Native Youth Lead The Way At Local Health Conference

Youth presenters at the AAIP meeting. Back row (L to R): Leon Paquin, Nick Felipe, Emmit Yepa, Mark Panana. Front row: Tiffany Faustine, Leroy Paisano, Lindsey Toya and Tianie Toya

A Clearly Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, NM – A week before the school year began, a group of American Indian youth in New Mexico were not only working hard, they were teaching the class!

Earlier this month, the 39th annual conference of the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) featured nationally known speakers, including Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the current director of Indian Health Services.

Alongside such speakers were three groups of local youth presenting on their efforts to create healthier, more sustainable and empowered communities.

The Walatowa (Jemez) Green Stars talked about their activism to create a full-scale recycling program in their community, with group member Lindsey Toya pointing out that “we know that our trash will be here for the generations to come, and it is our job to teach the elders in our community as they have taught us.”

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Indigenous Health Leadership Institute: Wisdom Is The Course

It’s a health leadership institute where the professors are not doctors, but rather native elders, youth and community activists. Knowledge and wisdom are the course subjects….and there are NO powerpoint presentations!

Organizers of the Indigenous Health Leadership Institute say they are proud to present this new, community-friendly way of approaching health care. The institute runs from April 9 to 11 and will involve community leaders in Isleta and Acoma Pueblos.

“We want our attendees to see the knowledge and wisdom that our Indigenous communities have, and our ‘professors’ for IHLI are elders, youth, and community activists,” says NHI Coordinator Shannon Fleg (Dine).

“I am excited to show these future healers how important our culture, our language, and our community is to health, since I do not think they get this message in their formal training,” says Robin Clemmons, (Acoma) who is organizing a community health forum in her community for IHLI.

Included in the teaching during the April institute is a night of film, “Indigenous Film: A Lens for Health, Healing and Social Justice” that is open to the public. The event takes place at the Trillion Space (510 2nd St NW, Albuquerque) on Saturday, April 10th at 8pm.

It is clear that those attending have a diverse spectrum of interests and reasons for attending, with professional interests that range from medicine to public health, and coming from Baltimore, California and all parts in between the two.

One local IHLI participant, Laura Alonzo de Franklin, a traditional healer in the Nahuatl (Aztec) tradition sees her attendance as a “way to improve relations with our brothers and sisters from American Indian Nations.” The Native Health Initiative purposely used the word “indigenous” for the institute, hoping to deconstruct and decolonize the notion that Indigenous communities and traditions from north of the border are distinct from those south of the border.

“In some small way, we see IHLI as a beginning to the healing and unification that is needed between Indigenous peoples on both sides of sociopolitical dividing line we call the Mexican-American border,” says NHI Coordinator Raphael Lope (Navajo). “New Mexico is the perfect place for this healing to begin.”

Also making IHLI unique is that it is largely funded by what NHI calls “loving service” – not monetary funds. This institute, which has no grant funding, no educational or health institutions as sponsors, is happening because of a committed group of students and community leaders who are giving their time and talents to make it happen.

“From the housing to the learning sessions in our local communities, IHLI is funded on people power, replacing money with our traditional Indigenous value system,” says Clemmons.

Local co-sponsors for IHLI include the Acoma Pueblo, Isleta Pueblo, Sabawear, The Trillion Space, First Nations Healthsource, La Plazita, and Kapulli Teocalli Ollin. National co-sponsors for IHLI include the American Public Health Association (APHA), Association of Native American Medical Students (ANAMS), and the American Medical Student Association (AMSA).

For more information on this event, contact Shannon Fleg at or 505.340.5656. Or visit the website at