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American Indians from across the nation gathered this week to discuss how to improve nutritional services for older tribal members.

The four-day conference that concluded Friday was the first national training conference of Title IV providers.The Title IV section of the Administration on Aging provides federal funds to programs on reservations that enable older American Indians to live at home and maintain a healthy quality of life.

"Ours is a culture that must value . . . our elders," said actor Michael Horse, a member of the Three Feathers Society that sponsored the conference.

"Everything I learned of value in my life, I learned not from TV but from people who were older and wiser than myself. I came here to thank you and the elders you help," said Horse, who is of Yaqui, Mescalero, Zuni and Apache descent.

He is best known for his role as Deputy Hawk on the television series "Twin Peaks."

Richard Browdie, executive director of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in Washington, D.C., said the Title IV services such as nutritional, transportation and referral assistance programs are needed.

"Policymakers back East forget what life is like for the people we're serving out here," he said.

"There are rural areas where people don't have telephones, electricity or running water. A trip to the doctor is a minor inconvenience for my grandmother. For some elderly American Indians it's a 50- or 100-mile hike to the nearest clinic."

This year, Congress appropriated $16.2 million in Title IV funds. The money goes directly to 215 tribes, and each tribe sets its own age limit at which members qualify for services.

The 1990 U.S. Census showed the American Indian population at 1,902,958 with 137,049 people 60 years or older. In Utah, there were 24,283 American Indians of whom 957 were 60 years or older.