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Helping a tribe navigate its journey

Melmed has used the skills she acquired with her MPH to help the Makah and Jamestown S'Klallam tribes in Washington state improve health, increase self-sufficiency, and bolster knowledge of traditional customs and practices.
Story Photo

photo credit: Eric Neurath

Carey Melmed 07MPH 07MSN is not a member of a Native American tribe, but she has become part of their communities. Located on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, she has worked and lived with both the Makah and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes. She has been allowed to take part in eight Tribal Canoe Journeys, an annual multi-day event for indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest to celebrate their history and heritage. She was named Volunteer of the Year by the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe for the many hours she has devoted to causes of the tribe.

“There are 29 federally recognized Native American tribes in Washington state, and four in the county where I live,” says Melmed. “The Makah and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes have become my community and my family.”

Her close affinity for the tribes made it all the more frustrating for her when she was working as a community health nurse in the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe in the early 2000s and was unable to provide data to support new programming. Working one-on-one with clients providing maternal-child, diabetes, and elder health care, she wanted to create more opportunities to prevent the illnesses she was seeing.

“I saw community health issues that needed to be addressed, but I didn’t have the tools to be able to create a cohesive, data-driven argument to convince my health director,” says Melmed.

So she came to Rollins to acquire those tools. She earned an MPH in global health and an MSN from the school of nursing. Upon graduation, she worked with Public Health Seattle & King County for two years to further develop her research and evaluation skills. She then took a job with the Makah tribe and put the skills gained at Rollins to work, leading the development of a tribal public health department and securing a community transformation grant from the CDC with a focus on preventing chronic disease.

After five years with the Makah tribe she returned to the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe to lead an Administration for Native Americans grant-funded community assessment charged with increasing self-sufficiency of the tribal community.

After planning and directing the years-long assessment, Melmed had a good idea of what the tribal citizens wanted and needed. They wanted to know the benefits that were available to them as tribal citizens. They wanted more cultural activities, especially around traditional food gathering and preparation, language, and tribal practices. And they wanted to stay in their homes as they aged.

The first fix was straightforward. Melmed compiled a directory of resources and programs that was mailed to all tribal citizens. The directory covers everything from fishing rights to substance abuse programs.

Melmed was able to help the tribe translate the data she gathered in the community assessment into programs around cultural activities. The planning department used the information to create new cultural classes and community gatherings. Melmed secured a grant from the CDC allowing the tribe to launch a traditional foods project with a manager and an intern from the tribe. The project, titled “Yehumetz—Taking Care of Ourselves With Traditional Foods and Culture,” offers classes on traditional food gathering, harvesting, and preparation. And the tribe’s Social and Community Services Department used the assessment data to justify S’Klallam language classes.

“There are no living Jamestown S’Klallam native speakers,” says Melmed. “But there are recordings, and there is a dictionary. Some people in sister Klallam tribes know the language, and they are helping out with the classes.”

Survey findings were used to develop a program, “Be Careful Everyone,” aimed at increasing elders’ self-sufficiency in their homes.

The tribe was so energized by everything Melmed had accomplished, they created a planning position to continue the work in the future. As for Melmed, with the grant funding at an end, she will move on to her next project. She leaves with a feeling of accomplishment.

“It has been wonderful seeing the cohesiveness of the programming framed around what the community told us they needed for self-sufficiency,” says Melmed. “That is exactly the kind of work I wanted to be able to do when I got my MPH.”—Martha McKenzie

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