Life expectancy lowest in the country in KOTA Territory reservation counties

Published: May. 9, 2017 at 8:16 PM CDT
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Life expectancy can vary by as much as two decades between the highest and lowest counties across the nation, according to a new study.

And the counties with the lowest lifespans are clustered around Indian Reservations in the Dakotas. The news didn't surprise tribal leaders. But neither did it deter them. A case in point is an innovative gathering focused of economic issues underway this week.

In 2014, life expectancy in the United States rose to just over 79 years according to the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine. But the figure varied widely around the country.

In the high country of Colorado, the average age span was close to 87 years. In Oglala Lakota County the number was closer to 66.

Tribal leaders shook their heads at the data.

“Look at our lives,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Scott Weston. “Look at what we have.”

Researchers pointed to socioeconomic imbalances, racial disparities and behavioral and metabolic risk factors as causes for the disparities. They also pointed a finger at access to health care.

On the reservations in the Great Plains region, the Indian Health Service shortcomings are manifest.

“There's no specialty doctors,” said Weston. “We don't have a rheumatologist cardiologist those types of specialists.”

Weston called for greater accountability for IHS but also supports broader initiatives like the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Economic Summit that is co-sponsored by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and is being held in Rapid City this week.

“We have to have a fix for our everyday problems,” he said. “This (summit) one of them. This is a big part of it.”

The summit aims to find new ways to improve tribal economies -- and lives.

“I think they're thinking about issues in a new way,” said Richard Todd, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis which is also a co-sponsor of the summit.

“There's a different attitude, a different spin here. They're talking a lot about the role the tribal governments themselves can play in providing a good environment for economic development. Provide the government and the laws, the regulations, the zoning and the courts. Provide the right structure for economic development but you don't micromanage it to the point where politics gets in the way and causes trouble.”

The summit is taking place at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel and runs through Wednesday.