Since the first European contact, the Indigenous peoples of the Americas have suffered from diseases that had no immunities. It is estimated that over 55 million people perished between 1492 and 1600 due to smallpox, measles, and influenza alone.
The U.S. Constitution codified the sovereignty of American Indian Nations and established a government-to-government relationship between the U.S. Federal Government and American Indian Nations. Because of this relationship, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/NA) people signed treaties with the U.S. that promised health care and other necessities. However, due to underfunding and other deficits, AI/AN people today continue to experience some of the greatest health disparities of any U.S. population. The percentage of AI/AN people living below the federal poverty level is 2.5 times greater than the percentage of Whites living in poverty. According to the Indian Health Services report, AI/AN populations have an average of 3-times greater incidence of every major disease when compared to White populations. Why is this, and how can we reduce these disparities?
Franci Taylor: Halito. I’m Franci Taylor, director of the American Indian Resource Center, and it’s my great pleasure to welcome you on behalf of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, along with our partners at the Hinckley Institute of Politics to the November installment of Reframing the Conversation. We are thrilled to see those who have joined us in person and those who have joined us virtually.
I would like to make one quick housekeeping note as one of our panelists got held up in traffic and will be joining us after we get started.
Before we begin our discussion today, I’d like to acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous people and their Indigenous traditional homelands. We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native Nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach.
The Reframing the Conversation panel series brings together experts from across campus and the community to spark important conversations around racism, othering, and safety. It is here where we address contemporaneous subjects affecting campus and the community at large. In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, November, and MEDiversity Week, our conversation on eradicating the health inequities in Native American communities will discuss the health disparities of the American Indian, Alaska Native populations, that have been persistent for generations and was brought to the forefront, most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We thank the Hinckley Institute of Politics for your partnership on Reframing the Conversation Series. We will be greeted by the Hinckley Institute student host, Tiffany Chan.
Tiffany is a third-year honor student studying political science and economics. She has done two Hinckley internships and served as an editorial board member of the Hinckley Journal of Politics. Tiffany is also involved in other areas on campus, including being student body class president and a Safe U Ambassador.
Tiffany Chan: Thank you. Welcome to today’s Hinckley Forum. The Hinckley Institute of Politics is a non-partisan institute at the University of Utah. The Hinckley provides an array of transformative experiences for students through internships, forums, and classes. Hinckley Forums seek to foster public discourse and civil debates on the most current and pressing issues bringing in local, national, and international thought leaders.
Today’s discussion that we have for you by Dr. Ned, who is an associate professor in the College of Social Work at the University of Utah. In May, she was named associate dean for the Office for First Generation Access that supports the growing diversity of first forward students. Dena upholds social responsibility as a citizen of both the United States and the Chickasaw Nation. Her experience as a social worker motivated her to explore issues of social justice and systemic equity and promote comprehensive and holistic policy change grounded by the perspective of historically resilient Peoples. Dr. Ned holds a Master’s in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley; a PhD in Social Work from the U; with additional training as a fellow at the Center for American American Indian Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University; and a post-doc certificate in Global Mental Health: Trauma and Recovery from the Harvard project in Refugee Trauma.
Dena Ned: Thank you for that introduction. Welcome everyone here today with us and online. And a few housekeeping items before we get started. For those who have questions in person here in this room at Hinckley. (Thank you to our hosts here at Hinckley.)
As the question-and-answer time approaches, if you will take the mic at the front of the room to ask your question. And for those who are streaming live with us today, if you will add your questions on the box, in the EDI livestream webpage.
Now, with housekeeping out of the way, I’d like to introduce the panelists that are with us today. And um, thank you to Dr. Taylor for letting us know that one of our panelists will be joining us a few minutes late. Look who we have with us right now?
I’d like to start with Kali Dale, who was born and raised in rural Minnesota. And Kali is a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Oncological Sciences at the U, and is working at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
I must turn the page.
Kali Dale: Well, actually I pronounce it as Kali.
Dena Ned: Oh, of course. I should have read that. Yeah. Hi, Kali.
Um, next to Kali’s right is Scott Willie. Scott brings us his uniqueness and Diné heritage to the University of Utah to elevate the Indigenous representation within the Health Science Campus. Scott’s goal is to help any Indigenous student interested in advancing their academic and professional career or network through opportunities in career channels. Scott received several university awards for his role working with American Indian and Alaska Native students, and initiating successful programs that promote readiness for graduate and professional school.
And to my right, I have Dustin Jansen. And Dustin is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. Dustin is currently serving as the Director of Indian Affairs for the State of Utah. And has been doing so since February of 2020. Oh, pre-pandemic. Since 2015, Dustin works as an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at Utah Valley University, where he is also coordinates their American Indian Studies Minor. Dustin has worked as an attorney and a judge in Indian law since 2006. And I’d also like to add that Dustin is a University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law graduate.
So we welcome our panelists for today.
And we’ll also have Kristina Groves. I’d like to just introduce her, knowing that she will be arriving. And Kristina Groves is also a graduate of University of Utah and holds a Licensed Clinical Social Work is at Urban American Indian Center of Salt Lake.
So, we have our introductions out of the way. I’d like to start with a question to our panel about why we’re all here today and what does it mean to reframe the conversation on eradicating health inequities that are serious in our Indigenous communities? So I’d like to start with question to all of you, which is: What are your perspectives of wellness? What does that mean?
Scott Willie: I can, I can go first. Thank you so much, Dena, for that question.
Wellness really, I think for me, interprets a holistic perspective for individuals in my community and how they assert themselves within their community. So whether that’s a child, a young adult, an adult or an elder; each of these individuals have different phases in their lives and wellness can be different for each stage in an individual’s life. And so really I think what it comes down to is how the individual feels, really with their development within their community. Like how do they see balance within themselves? And also how do they see balance within their community? And really that could be anything from their individual selves, to the community, to the overall society within their tribal community. Wellness can be interpreted to an individual’s body or their spirituality, or also their kind of physical appearance as well. So that’s kind of how I interpret and see wellness within my community is that they have zero, like no health, no issues related to them. So that’s kind of how I would view health within my community or wellness, right?
Kali Dale: Great, Scott. I just want to follow up and say that wellness to me is a collection of everybody into one whole community. So I think wellness as not just how I am well, but how the whole community is well.
Dustin Jansen: I grew up in a small community…in New Mexico just north of Gallup. And growing up there, one of my best friends, who you mentioned became, gosh I guess, a senior medicine man, you can put it that way. Often he’d heal people and hold different ceremonies. And one thing you could always say, if you felt this is, while the panels been saying is that, it is a community. It’s also an individual’s role in that. But also we look at our physical, our mental, and our spiritual health as well.
And we’ve all see that holistic view of it. I remember he passed, he passed away and I was speaking at his, his Memorial. We didn’t have a funeral in mourning. And one thing that he used to say to everyone when like prayer. When you pray, you dust the sand off yourself. When you’re saving yourself out of the mud. And for many of the people who allow the ceremony and healing practices, it goes beyond physical treatment or ingestion of medicines. There’s also a spiritual aspect that completes the healing process.
Dena Ned: Thank you. What, I’m hearing from for each of you is that help from, if I can say an Indigenous perspective, of your lived experience and that of those who came before you, and those who have raised you and have mentored you health really is this holistic approach to not just an illness, but were everything is in balance of mind, body, spirit. That honestly, I think is a new concept in the 20th, ya know, 20th and 21st century or non-Indigenous communities. If I’m hearing that correct. Right? So that what’s interesting to me in the history of, I don’t want to say the founding of the United States, because you know, this isn’t American Indian Studies 101 class, but we weren’t discovered as Indigenous peoples in North America journal item, but this concept has stayed with us. It’s intrinsic to the healthcare, health and wellbeing, and wellness of our tribal nations.
So thank you for sharing your perspectives. Now to, to tie into why we’re all here today. I’d like to ask if anyone has, wants to share, how do we need to reframe this conversation from our perspectives?
Kali Dale: So, right, this conversation is about eradicating health inequities in Indigenous communities. And I think we need to start with the point that these health inequities have been placed on us. And it has stemmed from a very long time ago. From taking children from their families and placing them in boarding schools, in erasing who they are. And, you know, forcing Indigenous peoples to live in places that don’t have access to healthy foods, that don’t have access to lands that can actually provide the food that we historically have used to nurture our bodies and our spirit. And so I think we need to reframe the conversation on, you know, we’re having an exorbitant amount of diabetes in our communities too, how did the diabetes happen? How did it get placed on us?
Scott Willie: That’s a really great thought, Kali. And I will also extend to the fact that we do need more Indigenous scientists folks who are interested in this work to really investigate some of the questions that we also have as well. Because more often than not, a lot of folks who do address our questions, are people who don’t come from our communities. Who don’t come from a tribe, right? So we do need more researchers to really investigate what does it mean for us when Indigenous people are still, have like high levels or, you know, suffering from that? Like have increased incident rates of health mortalities. And so really we do need to have more folks in leadership roles. And there are a lot of wonderful both leaders in our community that are doing some wonderful advocacy with Congress.
But that’s not enough, right? We need to get folks from our state level to actually participate in these conversations as well, because Congress doesn’t always have the power to make changes within our community. That has to start with our state leaders, people at the local level to make those changes. And that’s where the conversation really needs to start as well.
Dustin Jansen: You know, I’ll add onto that. You know, I work in politics. I work in law. I work in government, most of my legal career. And I think what I’ve seen that is most helpful and most efficient and most effective is when Native people take the lead in their own communities. And so, you know, hearing these words that are shared, I, really believe that. I believe in self-determination. You believe that or you don’t, that’s where I’m at with that. And I believe Native people can lead themselves. Native people can help themselves. And I think what there, this health system, this treatment of the illnesses and, and this approach to wellness is what’s in place now, isn’t what our people did before. Okay. So it’s new and it’s probably missing a few things that our lives need. In Gallup, New Mexico, at the Indian Health Service, you actually have the option of being treated by Western medicine or receiving traditional medicine.
And you can get a, you can get a, not a waiver, but a like a voucher to use with medicine men in your area, that practice certain ceremonies that treats certain health-related matters. And you have that opportunity. And I think it, it puts faith back into the resilience of your people. I mean, we, I’m sure we’ll go into intergenerational trauma and that, and the things that we carry with us, the negative things. But by putting Native leaders first, Native doctors first, Native medicine first, Native healthcare first, it reminds its people that we can do this on our own. There’s resiliency, there’s
positiveness there, and that we, what we need to be able to take that lead and heal ourselves.
Dena Ned: You mentioned self-determination, which to me reminds me of what makes this issue very unique to Indigenous peoples, is this political structure that we have, not a racial structure, but an issue about sovereignty, which is also self-determination of tribes. And then this word resiliency is often associated with the history of Indigenous peoples, because we’re still here after being exposed to diseases of Europe. Primarily the diseases or the genocide of the eradication of Native peoples, of their ways of life, with their culture, etc. Yes, we will get into intergenerational, historical trauma as part of why balance to help is so critical in understanding these histories.
With that long-winded introduction. I’d like to ask you, if you could share, from that Eagle perspective, what is sovereignty and what is self-determination with those who may be unfamiliar with these terms as they relate to Native peoples.
Dustin Jansen: I think sovereignty in its most simple form and probably the political component that it is, it’s the ability to make laws and be ruled by them. But also your ability to form relationships with other sovereigns. It takes both of those things. You have to be recognized by others as a sovereign, if you really exercise sovereignty. In the United States, there is 574 federally recognized tribes. And we know that there’s sovereignty here because when people landed on these shores, they landed from Italy, Spain, and France. They saw the people living here and made, entered into treaties with them. You don’t enter into treaties with a race of people, you enter into treaties with another government. They were recognized as a government entity and they’ve made certain agreements. And when these treaties were made, there was, there were certain promises that were made in exchange for other things.
And one of those things I think was being looked after in certain ways. We have education, we have food, right? You had migratory tribes that went, a huge routes for gathering food and hunting. And then they were limited to a small reservation where they couldn’t follow game or forage food according to season. So they became reliant on food, relying on healthcare and things of this sort. Self-determination was, is this idea that a government can do for itself. Can make its own view on decisions for itself. And then in the late sixties, early/mid-seventies, in the United States, the United States government said, you know, we’ve been trying to handle this Indian business ourselves. And it hasn’t been really going anywhere. We need them to, maybe they can do a better on their own. They understand their communities, they understand what their needs are. And so they, they put forward legislation that would allow tribes, or at least restrict them, release the restrictions of tribes to allow tribes to work for themselves and to help themselves on the government levels and the community culture.
Dena Ned: Thank you for that definition. It’s interesting because it seems like, what does is that saying about everything old is new again? And if we go far enough back in our histories, the way in which tribal people raise their children and collected their food, practice their spirituality, their religion, if you want to call it that, how they raised their children. That was admired by those who came to this continent. As what is this thing that children have rights? What is this thing that children are happy? And that other adults in their communities, or in their villages look out for them and help raise them? Only to eradicate that which was natural and that worked for the people of this continent to say, “no, that’s not the way you raise children.” They should be seen and not heard. And then when Native peoples didn’t much change that in the, then U.S. Government created these boarding schools and the Indian removal policies.
Because how do you eradicate a culture better than separating your children and the next generations from their families in order to eradicate who they are. But now, the U.S. Government says in the 20th century, “oh, we made a mistake.” “We didn’t do that right.” “We want you to be a part of us.” “We want you to assimilate into the United States.” And I don’t know if you all know this, but American Indians, Native peoples of this country weren’t even considered citizens until the 1920s. And then in Utah, I believe it wasn’t even until the 1950s that tribes could vote and that their vote would matter.
So it’s interesting how policy, and we’d like to thank the hosts of Hinckley Institute of Politics for having us here today, it’s interesting how policy has impacted our ability of Indigenous peoples to be healthy. Because it’s been the policies that have been placed on them, tribal communities, that have placed them in these health inequities. So, moving on, with that framework, what factors now, today, are impacting our health, and where does culture enter into those factors?
Kali Dale: Factors that impact our health?
Dena Ned: Yes. Factors that impact our health and where does culture enter into those?
Kali Dale: Right. Okay. So…
Dena Ned: Two, it’s two-part.
Kali Dale: Um, you know, I grew up reservation adjacent. I grew up in the city next to a couple of different reservations in Minnesota. And so, and my mom worked for Indian Health Services. And so I was, I used Indian health services growing up. That was my form of health care and, well, I liked it cause my mom worked there, and my mom is a nurse. And so she made me love nurses. And so I think my health is impacted on, you know, on where I grew up and how I was accessing healthcare. My mom chose to take me to Indian Health Services. There was a hospital in the town I grew up in that wasn’t from Indian Health Services, but she wanted me to go to a place that Native people were working there and that would take care of me in my health. And so I think the factors that impact or help a lot are who is taking care of our health when we’re sick or growing up. And I think that when Indigenous people are taken care by Indigenous peoples, I didn’t see the health care system as scary like that. And those types of factors helped me be healthy And because my mom was a nurse, we ate burgers and —-. I’m sorry.
We ate fruit and other good snacks. And all types of factors impacted by individual health. And then that because of how I was impacted that way, I don’t think my community saw that kind of health or they did see that kind of health and wellness when they did eye tests, because they were taken care of by Native peoples as well. I think that’s what I would to say. Sorry.
Scott Willie: Thank you, Kali, for sharing your thoughts on really different factors that influence health. There’s so many factors for me. I wanted to share a story with kind of how I started to view my community’s wellness. So after I received my Associates Degree from San Juan College in New Mexico, I worked one year as the telemetry technician at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico. And it’s a border town next to the Navajo Nation. And as I was working late at night, we had a patient that came in, and this individual had a, an interesting EKG report that was shared with us, that it came with the patient. Unfortunately, the patient did not need to be at our clinic because it was an error, a reading error from the Indian Health Service folks, right? Misplace in the lead can change an individual’s heart rhythm. And so when our physicians at our hospital figured this out, we were figuring out trying to see what was wrong. And then they found out that it was just a, an error from the technicians who were reading the report.
And so really the story comes out to what brought that individual to into our clinic. And there are so many factors just looking at this one person to see that this stems to all community members within our societies. And we can look at the environment, right, where our individuals grew up, where did they live? And, you know, folks can either be, we’re all tribal peoples, so I’m not trying to differentiate people who maybe grew up in the city who identified themselves as urban Natives or urban Indigenous peoples or folks that grew up on rural sites who may be more traditional. Right?
I’m not trying to separate the two individuals. We’re all tribal people and really the kind of the environment impacts us all. So from my perspective, growing up in where I was from, we saw a lot of issues with food deserts, right? There’s communities that don’t have access to qualities of food or fresh produce. You know the only thing that you can find on the shelves are foods that have high calories, high fats, high sugars, and those things can stand to folks who come from families that live in poverty. And the only thing that they could purchase is things that are convenient for them. And what’s convenient on the shelf is those fatty foods, high sugar stuff, and then they’re feeding it to their families right? Then you see adolescent diabetes, early-onset diabetes. So those are a few of the factors. And if you look at it from different stages, you can get them to the micro-level of what’s impacting these individuals. But there’s so much more that I can go into, factors, but I want to move on from the conversation as well.
Dustin Jansen: I grew up in an area. I had electricity where I grew up, but I didn’t have running water. That plays a huge part when you provide what’s available to you. I would actually, you know, I was actually told once or twice to drink a Coke so you can water the horses. [Laughing] We had to haul water. What’re you going to do? So, it’s a big thing.
But there were neighborhoods out there, just a mile from where I live, where I had friends that had no water or electricity. And so when it comes to buying the types of food you buy what you can store over time and what you can use, you’re buying groceries for a week. What kind of foods are you going to buy? So definitely your diet is going to be certainly impacted and in need of health. But I think also looking, you know getting back to what our definition of wellness was going back toward history with, with colonialism, how, how Native people are perceived. Wilma Mankiller said, “public perception creates public policy.” How you see people is how you treat people. If you really want to know how someone feels about you, look at the laws that affect you. Okay?
And so if you look at the laws that affect the Native America, we can look at one, full-on extermination orders to, we can look at the reservation process. We can look at the boarding school process and, you know, I had, my parents, well, my real parent is a boarding school child. Her mom was a boarding school child. And they were away from their families so long and lost so much, they come back, not really knowing where they fit in and, you know, they, it may lead to alcoholism, may lead to drug abuse, which leads to domestic violence, which leads to a whole bunch of other things. We’re looking at health in a holistic view. And so we look at those factors and how they, and how they affect Indian people. I think you very much have to remember how you see people really does affect how you treat people. And, and just keep that in mind whether you’re studying Native America or even international or human, just different areas of the United States.
Dena Ned: Thank you. What I hear in these that the factors are impacting health. This might lead your conversation about intergenerational trauma and historical trauma, and how changes happen at the cellular level, at the neural biological level, that we transfer, and not just with Native peoples, this was with all humans, right? That there is knowledge that is passed on through DNA. I truly believe that. I’m not a scientist but hey I bet there is science to back that up.
Kali Dale: I’m a scientist.
Dena Ned: So this historical trauma. What this means is, and in terms of that definition of resiliency, you can see where this reframing of this conversation is look at what has been thrown at a…Culture. Look what has been thrown or placed on the Indigenous peoples of this continent before anyone else came around right. Who were welcomed at one point I want to add. Hello, Happy Native American Heritage Month in November. That it…With all of that, we are still here. And I want to switch the conversation now for this last, oh, maybe 10 minutes we have before I’d like to take questions from here in our audience as well as if we can check what the questions are from online. I’d like to switch this now to where are we today, knowing that we are here and that the practices and the understanding of balance and culture and this holistic approach to health still exists. But, where do we take it now that there is awareness that things have to change. So with that, I’d like to ask the question of, how do you imagine, or would suggest that we increase the representation of Indigenous peoples, American Indians, Alaska Natives, into the healthcare system.
Scott Willie: Thank you, Dena, that’s a really important question for me. Obviously for my bio, this is what interests me and participating in so many dialogues across the Indian country on how important it is for us to increase the representation of our healthcare providers at all levels. It was really important, not just physicians but I think increasing the number of nurses, increasing the number of dentists, of pharmacists, a physical therapists. These are all folks who are really important in integrating their personal perspective or also their traditional perspective on healthcare to their communities. And it really starts with, you know, educating our communities, particularly that you’ve trying to get them interested and involved in, in science, you know, right. There’s huge disparities within our education where some of our students really lack the infrastructure that many of you in this room grew up with.
It’s kind of hard to imagine that there’s a community out there that doesn’t get the same education that you all have. And we need to have these students have these equitable access to education into STEM education, particularly to help increase that field. But it really starts with our youth trying to get them interested in science. I know that the University of Utah does such amazing work through Dr. José Rodríguez’s office and also Dr. Poloma Cariello’s office, right? These are individuals in our institutions that are interested in working with Native communities and trying to help our students in those communities bring awareness to STEM. I worked with the Native American Summer Research Internship which was an amazing program here within your own institution.
If you haven’t heard of the Native American Research Internship Program, you should be proud that you come from this university who advocates and sponsors about 22 to 25 students every summer to participate in a 10 week biomedical and health sciences research. It’s a program. So we recruit students from the country, but we do predominantly focus on students who come from Utah. And it’s our goal to increase this number. I think that’s really important. I’m a product of an NARI program, and I’m privileged to be in these positions where I get to have discussion and dialogue on trying to increase our number of folks who are going into healthcare. And I don’t want to out anybody, but also Kali participated in our program. [Laughing] in the NARI Program in 2013. I did the program in 2012, 13, and 14. So this is really important. This needs to be extended all across our country, not just in Utah, but in all parts of the country, that focus in on the need for help. Thank you.
Kali Dale: Yep I’m here because of Scott.
Dena Ned: Which is critical, right? These opportunities for Native students, whether they’re urban, rural, or frontier, there needs to be an active outreach in the inclusion to put mentors, like the folks up here on this panel, connected with Native youth who are like, “how do we do this?”
And. Yeah, go ahead.
Dustin Jansen: Well I was just gonna, I’m just piggybacking off everything, Scott said. Right, you know, when I, when I went to Law School, right before I went to Law School. I went to the Pre-law Summer Institute at The University of New Mexico. There was a man that named Sam Deloria. And he looked at all of us and said, all of you are having, have these huge dreams of representing tribes and the Supreme court and fixing Federal Indian Policy.
And he goes, but that doesn’t need to be your dream. Some of you want to be sports agents. Some of you want to be family law practitioners. Some of you want to be small government law. Some of you want to do…there’s a ton of different types of law you could do. And he goes, the reality is we need you in every one of those places. We need someone sitting at that people, in every one of those places, and just being an Indian and bringing in your Native perspective, you’re going to make this Indian law. And that should be enough because it’s going to be a great help to people, in the whole.
Dena Ned: I like that. Having a seat at the table. I used to say, “if you don’t have a seat at the table, your what’s on the menu.” Uh-huh. But now it’s, “yes, we have a seat at the table, but now we need to be at the head of the table in each of those rooms.” To have that voice because, American, the Alaska Native peoples are less than 2% of the entire United States population. Well on this campus, American Indian, Alaskan Native students are less than 2% of the entire population.
So I want to get back to the benefits of NARI and Kali, to pass specifically with you, that experience and now here you are doing the work in the labs, right, through your PhD program. And well, I wondering if you could talk about how…Again, we’re increasing the representation of this voice in the health sciences. We going to look at it from the research perspective, which is so critical, not only to the education and the curriculum but to the professions in the health sciences.
So could you talk about how Indigenous communities are using their own DNA for their own research to eradicate the very diseases that honestly White researchers have claimed to be doing for decades?
Kali Dale: Yes. Thank you. I will do that.
This is a huge passion of mine at the moment, and I truly believe like self-determination, we can own our own DNA. We can own our data and we can, you know, benefit our communities. You know, there’s a lot of historical instances of communities of color that have been taken advantage of on certain health disease research, where they were promised to, or the disease to be eradicated, and researchers who come in and we will face it, we’ll take your DNA, we’ll take your blood samples. We’re going to do the research. And we’re going to provide you with healthcare.
We’re going to provide you with the data that says, you know, that it gives us the results to say, “this is what we can do to help you,” and time and time again, those communities have not gotten those types of results. And, you know, and sometimes there are even instances of, you know, researchers using that data for questions that they did not give consent to. And I can give an example of where Arizona State University took data from the Havasupai tribe in Arizona and said that they were going to help them with a rare genetic disease. And they never got the support they needed. And then years later, they still had those samples and they tried to show the migratory patterns of these people.
And it went against their exact creation stories and the Havasupai Tribe sued Arizona State, and they lost in, or Arizona state lost. And the, the samples were destroyed. You know, and there’s just many instances of people trying to show that they’re Native through their DNA when that just shows if you are a descendant of Native person or not. And because being Native is actually a political entity as we’ve been talking about. I’m a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians. And… whether my DNA says that or not is a huge controversy. I believe and if I think that we own our own data, our own DNA, our own biological samples from the land. If we all know that data, then we can say, we can show how that can benefit us.
So #DNAback, as well as #LandBack.
Dena Ned: Yes. You heard it here. #DNABack.
So with the time we have remaining, I’d like to open up for questions. And for those again, who are here on site, if you would come up, take one of the microphones to ask your question. And if there are any questions that we need to take from online, we will do that as the second question.
So anyone here have a question for the panel? Or comment?
Audience Member: So I worked at Planned Parenthood for a while and while I was there, I did not enough research, but a little bit into eugenics movement that affected Native people, like largely in the seventies and throughout history. And that is relatively recently. And I think that that obviously rooted distrust in the healthcare system. But I was hoping that you guys could kind of speak more on that distrust. The lies that were told to Native people when that happened. And they were forcibly sterilized, things like that and how it’s still affecting Native communities today.
Scott Willie: Thank you for your question. I hope the folks online, we’re able to hear that question. But really, I think from kind of this perspective of historical trauma, it still continues. And it’s part of that purpose of eugenics. I think really a lot of folks are still really nervous to participate in their own healthcare because of that very concept of being traumatized. And, you know, the early, you know, 50’s and 60’s and 70’s where folks were, you know, going to clinics for a simple checkup and weren’t consented for the fact that they were being treated for other purposes, right?
There’s another agenda that is out there for Native communities. And I think that’s why a lot of Native folks are very hesitant to see their healthcare provider, but even participating in research is a really interesting concept because that’s the whole goal of why the NARI Program was created was because of community members, and this isn’t my story, this is a story that I know from an employee. But this is a story that extends from Dr. Mar Holstee, Dr. Ed Clark, right? These are leaderships or leaders in the Department of Pediatrics who hold this story of how Native community members came to us, or them, and said that they need to train students to end research. So that way the community members can see that there are Native scientists who are doing the research. And it’s really important that like, as Kali said, we get our DNA back and that scientists are actually looking at that conformative and practical data that is out there for Indigenous people.
But I think in reality, our community, people are still very affected by that time. And don’t want to go back into healthcare. And also it’s just regionally, right? Like it’s hard to get healthcare. Like my own family members have to drive two hours just to see a dentist. And it’s really difficult, but yeah.
Thank you for your question. I’m not sure that someone’s going to address that as well.
Dustin Jansen: I wasn’t, but…
Scott Willie: I put him on the spot. Very important question. Thank you so much.
Dustin Jansen: Yeah. And I think this really, I mean, even I work for the State and we are working with the eight tribes here in Utah and try it when, when the vaccine first came out, we actually…there was a convincing process to get tribes to take the vaccine because we have a long history, getting things we didn’t want on blankets. Right?
With, in our reservations that we didn’t have a huge trust group or a network that was meant to sponsor the vaccine.But what it took, I think also was strong leadership. We had the tribal leadership in Utah, stepped up and told its people, this has to happen. We’re going to do it too. This is for the benefit everyone. And, and it took that encouragement. It took, it took Fort Duchesne closing off the reservation so that no one could tease them about getting vaccinated. So no one would tease them about wearing a mask, right? They hadn’t, they were driving into Vernal, they’re driving in Duchesne and people we going “Baa Baa” making sheep noises at them. Embarrassing high school kids making them take off their mask. Embarrassing whole groups of them getting gas, taking off their masks. And then having to go back to the reservation and effecting the reservations. This happens all over in rural Utah border towns that are mixed reservations. Where the tribes will reach out to the State and say, can you please tell I’m not going to mention cities, but can you please tell this city to have better COVID practices because our students go off-reservation to go to school. They’re in there, they’re coming back with it.
Okay. So it needs strong leadership, not just for the tribal government, but also from a local government. To that make sure things like this can happen?
Audience Member: Our second question will come from an online person who asked, “What would you change about the University of Utah Medical System to help provide better health to Indigenous people?”
Dustin Jansen: I’ll talk on that. [Laughing] Don’t want to get anybody fired here. [Laughing] Or kicked out of school.
But from a political perspective and not just to University of Utah but for all medical-oriented campuses that provide healthcare to their surrounding communities. I would ask you please communicate with your tribal communities. To reach out to tribal leadership, to reach out to hospitals that are located on reservations and share data in that way.
I would, especially when it comes to tracing where diseases pick up from, because right now, where Fort Duchesne and their surrounding cities, they’re like, can you tell me who was vaccinated? And the City was like, oh, we can’t. Well, we’re like man, then you know, then they reach back to Fort Duchesne. Will you tell use where, who’s vaccinated? Their like, well, if you do it first. You know. And it’s causing some problems in the health, in providing health services to everyone. But I think there needs to be better communication. There’s the consultation between the State and tribes.
That’s what, that’s a wonderful thing that’s happening right now with the Utah Department of Health and (indistinct) health office. Mrs. Zito with the Department of Emergency Management and Wade. Those two individuals have created such great relationships with their tribal counterparts that things get done and things happen. And the only things that we’re really waiting on are we’re limited by software. You know, how do we do this correctly? And sadly we’re limited by politics. And it’s not even the State politics, it’s small-town politics that can throw barriers into providing better healthcare.
Dena Ned: We have time for one more question here in house.
Audience Member: So I’m a first-year PhD student in Educational Leadership and Policy here. And I know that today we talked mostly about health and everybody’s really appreciated hearing that a big part of that fight is through the pipeline of education. Providing more Native positions and Native physicians. In one of my courses we’ve talked a lot about how we need to go through the K-12 school system and experience a lot of lack of like agency over the other educational pathways. And a lot of that information stems from again this is kind of the mood of distrust.
For those of us debating whether or not on becoming educators or are educators, what are some practices that you think we can adopt to help Native students feel more agency over their educational pathway and form confidence in their cultural capital?
Scott Willie: Great question. So to really help answer that question, I think that educators need to be able to incorporate or weave it into their curriculum. Things that are familiar to these individuals in these communities, right? There are eight federally recognized tribes in the State of Utah. If you’re working in a community, that’s, I’m going to speak specifically on the Navajo Nations, cause that’s where I come from.
If you work closer to the Navajo Nation, understand that community. Participate in what’s happening in their community. And then you can, you know, add into your curriculum, things that are associated with new language, right? Bring those concepts and familiarity to them so that they feel like the belong in that classroom to learn whatever curriculum that you want to teach them.
That’s what I would say. It’s just being able to provide familiarity at all levels, whether that’s a visual language. Yeah. So that’s what I would say. And I think that’s kind of easier said than done, but yeah.
Kali Dale: I just want to add to like, not gloss over the historical trauma that they may be feeling for the first time. Like it’s not that it wasn’t something like my family talked about growing up and then like you would go to a class and they would talk about, well then all of these Native people were murdered and it’s just in what I read that stuff now, or when I experienced that for the first time, I, you know, it like really hurt. I didn’t know how to like react to that.
And so I think a lot of how to support, support them when they’re going through you know like this historical trauma probably for the first time.
Dustin Jansen: There are a couple of websites out there. There’s Indianz with a Z. So Indianz.com and Indian Country Today that keep you abreast of all the current events in Indian Country. And you need to be aware of those, to stay aware of those. Because they actually do have an effect on your students lives and they’re feeling that, their ability to learn that day. You know, if we just thought for second, this is a murdered Indigenous woman. That occurs so much that I promise you somebody in your classroom, if you’re teaching a group of Native students, that’s affected somebody in that classroom.
Okay. So you need to acknowledge that because you know, I’ve heard it said that when these women go missing they don’t just go missing physically. They go missing from the data, they go missing from the media. And now as you as a teacher or an educator, if you don’t acknowledge that in your classroom, that they go missing in people’s lives that are actually in front of you. So I think staying aware of the current issues of today and using writing prompts every morning, you know using the writing property to learn how do you, what do you think about this? How you feel about this and you can, depending on the diversity of your class, you can just bounce around, but always include that Native component to help Native students.
Dena Ned: And that’s how you eradicate and make what was invisible, visible again.
With that we have come to time, and I would like to thank our panelists and turn over for the closing remarks.
José Rodríguez: Thank you so much, my name is José Rodríguez. I am the associate vice president for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Health Sciences. And I want to thank our moderator, Dr. Ned, our panelists, Dustin, Kali, Scott, and our interpreters today for this wonderful and enlightening discussion. You have given us a charge and we will take it on.
We’d like to invite all of you to please register for the November installment of our Friday Forum series, entitled “Embrace Discomfort to Lead Change,” which takes place virtually on November 19th at 1:00 p.m.
In closing, as we celebrate MEDiversity Week and Native American Heritage Month, we remind ourselves that we must strive to honor individuals’ intersecting identities, not only during nationally recognized months. So we encourage you to honor, celebrate, and engage with our communities every day, 12 months a year. As members of underrepresented groups have made and continue to make countless contributions to our campus community, our IntersectX12 initiative serves as the year-round acknowledgment to the work being done to create an inclusive space where everyone feels the belong.
To learn more about the events of MEDiversity Week; Native American Heritage Month; and all other Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion events, please visit diversity.utah.edu. Thank you.
The eugenics movement obviously rooted distrust in the healthcare system. I was hoping you could speak more on that distrust and how it’s still affecting Native communities today.
Scott Willie: I think from kind of this perspective of historical trauma, it still continues, and it’s part of that purpose of eugenics. I think really a lot of folks are still really nervous to participate in their own healthcare because of that very concept of being traumatized. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s where folks were going to clinics for a simple checkup and weren’t consenting to the fact that they were being treated for other purposes, right? There’s another agenda that is out there for Native communities. And I think that’s why a lot of Native folks are very hesitant to see their healthcare provider. But even participating in research is a really interesting concept, because that’s the whole goal of why the NARI Program was created. It was because community members said that they need to train students to end research. So that way the community members can see that there are Native scientists who are doing the research…But I think in reality, our community, people are still very affected by that time and don’t want to go back into healthcare.
Dustin Jansen: I work for the State, and we are working with the eight tribes here in Utah when the vaccine first came out. There was a convincing process to get tribes to take the vaccine because we have a long history, getting things we didn’t want on blankets, right? In our reservations that we didn’t have a huge trust group or a network that was meant to sponsor the vaccine. But what it took, I think, also was strong leadership. We had the tribal leadership in Utah who stepped up and told its people, “this has to happen. We’re going to do it too. This is for the benefit everyone.” And, and it took that encouragement. It needs strong leadership, not just for the tribal government, but also from a local government to that make sure things like this can happen.
What would you change about the University of Utah Medical System to help provide better health to Indigenous people?
Dustin Jansen: But from a political perspective, and not just the University of Utah but for all medical-oriented campuses that provide healthcare to their surrounding communities, I would ask you please communicate with your tribal communities. Reach out to tribal leadership. Reach out to hospitals that are located on reservations and share data in that way.
For those debating on becoming educators or are educators, what are some practices that you think we can adopt to help Native students feel more agency over their educational pathway and form confidence in their cultural capital?
Scott Willie: I think that educators need to be able to incorporate or weave things that are familiar to these individuals into their curriculum. There are eight federally recognized tribes in the State of Utah. If you work closely with a community, understand that community. Participate in what’s happening in their community. And then you can add to your curriculum. Bring those concepts and familiarity to them so that they feel like the belong in that classroom to learn whatever curriculum that you want to teach them.
Kali Dale: Don’t gloss over the historical trauma that they may be feeling for the first time. It’s not that it wasn’t something my family talked about growing up, but when you would go to a class and they talk about, “well, then all of these Native people were murdered,” and experience that for the first time, it really hurt. I didn’t know how to react to that.
Dustin Jansen: There are a couple of websites out there. Indianz.com and Indian Country Today that keep you abreast of all the current events in Indian Country. And you need to be aware of those, to stay aware of those, because they actually do have an effect on your students lives and their ability to learn that day. You know, if we just thought for a second, this is a murdered Indigenous woman. That occurs so much that I promise you somebody in your classroom, if you’re teaching a group of Native students, has been affected by this. You need to acknowledge that because, you know, I’ve heard it said that when these women go missing, they don’t just go missing physically. They go missing from the data, they go missing from the media. And now as you as a teacher or an educator, if you don’t acknowledge that in your classroom, that they go missing in people’s lives.
Stay aware of the current issues of today and use writing prompts every morning, you know using the writing property to learn how do you, what do you think about this? How do you feel about this? You can, depending on the diversity of your class, you can just bounce around, but always include that Native component to help Native students.
Dena Ned: And that’s how you eradicate and make what was invisible, visible again.
Graduate Student Researcher, University of Utah
Born and raised in rural Minnesota, Kali is a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians. She completed her undergraduate studies in Biochemistry at the University of Minnesota Morris in 2014. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oncological Sciences at the U, working at the Huntsman Cancer Institute researching transcriptional regulation mechanisms of melanoma. When Kali isn’t in the laboratory you can find her reading, skiing, or dancing at a concert.
Dr. J. Dena Ned, MSW PhD
Associate Dean, Office for First Generation Access
Associate Professor, College of Social Work
J. Dena Ned is an Associate Professor in the College of Social Work at the University of Utah. In May she was named Associate Dean for the Office for First Generation Access which supports the growing diversity of first forward students. Dena upholds social responsibility as a citizen of both the United States and the Chickasaw Nation. Her experience as a social worker motivated her to explore issues of social justice and systemic equity, and promote comprehensive & holistic policy change from and by the perspective of historically resilient Peoples. Dr. Ned holds a Master’s in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley, a PhD. in Social Work from the U, with additional training as a fellow at the Center for American Indian Health Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, and a postdoc certificate in Global Mental Health: Trauma and Recovery from the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma.
Kristina Groves, MSW LCSW
Red Mesa Behavioral Health Program Director, Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake
Kristina Groves (Ute/Hopi/Chinese) graduated with a B.S. and MSW from the U. She is an LCSW and has worked at the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake (UICSL) since 2008 in both the Cedar Point Wellness and the Red Mesa Behavioral Health (RMBH) programs; in 2019, she became the director of Red Mesa Behavioral Health Program.
“My family always taught us to give back to our community and working with Native people was always my goal. Working with Native clients showed me the need for meaningful treatment in our community, as well as the ways that mainstream substance abuse treatment and mental health therapy do not always work for our population. In my work, I have been able to understand the significance of culture and spirituality to Native clients and the importance of a holistic approach to health and healing.”
Director, Utah Division of Indian Affairs
Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies, Utah Valley University
Dustin Jansen is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. Dustin is currently serving as the Director of Indian Affairs for the State of Utah and has been doing so since 02/2020. Since 2015, Dustin works as an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at Utah Valley University, where he also coordinates their American Indian Studies Minor. Dustin has worked as an Attorney/Judge in Indian law since 2006. Dustin received an Associate’s in science from Utah Valley University; his Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University; and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. He and his wife Chauma Kee-Jansen just celebrated their 20th anniversary. Dustin and Chauma and their four children currently reside in Mapleton, Utah.
Scott Willie, BA
MD-PhD Program Coordinator, MD-PhD Program
School of Medicine
Scott Willie, BA attended the University of New Mexico and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah to coordinate the Native American Summer Research Internship (NARI) in the Department of Pediatrics in 2016 . Scott brings his uniqueness and Diné heritage to the University of Utah to elevate indigenous representation within the Health Science campus. He is passionate about providing equitable opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Natives in the fields of Medicine and Science. Scott’s goal is to help any indigenous student interested in advancing their academic, professional career or network through opportunities and career channels. Scott received several university awards for his role working with AI/AN students and initiating successful programs that promote readiness for graduate/professional school. It is his goal to have more American Indians enrolled in the School of Medicine, various residency programs, PhD programs, faculty positions, etc. by creating indigenous environments for all.