Minnesota News

First of its kind animal health and wellbeing gathering examines issues through an Indigenous lens

woman holding cat
Raye Taylor will act as a facilitator during the Indigenous Animal Health and Wellbeing Gathering in Walker. Having run small animal hospitals in the Twin Cities she is an advisor for the Natives in VetMed student group.
Courtesy of Raye Taylor

The first Indigenous animal health and wellbeing gathering will be held in Walker June 14-16. It’s a partnership between the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and veterinary leaders from four states. A total of 11 tribes will be represented.  

The gathering will feature roundtable discussions to promote collaboration on animal welfare. Topics covered will include emergency care, disease control, and environmental health and justice, all through an Indigenous lens.   

One of the speakers will be Rick Haaland. He is a community outreach manager for the Leech Lake Tribal Police Department and the coordinator of an animal outreach program called Pets for Life. 

“We’re bringing together a bunch of professionals that work with animals,  pets day in and day out, through tribal nations around the country,” he said.

Haaland said the idea is to discuss local solutions to problems involving animals in and around Indigenous communities.

“It’s different everywhere we go but maybe an idea from somewhere else will work great here and maybe some of the things we do here will work great somewhere else.” 

Haaland said one of the issues the event looks to address is what he calls “pet care deserts.” He said they are common throughout Indian Country. 

“We live in a tough spot where poverty is high, things like that, that restrict everything from the care that they [animals] truly need. But we have people and we’re getting more and more ways to help,” Haaland said. “And that’s all we’re seeking, to improve on, a better place. They’re those that walk with us.” 

The event culminates on Sunday with Natives in VetMed, an Indigenous-led, national nonprofit organization, providing preventative care services for members of the Onigum community just across the lake from Walker.  

girl holding puppy
Lecia Mata is co-founder and president of the national nonprofit Natives in VetMed. The event culminates Sunday with the organization providing preventative care services for members of the Onigum community.
Courtesy of Raye Taylor

Lecia Mata is a citizen of the Red Lake Nation. She is also co-founder and president of Natives in VetMed. 

“We represent less than 1 percent of the entire veterinary field, which is the lowest in any medical professional profession, in the health care system,” she said. “It’s very important for us to be able to get the voices out there of the students who are persevering through a very white-centric field, and pushing through those systematic barriers and pushing through the education that is needed for veterinary medicine.” 

Red Lake descendant, Raye Taylor will act as a facilitator during the conference. She is a veterinarian, U of M professor and advisor to Natives in VetMed. She said this event is important because there is a correlation between the health and well-being of humans and animals.  

“If we can help care for the animals, that will directly link to mental health and wellness, and care for the humans. So, our communities that are isolated in multiple ways, that compounding effect, this is one way that we can intervene and have a positive impact in the animals and the humans,” Taylor said. “That well-being as a whole is something that we don’t often think about in our profession.”