For Marcos A. Moreno, Yaqui, and Victor A. Lopez-Carmen, Yaqui/Crow Creek Sioux, both 21, winning 2016 Udall Scholarships in Native health care is less a personal honor and more the recognition of a community’s achievements.
Moreno says he was raised by his village, and the scholarship is a result of his tribe’s collective efforts and care, while Lopez-Carmen emphasizes his family’s activism as critical to his college success—his father is an AIM member who participated in the Occupation of Alcatraz, and an aunt is director of the International Indian Treaty Council.
Personal experience led Lopez-Carmen, who just finished his junior year at Ithaca College in New York, to choose to study and work in health care. His family’s activism “culminated in my learning about why we have to fight for what we want and how that’s part of our tradition. It really did inspire me to first of all want to help my people,” he said.
“What led me to wanting to give back [in the field of] health was learning about the state of health disparities in indigenous communities, even worldwide. And especially in my tribe. My mom and my stepdad … my stepdad’s also from the Yaqui Tribe—taught me about many of the health disparities that the Yaqui Tribe faces. I even visited these places myself in Mexico. That’s where the majority of the Yaqui Tribe lives, although we have reservations in Tucson, Arizona, and even some other places in Arizona and California, but most of the Yaquis live in Mexico.”
Pesticides, said Lopez-Carmen, have a huge impact on the tribal members who live across the border. “Illegal pesticide use ends up contaminating our waters, our lands and causes many health issues—child cancers, different kinds of cancers, different kinds of sicknesses, diarrhea, an array of health issues that I felt I needed to give my hand to. I wanted to become a doctor so that I could go back and help my tribe.”
The Udall Foundation awards scholarships to college sophomores and juniors studying tribal public policy, Native health care or the environment. In 2016, the foundation awarded 60 scholarships of up to $7,000 each to sophomores and juniors from 49 colleges and universities.
This year, only two Arizonans won Udall scholarships, and it is only fitting, said Moreno, a rising senior at Cornell University, that they come from a tribe that Rep. Morris Udall, D-Arizona, helped to get federal recognition in 1978. Morris Udall represented Arizona in Congress for 30 years, beginning in 1961, while older brother Stewart served in Congress from 1955 to 1961 and then as Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Udall Alumni Network boasts more than 2,000 members who have won scholarships in the past. “I think that being part of the Udall network [means] I have a whole array of resources, people that can support me, that I can support and we can feed each other and push each other along,” Lopez-Carmen said. “As a network we all have the same end goals that we want to help our tribes attain health.”
For Lopez-Carmen, the fact that he and Moreno are from the same tribe is paramount. “It’s very inspiring to have that, to have him there and to know that we will work together as doctors one day who will return and hopefully improve access to health in various ways. I am very happy to know that there is another Yaqui who has made the journey, who is committed to the journey of becoming a doctor, returning to the tribe to help.”
Moreno is a pre-med student, studying neuroscience and American Indian studies, with extensive experience as a researcher. He has been working in two laboratories at Cornell (Brain and Behavior/Child Cognitive Development) and helped conduct a public health project for his tribe’s reservation in 2014, which, he says, revealed troubling facts related to health and living standards. He chose neuroscience because the brain plays a major role in physical illness and because he is interested in mental health.
Moreno has been away from home for a long time and he’s looking forward to going back. He is thinking about the University of Arizona in Tucson for medical school.
Lopez-Carmen is most interested in oncology and may want to work in that field as a doctor. “I’m also really interested in becoming an ob-gyn. There are a lot of issues in our tribe that have to do with prenatal health, postnatal health, childbirth, a lot of issues that arise during pregnancy because of lack of education or because of outside factors such as pesticides and poor nutrition.”
He learned about social justice and its relation to health from his family and his tribe and his is a social justice-based approach to health. He has spoken at the United Nations on indigenous health and has participated in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the past two years.