By Agnes Attakai
I had the pleasure of serving on the conference planning committee for the first Statewide Arizona American Indian Pathways into Health Conference held at the Radisson Fort McDowell Resort, on Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation April 4-5, 2012. My fellow planning committee members were diverse and represented the following organizations: Advisory Council on Indian Health Care, Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), Gila River Indian Community, San Carlos Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Hope Tribe, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., Indian Health Service, First Things First, University of Arizona Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Programs, and the University of Arizona Colleges of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health.
The theme of the conference was “Building a Firm Foundation for the Future of American Indian Health Care” and our purpose was to address the under-representation of American Indians in the health professions by presenting innovate health career programs from elementary to post-secondary. Some of the programs highlighted were the AHEC Program partnerships with their local tribal communities such as the Western Arizona AHEC partnership with Cocopah and the Colorado River Indian Tribe on a certified nursing assistant program; the Greater Valley, Northern Arizona and Southeastern Arizona AHEC involvement with the development of health career clubs such as the Indigenous Pride from Hopi Health Care Center, the Health Career Club on the Gila River Indian Community and the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) clubs on the Tohono O’odham Nation; and the San Carlos Apache Tribe 5th Grade Pathways into Health Pilot Initiative collaboration with the Eastern Arizona AHEC.
The guest speaker for the luncheon was Dr. George Blue Spruce (San Juan and Laguna Pueblos), President Emeritus and Founder of the Society of American Indian Dentists who gave us an inspiring and moving story about his path to becoming the first American Indian dentist. Mr. Blue Spruce is a role model and paved the way for future health professionals.
We had representatives from parents, tribal leaders, teachers, program directors, community colleges and university programs network and discuss how to collaborate and encourage our native students to finish high school and explore health careers. I met up with friends and colleagues from across Arizona and enjoyed the lively discussions. The planning committee will meet again, a final report from the conference will be developed and we heard from conference attendees that another conference to continue the discussion should be held at a tribal community location. I will keep you all informed of when and where the next conference will be held.
Agnes Attakai, MPA