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Your Environment. Your Health.

Center for Native American Environmental Health Equity Research

Centers of Excellence on Environmental Health Disparities Research

Man sitting beside lake

Center Links

Project Location:
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Eagle Butte, South Dakota
Crow Agency, Montana

Center Directors:
Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D.
University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center
College of Pharmacy

Melissa Gonzales, Ph.D.
University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center
School of Medicine

Community Partners:
Southwest Research & Information Center
Crow Environmental Health Steering Committee
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Navajo Nation
Missouri Breaks

Academic Partners:
Montana State University
University of Washington

Center Research Priorities:
Cumulative Effects
Community Engagement
Differential Exposures
Land Use
Built Environment

Overall Center Goal:

Nearly half of the Native American population of the United States lives in 13 western states where there are an estimated 161,000 abandoned hard rock mines and more than 4,000 are abandoned uranium mines. Due to their reliance on natural resources to maintain traditional diets, lifestyles, customs, and languages, tribal communities experience frequent contact with metal mixtures from unremediated mine sites, creating exposures through multiple pathways, including inhalation, drinking water, and ingestion of food sources either directly or indirectly contaminated. Disparities in infrastructure, especially drinking water supplies, and unique social determinants of health from poverty in rural and isolated locations exacerbate these exposures among tribal communities.

The Center for Native American Environmental Health Equity Research addresses pervasive environmental health disparities primarily through biomedical and environmental research and Native-focused community engagement methods. The distribution of contaminants, cultural practices, and genetic origins of the Center's three core tribal partner communities from Navajo, Crow, and Cheyenne River Sioux provide a basis for sorting out the health effects of metal mixtures. The Center examines toxicities of metal mixtures and strives to build research capacity and improve the understanding and interpretation of data across tribal communities. The Center seeks to develop a framework that characterizes the unique exposure pathways and defines health from a perspective that is not only reflective of tribal perceptions, but is also ultimately useful in informing regulatory decision making.

The specific aims of this Center's projects are to:

  • Integrate long-standing successful research community partnerships in three Native American tribal nations to develop integrated approaches to data collection, management, and analysis to identify interactions in key environmental, cultural, traditional and social determinants of health and their contribution to disparities in key health outcomes of concern.
  • Develop research capacity and an infrastructure to assist tribes and researchers with identification of key environmental exposure sources, biogeochemical factors controlling their mobility and transfer through the environment, and social and cultural practices driving exposures and risks, and to use this information to better understand risk and develop risk reduction recommendations.
  • Build capacity for tribal-academic research partnerships through an intensive series of workshops encouraging multi-directional communication among community members, students and faculty at tribal colleges, tribal elders and leaders, and senior and junior academic researchers, with the goal of sharing approaches to research, knowledge transfer, and perspectives on health and the environment.
  • Based on knowledge gained in the process, identify and recommend cost-effective, readily implemented, and sustainable strategies to mitigate risk, reduce environmental health disparities, and inform regulatory decision making.

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