“My father whispered stories of my heritage to me within my mother’s womb. My great-grandmother walked hundreds of miles, forced to relocate her home in the Long Walk. Despite such poor treatment by the federal government, my uncle fought bravely for our country, evading the Japanese as a code talker in World War II. You, he whispered to me, will do great things to represent your people.”
Tackling huge challenges and representing her people, Emmalani Longenecker provides technical assistance and policy coordination in the Direct Service and Contracting Tribes Program within the Indian Health Service’s Office of the Director.
In this role, she works with regional service offices to respond to critical issues. For example, Ms. Longenecker is currently working with the Nashville area to create an action plan for the opioid overdose crisis the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is experiencing. She will do so in collaboration with the Indian Health Service Heroin, Opioid, and Pain Efforts (HOPE) Committee, created in March 2017, which is comprised of multidisciplinary members with professional backgrounds in pharmacy, medicine, nursing, and behavioral health.
A Family Affair
Ms. Longenecker, who was a triple collegiate athlete, playing lacrosse, softball, and soccer, learned about the Center for American Indian Health through her brother Benjamin Smith, her sister Heather Tanana and father, Dr. Phil Smith, who have all taught classes with the Center. Other members of the family have also studied at Johns Hopkins.
“I’ve actually met family for the first time at Johns Hopkins Institutes—similar clan as me, but we hadn’t met before,” she said, adding, “we stay connected now.”
After starting her Johns Hopkins training career in 2012, she’s successfully integrated family responsibilities with studies. “I didn’t have any children then,” she recalls, explaining that with two kids at home—and one more expected any day—she’s grateful for the flexibility of the Certificate program.
Passionate About Improving Health For American Indian People
“The Center for American Indian Health has helped me learn about factors that impact American Indian health—and ways to improve the overall health of the community,” said Ms. Longenecker.
“Most students are Native American and some have no formal educational background, while some come with in-depth knowledge as a member of the tribal council or just living in the tribal community,” she said, adding that “it adds to the perspective and you learn to work together.”
She hopes to continue to use her training to better improve the Indian Health Care system at the IHS as she continues to develop her skills and serve at the Agency that is responsible for providing health care to 557 American Indian and Alaskan Natives.
“The training certificate has opened my eyes to the academic opportunities and potential partnerships that await those working in Indian Country,” said Ms. Longenecker.
While taking several of the classes at the center, she said, “I was able to have meaningful discussions with scholars and better understand the barriers and limitations researchers and native communities face.”
She has used knowledge gained at Johns Hopkins and continues to keep in close contact with many of the instructors and students who share a common goal to improve the health of native communities for future generations.