The Oneida Nation Commission on Aging (ONCOA) and the Native American Center for Health Professions (NACHP) received prestigious 2018 Community-University Partnership Awards during a ceremony held at the residence of University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank on June 27.
Only a handful of these recognitions are awarded annually for different UW departments, projects, or programs that have developed strong partnerships with various community organizations or entities. NACHP has partnered with the Oneida Nation for several years helping provide Native American students in the health care professions with clinical rotations at the Oneida Community Health Center (OCHC).
In addition to helping provide clinical rotations, NACHP also actively recruits Native students to UW health professional schools and programs as well as other tribal programs and departments. “We conduct outreach with tribal schools and also work closely with Tsyunhehkwa to bring students to the community to learn more about traditional food ways,” NACHP Community and Academic Support Coordinator Melissa Metoxen said. “This award acknowledges the various programs and departments that we work with in Oneida focusing on, of course, our main mission and vision which is getting more of our Native students to pursue health careers and seeing the importance of giving back to our community.”
One form of outreach that NACHP performs is visiting the Oneida Nation High School and other area high schools that Native students attend. “We provide presentations to students that talk about what it means to be ready for college and also focusing on what it means to pursue a health career and the different options available,” Metoxen said. “We stress the importance of having our own community members in these careers because we have a lot of health disparities among our tribes. So it’s really important to have our own people serving in our communities as providers.”
The awards serve to recognize both the university program and the community in which they serve. “The award is given to both entities because we can’t have this partnership without our community,” Melissa said. “This is an indication of the great work and partnership that we have. For me, being a tribal member, it’s great to be able to work for the university but still be able to give back to the Oneida community by helping create these partnerships.”
The other Oneida Nation entity recognized at the ceremony was ONCOA for their partnership with UW-Madison who is assisting with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research in Native Americans. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older people. AD affects the parts of the human brain that control thought, memory, and language.
“We received this award because ONCOA and our CAB (Community Advisory Board) have partnered with UW-Madison to put a focus on Alzheimer’s,” Elijah Metoxen, Oneida Elder Services Program Manager, said. “We’ve been working with Dr. Carey Gleason, a UW representative, who’s leading this pilot study group. We’re working on ways to increase awareness of this disease because there hasn’t been any research done on how this disease affects native communities. This has been an amazing partnership we’ve created with UW-Madison and Dr. Gleason.”
“About four or five years ago the ONCOA Board went to an Alzheimer’s convention,” Wes Martin, former ONCOA Chairperson, said. “One of our members asked if there was any compiled information about the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia on native populations and there wasn’t any.”
Having felt the effects of Alzheimer’s disease personally, Martin got the ball rolling on establishing the partnership between ONCOA and UW-Madison. “I was about 70 or 71 years of age at the time,” Martin said. “I could see somebody and I knew who they were but I couldn’t remember their name. I would be working on a project and forget what I was doing and start another project. I thought I was going crazy so I posed these questions to the UW representative and her response to me was simple. She told me it just happens as you progress in age and it’s common. It was a relief to know I wasn’t going crazy.
“So ONCOA teamed up with Dr. Gleason at UW,” Martin said. “Some of our members have gone to Madison for memory screenings for research purposes and we’re hoping to develop a more extensive project for research and bring it to the other ten tribes in Wisconsin for education. We’ve taken the initiative on dementia research and I want to do advanced preparation for elder populations before they can’t make legal decisions for themselves. It all came to a good front when we teamed up with UW-Madison. We have a lot of people onboard and Oneida sure seems to be in front of a lot of firsts and it’s just wonderful.”
“The award ceremony itself was very much like a formal event,” Metoxen said. “It was a beautiful setting at Chancellor Blank’s residence. When the event started she talked about what the award was about and provided us some history behind it. There were approximately seven different awards given out and Oneida received two of them. It was a great experience.”