A University of Missouri School of Medicine professor who is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation presented in August at the annual meeting of the Association of American Indian Physicians in Chicago.
Melissa Lewis, PhD, an assistant professor of family and community medicine, highlighted the purpose and benefits of Remember the Removal, an annual six-month program for Cherokee Nation young adults that culminates in a three-week bike ride. The ride traces the “Trail of Tears” northern route the Cherokee were forced to follow while the U.S. government relocated them from Georgia to Oklahoma in the 1830s.
Instead of presenting the research herself, Lewis included participants of the program. Some of them assisted with research into how the program and ride helped with empowerment, cultural knowledge and decreased cardiovascular risk. Lewis said she was surprised to learn the program reduced anxiety, anger and depression among participants.
“It’s important to flip the model of collecting data and knowledge from indigenous communities, presenting it as your own and reaping the benefits while the participants who did the hard work don’t get the recognition,” Lewis said. “I think it improves your research when you include participants in the process. Their stories are so much more powerful than anything I could say or explain on my own. Their accounts were really touching, and the audience laughed with them and felt sadness with them. That’s something you can’t do second hand.”
Lewis led another presentation at the conference on a guide to help health care providers work more effectively with indigenous patients and attended the 2019 AI/AN Physicians Summit at the AMA headquarters in Chicago.