Native American Congressional Internship

Meet our Interns - Alumni Spotlights - Olivia Roanhorse

My public health advisor and professor once told our class “you can have a job, a career, or a calling.” I can’t say that I have reached the level of “a calling,” but I can tell you that right now I am in the right place to make the biggest impact that I can.

I work for a Native-led nonprofit organization, the Notah Begay III Foundation. We work to address and prevent childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes in Native American children through investment in grant making, research, advocacy, and collaboration, and partnerships with tribal communities across the country. Obesity is an epidemic that plagues our children. At two to three times the rates of non-Natives, we are looking at poor quality of health with increased risk of chronic diseases, and as a result, shorter life spans for our children. The outcome is an entire generation of children who may not outlive their parents. An outcome that we, as Native people, cannot afford.

I have spent most of my professional career in the public health field: a field that works to prevent disease and promote the health of the population. Often underfunded, unknown (as you cannot always show that something was prevented), and underappreciated, public health is the “underdog” of the health professions. And I love it. It is about (and this is my own definition) building on existing and new knowledge, making friends (and occasionally enemies) across multiple sectors, respecting data “for good,” and supporting policy development.

Building on everything I have learned and continue to learn from this work, I am consistently reminded of the knowledge shared by my parents, my culture, my people, my friends, my colleagues, my schooling, and my experiences. There are real opportunities to build on the inherent strengths of people in Indian Country to turn the obesity epidemic around, as well as many of the other public health epidemics facing our people. I am exactly where I want to be.