Promoting Healthy Native Communities Through Science and Service
A Tradition of Respectful Research and Training for Native People
The Wassaja Carlos Montezuma Center for Native American Health was established in 1983 as the Native American Research and Training Center (NARTC) by the University of Arizona Board of Regents to serve as a resource in health-related research and training for Native American communities nationwide. The Wassaja Center is housed in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the College of Medicine.
The mission of the Wassaja Center is to provide training and technical assistance and to conduct respectful research to benefit the health and well-being of Native people, families, and communities. Because of our commitment to the realization of self-determination, one of the primary objectives of the Wassaja Center is to promote active participation and partnership with Native American communities in all research and training programs.
The History of the Wassaja Carlos Montezuma Center for Native American Health
In 1983, the University of Arizona was officially awarded direct support from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to establish a Native American Research and Training Center. In response to this award, the University of Arizona Board of Regents formally recognized and authorized the establishment of NARTC, with permanent official status as a center within the university. The UA designated a full-time tenured faculty position to NARTC in 1984 for the director and purchased a 3,150 square foot building with proximity to UAHS for exclusive occupancy by staff. Paul H. Skinner, PhD, former director of the Dept. of Speech and Hearing Sciences, was named the director, and it was administratively placed under the Vice President for Research.
In 1986, the UA designated a second full-time tenured faculty position to the center to recruit and retain a Native American director. Jennie Joe, PhD, MPH, was hired in the fall of 1986 as the center’s director and Dr. Skinner became co-director. In 1987, NARTC was placed administratively within the Department of Family and Community Medicine (FCM), which is part of the UArizona College of Medicine. In June 2007, Dr. Teshia Solomon (Choctaw) was brought on to replace the retired Dr. Skinner as co-director. In 2010, Dr. Solomon became director; in 2012, Dr. Francine Gachupin (Jemez Pueblo) joined as assistant director.
Fifteen years of NIDRR support allowed NARTC to grow and establish a core of faculty and staff that obtained funding from other agencies to help sustain the mission. The core staff broadened the scope of activities to include research and training programs in diabetes, substance abuse prevention, cancer, chronic disease, health policy, special education, and leadership training with funding from a number of NIH agencies and private foundations. NARTC includes among its major accomplishments during this period, the first national conference on cancer in American Indians, which was held in 1989, and the first national conference on type 2 diabetes in AIAN (American Indian and Alaska Native) youth. Proceedings from both conferences were published in peer reviewed journals.
1998 - Present
Since 1998, staff continue to engage in research and training in a variety of areas including cancer and diabetes. Current projects include the American Indian Research Center for Health (AIRCH), American Indians into Medicine program (AZ INMED), Leadership in Health Equity for American Indian Research Development program (LEAD), American Indian Youth Wellness Initiative, and the Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention (NACP).