Jicarilla Apache/ Pueblo of Santa Ana
University of Colorado - Denver
Joaquin's mission is bringing awareness to the non-Native population on how they approach American Indian health. On the fast track to become a dentist, he says it is important to increase the number of Native health professionals and Native health researchers.
Joaquin, a junior public health major at the University of Colorado, has taken his cultural, academic, and professional experiences to create opportunities to help his people by doing what he describes as walking in other worlds.
“There is the Native world, the Anglo-American world, and then the medical world - and you have to be able to understand and navigate all three if you are going to make a difference,” he says. “I have to be coherent and competent enough to be well-versed in all three to make a difference, but continue to work and be a productive member of my family, tribe, and community.”
Joaquin initially planned to become a medical doctor, then became interested in oral heath during his internship experience at the prestigious Center for Native Oral Health Research at the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus in Colorado, one of three research programs in the nation that looks at oral disparity among minority populations. Joaquin is the only undergraduate student on the research projects. His experience at the center is assisting him academically and professionally. He says he has gained an appreciation for oral health care and its importance to overall well being, especially in Native communities.
“There are actually fewer Native dentists than doctors,” he says. “I believe I could be of more assistance to the community to be dentist. Diabetes and oral health care correlate; we are working on a project studying that because what you put into your mouth affects not only your teeth, but also the oral tissue, blood, organs in your body, and well-being. If you look at the statistics, the Native population has the highest diabetes rates [which relate to oral health] and highest [incidence of] early childhood cavities, so for me, this needs to be addressed. I am passionate about the health of the American Indian population.”
Joaquin, a recipient of multiple American Indian College Fund Full-Circle scholarships, learned early in his academic career to balance the priorities of a “college atmosphere that does not support the ideals of Native Peoples but rather promotes ideals of mainstream society.” For most of 2009 and 2010 he traveled back and forth from Colorado to New Mexico to be with his mother while she was hospitalized. During the six procedures she underwent, including two brain surgeries, he spent a great deal of time missing classes and making up schoolwork.
“It was also necessary that I travel back and forth from Colorado to New Mexico for tribal/cultural and familial reasons concerning my mother’s health,” Joaquin says. “An additional obstacle occurred when my family moved back to New Mexico while I stayed in Denver to continue schooling. Not having the regular support of immediate family proved difficult. I am thankful that the Native community aided me during this time by providing housing and encouragement.”
Joaquin is passionate about the work he does for American Indians and giving back to those that helped him. He is focused on his future and that of other Natives by succeeding in his studies to be able to make a difference. "Our ancestors became what they had to become in order to survive and help their people transcend through that time period. And so today, Native youth have to find out what they need to become in order to transcend this time period to a successful future.”
“With the dedication that has been instilled in me by the generations before me, I am confident this will come to be. By having my academic, cultural, and spiritual actions align with both tradition and future, I trust my education can help Native communities advance in health and well being.”
Joaquin serves as a board member of the Colorado American Indian Health Council-Department of Public Health and Environment-State of Colorado; volunteers at Title VII Indian Education-Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools; Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce; Caring Association for Native Americans (CANA); serves as a Community Advisory Board Member - HIV Clinical Research Group- National Native American AIDS Prevention Center and CU Anschutz Medical Campus; served as President and Vice-President of University of Colorado Denver Chapter of American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES); and is a member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).