About Us

The Center for Native Health

The concept for a dedicated Center for Native Health grew out of the Culturally Based Native Health Programs, which initiated a partnership between WCU, WFU and The EBCI's Health and Medical Division to address cultural competency issues among health care providers.

Through that partnership we developed a model for tribal community-initiated solutions to health and social problems.  We garnered the trust of community members by working with them to develop an improved quality of care that incorporates the community's needs and by recognizing and addressing the need for a new generation of Cherokee health care providers.

The Mission

The mission and approach of the Center are unique in the nation because we are driven first and foremost by a community agenda and guided with the advice of community members.  University or other institutional partners must be willing to accept this agenda and provide the flexibility necessary to support it.  The Center for Native Health actively moves projects away from the scenario in which Western research "studies us [American Indians] to death."

The Center addresses several needs:

  • West of the Mississippi there are a multitude of tribal colleges that address the needs of native communities in a culturally grounded manner, but in the East this is not available in most communities.  In lieu of a tribal college the CNH works with the EBCI and other sovereign tribal nations in the south and east to address issues related to the significant health disparities that exist in native communities. These disparities are reflected in the following health statistics:
  • The numbers of tribal members who have at least one chronic disease (e. g., diabetes, heart disease) is increasing. "Baby boomers" are getting older with many health needs.
  • About 35% are currently diagnosed with diabetes and younger folks are being diagnosed more and more
  • Childhood obesity is a serious health issue (in 2003, 61.9% of EBCI male children 6-11 years old were overweight or obese and 58.6% of female children in the same age group were overweight or obese).
  • The suicide rate for AI youth is 4x greater than for all others in US
  • A recent CDC report concluded that, "The findings in this report indicate that AI communities bear a greater burden of health risk factors and chronic disease than other racial/ethnic minority populations."


In addition to the health disparities, there are also social and economic disparities that affect native peoples, including those in Western North Carolina:

  • About 23% of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' enrolled members live at or below the poverty level.
  • The portion of non-native population at or below poverty level in western North Carolina is around 15%; the rate for North Carolina overall is a little over 12%, as is the National rate.
  • Only about 65% of high school students in  western North Carolina (including Cherokee Central Schools) graduate from high school.
  • In 2000, only 12% of American Indians had earned a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • The percentage of those students who are enrolled EBCI members going into health fields is less than 2%.

Learn about our Community Programs that address these disparities.


Read the Center for Native Health ByLaws (pdf)

Our History

More than 60 people met in Cherokee during the summer of 2008 and decided that a non-profit, autonomous Center needed to be established to allow community members and university members to work together at the request of tribal and local communities to address health & education issues. Through funding from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, that vision came to pass.

We are a 501c3, awarded non-profit status in the summer of 2009. We have a 16-member executive board – 10 are enrolled members of Native Nations, 6 represent our university partners. These partners include: Wake Forest University and Western Carolina University’s College of Health & Human Sciences.


Our University Partners

Wake Forest University and Wake Forest University Medical School.
Western Carolina University, College of Health and Human Sciences

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