Biden's Health Department Allocates $422K To Treat Diabetes With Native American 'Healing Circles'

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April 3, 2024

The federal government awarded a Chicago health clinic nearly half a million dollars for a "healing circle diabetes program" that will treat the disease "through practice of communal songs, prayer, music, and dance," grant records show.

The Department of Health and Human Services allocated more than $422,000 in federal funds for the American Indian Health Service of Chicago to launch the program, which also aims to undo "the damage of colonialism" on the "traumatized mind, body, and soul of [the Native American] population." The grant description claims that the healing potential Native "ceremonies … is unknown to western medicine."

The grant is the latest instance of the Biden administration's embrace of "indigenous knowledge," a form of pseudoscience that posits American Indians are imbued with secret knowledge about the working of the universe. Biden said at a tribal summit in 2022 that "respect for Indigenous knowledge and Tribal consultations [will be] a key part of the federal agency decision-making."

American Indians have the highest prevalence of diabetes in the country. More than 16 percent of Native communities have been diagnosed with the disorder, which is often caused by obesity, according to the American Diabetes Association. Diabetics are generally treated with insulin and modifications to diet and exercise.

Since 1997, Health and Human Services has allocated funding for specific programs targeting diabetes in the American Indian community. Although funding for a "community-directed" program was allocated in 2016, the American Indian Health Service of Chicago did not receive funds until December 2023.

In addition to healing circles, program participants will have the option to enroll in a "health lifestyle change program" or participate in "classes led by a certified fitness instructor trained by the Native American Fitness Council." "Two young traditional dancers" will also lead dance classes, the grant reads.

"Our ancestors promoted health and wellbeing through a healthy lifestyle, including consumption of a healthy diet, medicinal plant use for healing, and ceremonies," the grant description reads. "Sadly, spirituality and adherence to ceremonies, rituals, and beliefs encompass an aspect of our culture that has been oppressed and forgotten. The Healing Circle will reclaim these ways and educate all generations."

Such language has become increasingly common in Washington since the White House issued a November 2022 memo directing federal agencies to reject "methodological dogma" and consider "indigenous knowledge" in the policymaking process.

Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration have adopted "indigenous knowledge" guidelines for their scientific research. The Department of the Interior has cited "indigenous knowledge" in environmental reviews and in a report that rejected oil drilling permits.

"The Department also recognizes that Tribal governance—and by extension the government-to-government relationship—is intrinsically informed by Indigenous knowledge, which is inclusive of relevant cultural norms and practices," a 2023 Health and Human Services memo reads. "HHS respects and strives to elevate Indigenous knowledge in its interactions with Tribal governments and through the Tribal consultation process."

The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for comment.