Seneca Nation and Native American Finance Officers Association share a part of their culture in Havana, Cuba
Courtesy NAFOA
Delegates from the Seneca Nation and Native American Finance Officers Association share a part of their culture in Havana, Cuba during a conference geared toward uniting American Indian tribes and the island nation with a presentation of traditional Lacrosse sticks.

Turtle Island Meets the Caribbean: Historic Talks Unite Tribes and Cuba

Cary Rosenbaum

In what was billed as Indian country’s first face-to-face with Cuba, a conference sponsored by the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) focused on empowering both groups by creating a partnership for culture and economic sharing.

The two delegations exchanged visions and strategies over five days in Havana.

“We’ve found that there are several socio-economic, cultural, and historic parallels to our communities,” stated President Cristina Danforth (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin) in a release by the Native American Finance Officers Association, an organization dedicated to growing tribal economies and strengthening tribal finance.

Former Ambassador of Cuba to the European Union, Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto, sat with the tribal delegation to discuss the relationship between Cuba and the United States. (Courtesy NAFOA)

“Relationships built through cultural understanding empowers people and nations to exchange quality information from a place of collaboration and cooperation,” said NCAI President Brian Cladoosby in the release. “Nation-to-nation relationship building opens learning opportunities to create stronger economies, advancements in medicine, and more.”

Along with the NCAI President Brian Cladoosby (Swinomish), representatives from the Colusa Indian Community of California, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and Seneca Nation of Indians in New York were also in attendance.

Topics addressed on the first two days of the conference were economics, finance, commerce, culture and diplomacy, agriculture and food sovereignty, and life science research and medical advancements.

The delegation takes a moment to take a photo with Dr. Manuel Raices Pérez Castañeda (in the center of the photo) at the CIGB headquarters. (Courtesy NAFOA)

On the third day, Dr. Manual Raices Perez Castaneda, a genetics and microbiology researcher, shared advancements in treating diabetic symptoms.

“In the face of these staggering numbers, Indian Country is in need for advanced treatments and CIGB has developed a treatment program to remove the need for diabetic symptom-caused amputation in a majority of patients. Breakthroughs like these would benefit Indian Country tremendously,” said Castaneda in the release.

The numbers are worse in Indian country, including Akwesasne, New York, where half of the community age 65 and over have diabetes. Saint Regis Mohawk chiefs Eric Thompson and Beverly Cook visited 14 health facilities in Cuba in order to understand healthcare service, delivery models and an exciting and innovative Cuban diabetes treatment called Heberprot-P, which is 78 percent effective in preventing amputations related to diabetic foot ulcers.

“The prevalence of diabetes in our community is what prompted this visit,” Thompson says. “We had an opportunity to investigate Heberprot-P and its accessibility. It was incumbent upon us to do so for the simple reason of saving our people from unnecessary pain.”

“I was impressed by the simplicity of their facilities compared to what we have in the States but what struck me was the expectation for physicians to be embedded in the communities,” Cook says.

“Physicians are tasked with being more available to the people and I think that’s a tremendous positive step they’ve instituted. Their model stresses prevention; it’s a powerful way to approach healthcare. Their diabetic patients facing amputation have a treatment and medical models that we don’t currently have but will definitely be seeking.”

Some of the representatives of the Native American tribes enjoyed Cuban dancing as part of a cultural exchange. (Courtesy NAFOA)

The group rounded out the meeting with a cultural exchange with the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People, which aims to promote and explain the relations of solidarity that sparked the Cuban Revolution.

“It was truly an incredible opportunity to exchange cultures and to be welcomed by the Institute and President [Kenia Serrano] Puig,”

Seneca Nation of Indians President Maurice John said. “We were treated to a rich experience of Cuban performances and were honored to be able to share our own.”


Cary Rosenbaum (Colville) is a correspondent and columnist for Indian Country Today. He can be contacted via Twitter @caryrosenbaum.

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