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NIH Launches Native American Recruitment, Awareness Initiative

There is "NIH at the Cinema." There is "NIH at the Black Family Reunion on the Mall." And now, "NIH Goes to Native American Powwows."

It's true — at many of the area Native American powwows you will find NIH well represented. In recent months, the Office of the Director Equal Employment Opportunity office has launched the NIH Native American Recruitment and Health Awareness Outreach Initiative. Its objectives include developing contacts in the local Native American community, meeting potential applicants for NIH employment, developing a database of students and others interested in future employment at NIH, and disseminating information on health disparities directly to Native Americans.

The brainchild of OD EEO Officer Hilda Dixon, the initiative and visits to powwows have been endorsed by Dr. Yvonne Maddox, NIH acting deputy director, in a letter to IC directors. The result is a growing partnership with many ICs that provide information, giveaways with IC or NIH logo, and staff who attend the powwows. For example, NLM brings the capability to go online and access MEDLINE and MEDLINEplus, while the OD Personnel Office assists with information on its Career Here web site. Other staff representatives share health disparities information as they discuss the role of their IC and NIH. To date, partners have included NLM, NIMH, NIA, NIDCR and NICHD.

Native American dancers in full regalia at the Radford University 14th annual powwow.

The OD EEO office chose powwows as the means to make this initiative work because they often draw large numbers of Native Americans from various tribes. A powwow is a festival that brings Native Americans together to sing, dance, visit and share talents and crafts. Native Americans also view powwows as a time to remember and preserve their rich heritage of traditions and beliefs. To increase the feasibility of recruitment, the powwows selected are within a 200-mile radius of NIH.

The initiative was piloted in March when OD EEO staff attended the 14th annual Native American Heritage Association Powwow at Radford University in Virginia and then, in April, the Red Heart American Indian Festival in Elkton, Md. Since then, they have been joined by staff from other ICs at other powwows — the Piscataway Tribal Powwow in Waldorf, Md., and the Mattaponi Indian Reservation Powwow in King William, Va. in June, and the 5th annual Native American Festival at Yarema's Lake in Maryland Line, Md., in July.

On the recruitment side, the "pilot" powwow at Radford University was a success: a Native American was hired at NIH as a postdoctoral investigator and the names of 12 potential Native American students were received for the database. Another potential candidate for employment may result from the Mattaponi Reservation Powwow. The OD EEO office refers resumés/applications from qualified applicants to the appropriate IC.

The OD EEO office is encouraged by feedback from powwow participants. As health information was being picked up by Native Americans at the Red Heart Indian Festival, Linda Kirk, a licensed practical nurse who attended, said, "My husband and I have been on the powwow circuit for 6 years and this is the first time we've seen anything like this. It's wonderful."

More powwows are scheduled for the remainder of this year and ICs are encouraged to join in these efforts as well: Sept. 22-23 — The Chickahominy Festival in Charles City, Va.; Oct. 20-21 — Eighth Annual Healing of All Nations Festival and Powwow in Marion, Md.

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