#NAHM17: Justin Huenemann
Job Title, Cause or Organization you represent
President and CEO, Notah Begay III Foundation
Tribal Affiliation and/or any personal cultural notes you’d like to share
Citizen of Navajo Nation
What do you feel brought you to your cause and was there a personal connection or cultural teaching that sparked your initial interest?
I have dedicated my professional life to improving and strengthening the quality of life of Native peoples. The future of Native Nations depends on the health of its youth. To quote Fredrick Douglas, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We, Indian Country, are at a critical juncture in time. We can either choose to invest in our future via our children or we can neglect our children and face the cost and consequences in the near future.
What is a key take-away you feel most people do not understand/are not educated on regarding your cause?
Childhood obesity is a silent killer that is plaguing Indian Country and resulting in shortened, unfulfilled lives. That said, obesity and many of the affiliated diseases (type 2 diabetes and heart disease, etc) are preventable and the solutions exist in tribes and Native communities themselves. However, the opportunities and resources to do so are often minimal to nonexistent.
How do you communicate your views to those who may disagree with them?
First, effective communication requires the ability to listen to others ideas and to respect other view points, despite disagreement. Second, utilizing good and accurate data/information is important to effective communication. Finally, effective communication must be rooted in authenticity and conviction. Lack of credibility will only result in strengthening the position of those that disagree with you.
What is your personal philosophy (that helps drive your work)?
Native peoples have the knowledge, strengths and abilities to be fully self-determined. Sovereignty is a verb.
How has your approach to your work evolved since you first started? Where do you see it going/growing?
I am convinced that any strategies to improve individual health and public health are deeply intertwined with other sectors, e.g. economic development, education, government, etc. and must engage all sectors for effective and long-term solutions. Social determinant of health are multi sector in nature and must be approached accordingly.
What has surprised you most about working within your cause?
I continue to be surprised (and disappointed) at the lack of Native youth health prevention dollars/support. In fact, for the most part, Native youth and their health issues are invisible to society as a whole. Very little is spent on “upriver” solutions, resulting in reactionary investments that focus on the sick. This is both foolish and expensive.
What motivates you to stay involved?
I am Native American and will remain a part of this work for life. I am convinced that change is occurring and that results are beginning to show. I am excited for the future and want to help support ongoing progress for our youth and tribal futures.
What moment has resonated the most since you began your work?
I continue to be amazed with and inspired by the power and resilience of youth. I have been able to experience many moments of their power and resilience.
What’s your advice to those who want to learn more about your cause but aren’t sure how to get involved?
Seek out reputable organizations and individuals working in this space and simply ask to learn more about the issues and work. Approach learning with humility and not with a position of authority or pre-defined solutions. In fact, assume your solutions are not effective and work to understand from the people/community themselves their solutions and what works for them. Work in partnership and think long-term. If you want immediate results, go build decks.
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