Recovering the Sacred: Protecting yourself from serious injury |

Recovering the Sacred: Protecting yourself from serious injury

Rebecca Chavez
Special to First Nation’s Focus
Rebecca Chavez

Summer is finally here in the Great Basin and powwow season is in full swing. With more people spending time outdoors and on the road, safety becomes a real issue.

Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 1 to 44 in the U.S. This year, 8% of the overall population will die from accidents resulting in injury. The top 3 causes of injury-related death include motor vehicle accidents, poisoning and falls.

Poisoning deaths are caused by exposure or ingestion of gases, chemicals or other toxic substances, but prescription drug overdose is by far the leading cause of death by poisoning.

Suffocation is the leading cause of fatal unintentional injury among infants. Drowning and fire are also rank high among the leading causes of injury leading to death. Falls are the number one cause for injury-related death among older people 65 and above.

Most unintentional injury-related deaths occur off the job, often when least expected: at home, on vacation or while driving.

Unintentional injuries, death among Indigenous people

Among indigenous populations, the rates are staggering compared to non-native populations. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Indian Health Service, the rate of death by injury among native people is greater than 2.3 times the rate for non-natives.

That means that about 18% of the native population between the ages of 1 and 44 will die from an injury-related death. In some areas of the country the number is close to 25%. That equates to 1 in 4 native people not seeing their 45th birthday!

According to the US Department of Human Services and the Indian Health Service, factors contributing to the higher injury rate among indigenous people include poverty, substandard housing and low seat belt usage. Motor vehicle accidents account for 45% of injury-related deaths among indigenous people. Alcohol abuse is associated with injury. The rate of alcohol-related deaths among native people have risen 26% since 1985.

Many reservations are located in isolated rural areas and there is limited access to emergency medical services and limited law and traffic safety enforcement. There is also a greater proportion of young adults within native communities as compared to other racial groups.

What can be done?

According to the National Safety Council, 97% of injuries are preventable. It only takes a few moments to prevent injuries and make our lives, our family, our workplace and our communities safer places.

Here are some simple things we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones:

On the move:

Wear a seatbelt no matter how short the trip and make sure all your passengers are buckled in as well.

Make sure infants and toddlers are buckled into a car seat or booster.

Don’t drive impaired by alcohol or drugs. Designate a driver if you plan on drinking. Better yet, be the designated driver. Never get into a car with an impaired driver.

Avoid texting, talking on the phone, eating or any other distraction while driving.

Keep up the maintenance of your vehicle-check head and brake lights, replace threadbare tires.

Maintain speed limits and obey traffic laws.

Ensure you have had enough sleep before getting behind the wheel.

If on foot: be mindful of your surroundings and take care crossing the road. Always walk facing traffic and avoid jaywalking.

Make yourself visible and wear reflective gear when out running or walking in the early morning and evening.

Walk and/or run on a sidewalk, whenever possible.

At home:

Make sure your home is equipped with proper lighting, functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and covered electrical outlets.

Prevent trips and falls by clearing your floor: remove clutter, throw rugs, electrical cords and toys. Arrange or remove furniture so there is plenty of room for walking.

Check your hot water heater regularly to make sure it is less than 120 degrees F.

Check and clean your furnace regularly and replace any filters.

If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, have it inspected and cleaned once a year to prevent creosote build up. Never leave a fire unattended.

Make sure your outside walkways are well lit with smooth surfaces and are free of puddles, ice or snow.

If you have children:

Be sure to store medicines and cleaning supplies out of the reach.

Invest in safety latches on cupboard doors.

Whenever cooking, keep hot surfaces attended and all times and turn handles inward.

Be mindful of choking hazards and keep small objects away from little hands and mouths.

If you care for elders, or if you are an elder:

Have grab bars installed in the bathroom next to the shower or bathtub and next to the toilet.

Have railings installed on both sides of any stairs used.

Place essential items within easy reach so as not to overextend.

Have a ramp installed leading to the entrance of your home if someone in the family has to use a wheelchair or walker.

At work:

Wear all personal protective equipment required for your occupation (i.e., gloves, protective clothing, eyewear, masks, hardhats).

Participate in workplace safety training and follow all safety rules.

At play:

Wear a helmet and reflective gear when on a bike, skateboard, ATV or scooter.

Wear a life jacket when boating or water skiing.

Learn how to swim and teach your children as well.

Keep a close eye on children while they are at play.

If participating in any close contact sports or if your children do, become familiar with the signs and symptoms of concussion. If you are suspicious that a concussion has occurred, check with a medical provider before returning to play.

Locally, the American Red Cross, American Heart Association and  REMSA have classes for basic CPR, first aid and lifeguarding. A little knowledge and prevention can go a long way in keeping ourselves and our families safe this summer.

Rebecca Chavez (Western Shoshone) is a certified nurse-midwife, women’s healthcare provider and a mother of two. If you have any questions or ideas for future topics, email her at