Future Generations Collaborative promotes healthy pregnancies and cultural healing

September 12, 2016

Kovi Altamirano testifies before the Board of County Commissioners as part of the Future Generations Collaborative.
Kovi Altamirano knows firsthand the debilitating effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, a disease caused by alcohol use during pregnancy.

A member of the Blackfoot and Siksika Nations, Altamirano was born three months premature to two drug and alcohol addicted parents.  Only three pounds at birth, she said she fit into the palm of her dad’s hand.  As she grew up, life didn’t get much better, and Altamirano had to learn to avoid her parents whose alcohol and drug use caused them to lash out.

“In between highs and drunken stupors, I was often neglected, abandoned, beaten or sexually abused,” she told the Board of County Commissioners on Sept. 8.  “This was the reality of my childhood experience for as long as I can remember.”  

Twenty years later, Altamirano said she became pregnant with her first child.

“I now understood what it took to carry another life. From the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test, I loved him more than anything or anyone,” said Altamirano. “I would die before I saw anything bad happen to him and I was determined to break the cycle of addiction.”

Today, Altamirano transfers her life experiences to her job at Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services, where she works as the liaison between the county and the Future Generations Collaborative. On Thursday, she joined the Collaborative in asking the Board to proclaim September Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Month.

Future Generations was formed by the Multnomah County Health Department and other community partners in 2011 to promote healthy pregnancies and cultural healing in the Native community, and to create a positive relationship between a government agency and the Native community.  

Future Generations Collaborative members pose after proclamation to celebrate community-based solutions to healthy pregnancies and cultural healing.

One in five births to American Indian and Alaska Native women results in a poor birth outcome. Although the data is stark, those present at the meeting stressed an important distinction.

“As a group,  (members of the Native community) do not drink more than any other group or people. There are more Native Americans or Alaskan Natives that do not drink than any group or people,” says Yolanda Moisa, who was present at Thursday’s meeting and is a coordinator for the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest, Inc. 

“It’s just that the ones that do drink, they’re more likely to have problems with alcohol addiction,” added Moisa. “That’s why what we do is so important.”

Experts say the inequity stems from trauma that Native communities have faced for centuries.  And for many, the effects of fetal alcohol exposure do not end during childhood. Those born with FASDs are more likely to experience mental health issues, drug and alcohol misuse, involvement in the criminal justice system and trouble in school.     

In partnership with the Multnomah County Health Department, the Future Generations Collaborative works hard to diminish these disparities through a trauma-informed approach that involves research, education and culturally relevant services.

“The FGC builds off the strength and resiliency of Native peoples and Native serving organizations in Multnomah County to increase healthy pregnancies, healthy births, strengthen the Native American and Alaskan families and improve the lives of people living with FASD,” said Jessica Guernsey, who works in the Early Childhood Services Division of Multnomah County’s Health Department. 

Thursday’s board meeting highlighted the accomplishments of the FGC as well as what's coming next.  The Collaborative has provided culturally relevant services such as the GONA(Gathering of Native Americans) summit in which members of the community learn about how to prevent addiction and violence.

But as Moisa stated, “There is more to be done” involving both the county and community partners.   

“More attention needs to be made on FASD.  We all agree that the focus on the fetal alcohol syndrome disorder is important and imperative to help our Native American and Alaskan community,” said Moisa.

Moisa and others emphasized the importance of  training for county service providers and the implementation of on-demand alcohol treatment and prenatal care for women.   

“There needs to be some more non judgemental care for women who are coming from addictions to get those services that they need, and know they can find a place where they can find comfort and help in the community,” said Moisa.  

Board members thanked the speakers for their work and sharing their stories, then unanimously voted to proclaim the month of September as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Month.  

“I think the Future Generations Collaborative is such a sign for what we the board, value, what Multnomah County values of working with community members so that solutions come from communities,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.