning grantees.

10. SACNAS (The Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) 
SACNAS is a diverse society with a vested interest in promoting opportunities in graduate science education for Chicano/Latino, Native American, and other students.


1. HBO Films original production 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' ... Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee DVD.
2. PBS: Indian Country Diaries
3. PBS: Way of the Warrior
5. 'Two Rivers' - A Native American Reconciliation (2007)
6. Dream Keeper (2004)
7. The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy (2006)
8. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007)
9. How To Trace Your Native American Heritage (2003)
10. Native American Medicine (2002)
11. History - Wild West Tech : Native American Tech (2008)


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). American Indian and Alaska Native populations. Retrieved from (n.d.). Native American religion. Retrieved from 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. (2015). Profile: American Indian/Alaska Native. Retrieved from