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Native American Heritage Month: Concealed Excellence

By: Debra L. Bouyer
Thursday, October 28, 2021

Native American Heritage Month (also referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month) celebrates the rich diversity of the American Indian and Alaska Native cultures that have made a lasting impact as the original inhabitants of our country. This annual celebration also recognizes the achievements and contributions of Native Americans who are often overlooked. After yearly proclamations designating one day or week to celebrate this community, George H.W. Bush became the first president to issue a proclamation designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Since 1990, presidents that followed issued similar proclamations to continuously highlight the accomplishments made by this community.

Throughout our nation’s history, many Native Americans have not been recognized for their significant contributions to science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM). Despite that lack of recognition, there are examples of many Native Americans who have distinguished themselves in U.S. history and became role models for their communities:

  • Susan La Flesche Picotte, MD (1865-1915), was the first American Indian woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Two years before her death, Picotte fulfilled her dream and opened a hospital on the Omaha reservation. Today, the hospital has a museum dedicated to Picotte’s lifelong work and the history of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes.
  • Floy Agnes Lee, PhD (1922- 2018), a biologist, was one of the few Pueblo Indians to work as a hematology technician at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the Manhattan Project.  Lee’s research focused on radiation biology, specializing in cancer research. Lee was also a founding member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
  • Lori Arviso Alvord, MD, is the first Navajo woman to be certified in surgery. Alvord uses traditional Navajo healing and conventional Western medicine to treat her patients.

FASEB recognizes the importance of celebrating many more unsung heroes in STEMM. In our continued effort to drive diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusivity in the biomedical research community, FASEB is highlighting our society members from historically excluded communities throughout the year. If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact Debbie Bouyer or Elvie Banda.