Helping Native Americans

Jordyn Gunville, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a research scientist at the Institute for Indigenous Studies, provides health education information to two Native community members at a pow wow hosted by the American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance in 2016. Credit: American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance

Lehigh's College of Health Establishes Institute for Indigenous Studies

Christine Makosky Daley and Sean Daley will lead the Institute. They have partnered with Native communities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bolivia in holistic approaches to improving health.

Story by

Lori Friedman

Native people experience some of the most significant health disparities in the United States. Native Americans die of heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries and diabetes―the leading causes of death―at higher rates than other Americans. The federal Indian Health Service reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than the general U.S. population.

The education gap is also wide. The U.S. Department of Education lists American Indian/Alaska Native as among the race/ethnicity groups with the highest high school dropout rate with 9.5% of 16- to 24-year-olds not enrolled in school and without a high school credential.

Logo for Institute of Indigenous Studies

The logo for the Institute for Indigenous Studies (IIS) is designed by Luke Swimmer, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation of North Carolina and a research scientist II in the IIS. The design in the center is a basket weave symbolizing the interconnectedness of all Indigenous peoples of the Americas–North, Central and South. The gold rectangle in the center represents the IIS and represents the connection the IIS has to all the Indigenous communities with which it works.

These health and achievement gaps are interrelated and any effort to close these gaps requires an holistic approach, according to Christine Makosky Daley and Sean Daley, who are both on the faculty of Lehigh’s new College of Health.

The Daleys―collaborators and spouses―are establishing an Institute for Indigenous Studies at the College of Health, which currently offers an undergraduate degree and certificates in population health with a focus on innovation and technology. The two will serve as co-directors with Makosky Daley leading the Institute’s research endeavors and Daley the educational programs.

The duo’s research, conducted both separately and in collaboration, focuses on improving the health and educational attainment of Native people in the Americas. They employ what they refer to as an “holistic health approach” that they say aligns with the definition of health often used by Indigenous peoples themselves.

Native peoples are often relegated to stereotypes and mascots, or seen as relics of the past. Having an institute that educates people, both at Lehigh University, the greater Lehigh Valley area and beyond, about contemporary Indigenous peoples and their communities would help break down the misconceptions and stereotypes.

Sean Daley

“Our definition goes beyond the World Health Organization’s stance that health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being,” says Sean Daley. “We add to their definition emotional, spiritual, community and environmental―both natural and built―aspects of health.”

“We believe that a community cannot be truly healthy until individuals in that community begin to take a leadership role in improving and maintaining health,” says Christine Makosky Daley. “This can only be accomplished when the educational attainment of the community is enhanced, and the true empowerment of community members occurs.”

The institute will merge two centers: the Center for American Indian Community Health (CAICH), founded and led by Christine Makosky Daley at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., and the Center for American Indian Studies (CAIS), founded and led by Sean Daley at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan. The Institute for Indigenous Studies at Lehigh will build on the legacy of both centers, already well-known and well-respected in Indian Country. The Daleys bring almost 25 years of established working relationships with dozens of Indian communities.

“Community-engaged research in which–and, we hope, through which–our partner communities are empowered is an important part of our future at Lehigh,” said Alan Snyder, Lehigh’s vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies. “Learning how to listen to, form bonds of trust with, and learn from, indigenous communities is an important step. And the holistic model of health is an example of recognizing the wisdom that these communities carry.”

Eight Research scientists who worked with the Daleys in Kansas have joined them at the Institute: Justin Begaye, MSW, MPA (Navajo); Ryan Goeckner, MA; Jordyn Gunville, MPH (Cheyenne River Sioux); River Gunville, BS (Cheyenne River Sioux); Jason Hale, MA (Prairie Band Potawatomi); Charley Lewis, MPH (Paiute/Navajo); Joseph Pacheco, MPH, ABD (Quechua); and, Luke Swimmer, MBA (Eastern Band Cherokee). In addition, Eduardo J. Gómez, associate professor and director of undergraduate programs at the College of Health, will join the Institute, bringing his expertise in health policy and a global focus.

“Lehigh's new Institute for Indigenous studies will be cutting-edge and vital for our efforts to better understand the multiple determinants of health among Native communities throughout the Americas,” says Gomez. “The Daleys’ alternative ‘holistic health approach’ is much needed, path-breaking, and will lead to never-before-explored areas of research collaboration, scholarship, and teaching experiences. I'm certainly honored to be a part of the new Institute.”

Among the varied research topics of the Institute will be a continuation and expansion of COVID-19 prevention efforts and a well-established smoking-cessation program.

Makosky Daley recently received an enhancement award to a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)-funded grant focused on COVID-19 in Native communities. She and her collaborators are working on the development of COVID-19 educational materials for American Indian communities and translating them into at least 10 Native languages for distribution in the U.S., Bolivia, and Guatemala. Additional efforts include the creation of an on-line database resource for tracking policy responses among tribes throughout the U.S. as well as a survey to identify attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors surrounding COVID-19, infectious disease and pandemics, and trust in medical and public health professionals among Native populations.

The co-directors’ All Nations Breath of Life (ANBL), a culturally-appropriate smoking cessation program in existence since 2003, has a higher six-month quit rate than any other program for American Indians, according to Makosky Daley.

“Our program―proven efficacious in rigorous randomized controlled trials―is unique because it respects tobacco as a sacred plant while assisting recreational smokers with quitting,” she says.

Native peoples dancing

A traditional dance competition at a pow wow hosted by the American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance in 2016.  Credit: American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance.  

Sean Daley is leading a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded project called: “Infusing Contemporary American Indian Cultural Studies across the Curriculum.” It is a 24-month project that provides professional and curriculum development in the teaching of contemporary American Indian cultural issues. TheDaleys also operate a successful school-year and summer internship program for both Native and non-Native students, which includes interactions with reservation and urban Native communities. The Daleys are co-founders and co-directors of the nonprofit American Indian Education & Health Research Alliance, Inc.

Native peoples are often relegated to stereotypes and mascots, or seen as relics of the past,” says Sean Daley. “Having an institute that educates people, both at Lehigh University, the greater Lehigh Valley area and beyond, about contemporary Indigenous peoples and their communities would help break down the misconceptions and stereotypes.”

Story by

Lori Friedman

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