The concept for a dedicated Center for Native Health grew out of the Culturally Based Native Health Programs, which initiated a partnership between WCU, WFU and The EBCI’s Health and Medical Division to address cultural competency issues among health care providers.
The mission and approach of the Center are unique in the nation because we are driven first and foremost by a community agenda and guided with the advice of community members. University or other institutional partners must be willing to accept this agenda and provide the flexibility necessary to support it. The Center for Native Health actively moves projects away from the scenario in which Western research “studies us [American Indians] to death.”
West of the Mississippi there are a multitude of tribal colleges that address the needs of native communities in a culturally grounded manner, but in the East this is not available in most communities. In lieu of a tribal college the CNH works with the EBCI and other sovereign tribal nations in the southeast to address issues related to the significant health disparities that exist in native communities. These disparities are reflected in the following health statistics:
The numbers of tribal members who have at least one chronic disease (e. g., diabetes, heart disease) is increasing. “Baby boomers” are getting older with many health needs.
About 35% are currently diagnosed with diabetes and younger folks are being diagnosed more and more
Childhood obesity is a serious health issue (in 2003, 61.9% of EBCI male children 6-11 years old were overweight or obese and 58.6% of female children in the same age group were overweight or obese).
The suicide rate for AI youth is 4x greater than for all others in US
A recent CDC report concluded that, “The findings in this report indicate that AI communities bear a greater burden of health risk factors and chronic disease than other racial/ethnic minority populations.”
In addition to the health disparities, there are also social and economic disparities that affect native peoples, including those in Western North Carolina:
More than 60 people met in Cherokee during the summer of 2008 and decided that a non-profit, autonomous Center needed to be established to allow community members and university members to work together at the request of tribal and local communities to address health & education issues. Through funding from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, that vision came to pass.
We are a 501c3, awarded non-profit status in the summer of 2009. We have a 16-member executive board – 10 are enrolled members of Native Nations, 6 represent our university partners. These partners include: Wake Forest University and Western Carolina University’s College of Health & Human Sciences.
Summer of 2008
More than 60 people met in Cherokee and decided that a non-profit, autonomous Center needed to be established to allow community members and university members to work together at the request of tribal and local communities to address health & education issues
Lisa Lefler, PhD, named the Center for Native Health’s first Executive Director. She would be instrumental in the creation of and expansion of the CNH’s activities. She would lead the CNH for 13 years.
Fall of 2008
Funding from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation helps CNH get off the ground.
Summer of 2009
Awarded 501c3 non-profit status in the summer of 2009. We put together a 16-member executive board – 10 are enrolled members of Native Nations, 6 represent our university partners.
The Center helps facilitates a series of conversations and workshops between medical clinicians and EBCI elders to dialogue about ways to better situate cultural knowledge and traditions into medical care.
Wake Forest Medical School and the Center for Native Health partner to expand MedCat into a multi-faceted summer camp and program to promote post-secondary and careers in Medical professions for Native youth.
The first “Medicine Walk” is held in the Snowbird community at the Junaluska Museum with Onita, Tom and TJ Holland
MedCaT was expanded in 2015 as a year-round program to create a pathway for students, specifically American Indian and Appalachian Rural, that addresses the above-mentioned barriers through integration of cultural education into the traditional health and biomedical science curriculum and teaching paradigm.
DogWood Trust announced that the Center of Native Health would be a recipient of a 25K grant to support the Doula project, update the CNH website and to support professional development for the Executive Director.
Trey Adcock (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ, enrolled Cherokee Nation), PhD, is an Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Director of American Indian & Indigenous Studies at the University of North Carolina Asheville.