Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Changing the Face of Health Care

Naomi BenderAllin p’unchay! Good day! I am Naomi M. Bender, Ph.D., an indigenous Quechua (Peru), and the director for the Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane (WSU Spokane) Native American Health Sciences program. In this edition, you’ll find updates and reflections based on progress we made over the summer including pathways expansion, community and campus initiatives, and the development of our new Center for Native American Student Success.

As 2020 has been a year of significant challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forest fires, heightened acts of racism and violence, and continued struggles as a nation, it was more important than ever that our program continue its critical work. This means providing safe and meaningful educational experiences for students interested in health care careers who represent a variety of ages and backgrounds. If this year has reminded us of anything, it is that we as indigenous people are resilient and committed to the health and wellness of our people. Pandemics have afflicted our indigenous communities for centuries, and yet we have persisted, persevered, and found ways to carry on our legacy through the stories and wisdom of our elders, and the dreams and pathways of our youth and generations to come.

When the pandemic hit in early March, our team quickly gathered to discuss if, or how, we might hold summer pathway programs. We prayed and found strength through many of our tribal nations’ responses to the pandemic in how they protected and advocated for our youth’s education and safety. So, we turned the inevitable—forced closures of our campus, schools, and tribal communities—into virtual educational and impactful opportunities that positively changed the facets of our work. This summer, we countered the pandemic to impact the lives, minds, and hearts of many, and I am thrilled we can share their stories with you.

You will learn about how we combined the resources and donations of many tribes, a trust, non-profit organizations, and institutional partners, into a singular institute dedicated to health occupation and science, technology, engineering, arts, and math research for 26 tribal youth across our nation. You’ll discover how we supplied these students with computers, microscopes, research kits, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and cultural tenets of support and exploration all through a virtual setting. And, see how students learned to not only take vitals of their own family members, but you’ll follow their discovery of health care fields, the beauty of research and how it can impact and save lives, and so much more.

We’ll share a reimagined way in which a much larger partnership formed between our program, several colleges, and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and solidified a grant award from the Indian Health Service, and how the grant provided 6-weeks of online learning for eight Native American pre-medicine students across our nation. You’ll learn how this program provided online Kaplan MCAT preparatory learning, biomedical science instruction, and a newly developed Native American cultural tenet curriculum that was taught by over 20 Native American physicians, faculty and staff, and current medical students across the nation, to support pathways into medicine. Additionally, this grant supported two Wy’East scholars toward matriculation into the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

You’ll hear about rising, year 2 medical students from the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, who were sponsored by their college and our program as part of a Summer Research Opportunity, and how their views changed specific to Western and traditional forms of medicine. You’ll experience the decolonization of these students as they learned the history and current health status of our tribal nations and communities, discovered the identity and sovereignty of our people, questioned federal acts and policies, and studied environment and climate change, and how all have impacted the ways in which they view and respond to the work of becoming physicians in Washington state.

You will learn more about our Native American Health Sciences program and how we envision and mission our work through a recently signed Portland Area Indian Health Service Master Clinical Affiliation Agreement, the first of its kind for WSU Health Sciences.

I want our stakeholders to know that when I came to WSU Health Sciences two years ago, I came as an indigenous woman walking in the footsteps of tribal people who I pay tribute to before me. I also came here as a representative of my ancestors who once flourished and now continue to persevere among the mountainous and water regions of our Pachamama (mother earth). I work and live to be an impact agent for our people. To not only expand the number of Native American health care professionals in the workforce, but to enhance our indigenous peoples’ health outcomes, to provide culturally embedded and sustainable education through culturally based practices, to impact health and wellness of our tribal communities where they see fit, and to enact promises that the land grant mission of WSU is meant to uphold upon the original homelands of our tribal nations.

Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank the support and generosity from each of our sponsors. Without your support, we would not be able to provide unique, meaningful, impactful, and sustainable pathways into health care career fields for our students.

I hope you enjoy this newsletter and I thank you for being part of the journey with us. We hope to continue walking alongside you.

Samincha sinchi (many blessings),
Naomi M. Bender


“We acknowledge the land on which we sit and occupy today as the traditional home of the Spokane tribal nation. We take this opportunity to thank the original caretakers of this land.”

Newsletter Cover
Click to read a PDF version.

In summer 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, WSU Native American Health Sciences was still able to deliver its programs remotely, impacting the lives, minds, and hearts of many.

In this issue:

Native High School Youth & Na-ha-shnee STEAM Health Institute

Student Takeaways from Na-ha-shnee STEAM

Na-ha-shnee STEAM Instructors and Counselors Share Their Insights

Reimagine IndianS into MedicinE (RISE) Summer Academy

RISE Developers and Instructors Share Their Insights

RISE’s Wy’East Pathway Program

Spotlight on Summer Research Opportunity

Historic Agreement Opens New Doors for Health Sciences Students

In Her Words: Notes from Indian Country

Center for Native American Health Opens January 2021

Thank You to Our Partners:

  • WSU Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and WSU Native Programs and WSU IREACH
  • Lonnie Nelson, WSU College of Nursing, Assoc. Professor
  • Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board
  • Portland Area Indian Health Service
  • OHSU School of Medicine Northwest Native Center of Excellence
  • University of California Davis School of Medicine
  • Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians
  • Association of American Indian Physicians
  • University of North Dakota Indians Into Medicine Alumni
  • Margo Hill, JD Spokane Tribe