Native Explorers visit Cherokee Nation to spark science, medicine interests
TAHLEQUAH – Students with the Native Explorers program participated in various traditional activities while visiting Cherokee Nation landmarks on May 22-23 as part of the program’s mission to increase Native Americans in science and medicine.
“The older generations had a lot of knowledge in medicine and we think we can contribute as Native people to the current medical world,” Native Explorers Executive Director Jeff Hargrave said. “If we can get Native kids interested in medicine we can hopefully get them into medical school and they’ll be doctors and return home to Indian Country and service their fellow citizens.”
Founded in 2010 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Native Explorers is offered through the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. It partners with educational institutions and entities, including the Cherokee Nation to encourage Native American youths to explore how their cultures can intersect with science and medicine.
Barbara Girty, Cherokee Heritage Center board and staff liaison, said she helped craft a “specialized itinerary” for the group during its stay.
“They actually slept in the houses in Diligwa Village on the ground, and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” she said. “They also took a tour of the different Cherokee Nation museums around town, the John Ross Museum, the Supreme Court building, the jail. They went over and toured the Native Gardens. They were immersed into the Cherokee culture, and we hope that this will help them in their future endeavors when they go on to become doctors hopefully in our (W.W.) Hastings Hospital (in Tahlequah) taking care of our own Cherokee people.”
The Native Explorers also participated in archery, blowgun and stickball competitions, as well as ate at a hog fry and witnessed ceremonial friendship and social stomp dancing.
Girty coordinated the visit with program co-founder Dr. Kent Smith, professor of anatomy and associate dean for the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science at OSU’s Center for Health Sciences.
Smith said nine students participated this year and represented various tribal nations, including Cherokee, Comanche, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Standing Rock Sioux.
“The group is made up of undergraduate students as well as professional medical students and graduate students,” he said. “The medical students and the graduate students in the group serve as mentors for the undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in science and medicine. Some of our medical students participate in clinical rotations as well as residency programs at W.W. Hastings with the Cherokee Nation.”
Smith said program costs are covered for students, and in addition to the learning and networking opportunities students earn three hours of college credit from OSU.
Cherokee Nation citizen Jacalyn Hulsey, an East Central University student in Ada, said he was eager to participate in the program. “It’s really important to me to be in this program because it gives me an opportunity to learn who I am and get more college credit than I’ve already gotten, and it allows me to interact with other cultures besides my own.”
Hulsey said she knew before gradating high school that her interest was within the medical field.
“I actually knew before I graduated high school that I wanted to be a physical therapist, and so that’s kind of where I’m going in life,” she said. “I would definitely encourage anybody to do this because it’s not just learning what I know already, but I’m getting to learn other stuff about different cultures I never would have known. It’s a very wide range of stuff we’ll get to learn.”
The program, which ran from May 21 to June 1, visited educators from the Chickasaw Nation, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the National Park Service in addition to Cherokee Nation staff. The group also visited select environmental regions across Oklahoma t0 study topics such as anatomy and paleontology.
For more information, visit www.nativeexplorers.org