Yá’át’ééh shí éí Cynthia Begay yinishyé. Kiis’áanii nishłį́. Naakaii Dine’é bashishchiin. Tódích’íi’nii dashicheii. Naakaii Dine’é dashinalí. Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́. Cynthia Begay is Hopi born for the Mexican people. Her maternal grandfather is Navajo from the Bitterwater clan, and her paternal grandfather is Mexican. Growing up as an urban American Indian, she learned first-hand about health disparities at a young age. Her involvement with the American Indian community began from childhood with her tribe. The most impressionable experience in her childhood was her first summer spent on the Hopi reservation at age 7. She witnessed the hardships her mom grew up with and wanted to make her reservation a better place to live—and thrive. She entered UC San Diego (UCSD) as an undergraduate with the hopes that she could go on to medical school and become a medical doctor. Through her time at UCSD, she became a mentor and tutor for the American Indian Recruitment Program. In addition, as a Native American Student Alliance member, she helped plan UCSD’s first pow wow, establish the first Native American student center at UCSD, and planned UCSD’s first Native American high school conference (bringing out over 200 students from Tribal schools throughout Southern California).
As Cynthia continued her studies, she participated in several American Indian accelerated graduate programs: Harvard Medical School Four Directions Summer Research Program, CA-Native American Research Center for Health (CA-NARCH), Minority Access to Research Careers, and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Native Graduate Health Fellowship. Through these fellowships, she deepened her love for the health field but found her niche through research. After college she worked a senior case worker for the Indian Human Resource Center (IHRC). This was her first experience working intimately with the urban San Diego American Indian community in a social work capacity. Understanding the basic needs of the community members and leveraging grant funding was priceless; this was her first experience, outside her family, in understanding social determinants of health that affect the Native community.
After IHRC, Cynthia worked for Indian Health Service (both urban and rural). It was her time at the Indian Health Council on the Rincon reservation (San Diego, CA) that completely inspired her to pursue a Master of Public Health in epidemiology. Through the Pill Take Back project, she worked with Tribal communities in educating and understanding the opioid epidemic. During her time on this project, she began to understand the delicate balance of advocating for Native communities, working with the federal government, and navigating tribal sovereignty as it pertains to federal regulation. As she facilitated educational workshops, administered semi-structured interviews, and conducted focus groups about prescription drug disposal and opioid addiction to Tribal youth through elders, the concept of drug addiction wasn’t novel and most had experienced the repercussions from their own addiction or a family member’s. Her experiences in research programs through the CA-NARCH and working for the Indian Health Service opened her eyes to the challenges and issues specific to conducting research within Indian country. Cynthia witnessed the impact of health policies and social determinants of health that have shaped disparities in our communities, but through these experiences, she realized the true power of community-based participatory research. It is the connection with her culture, community, and innate understanding of social justice and the complexities of health equity that has motivated her throughout her education – this is her motivation for pursuing a PhD in Preventive Medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine. Cynthia hopes to extend her leadership outside of academia and more closely within our community.
She moved to Los Angeles after graduate school and worked with the United American Indian Involvement Center (UAII) as a program evaluator, and worked as a project manager for the CA Native Vote project. Currently, Cynthia is a PhD student in Preventive Medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine working under the mentorship of Dr. Claradina Sota (Navajo/Pueblo) on a state funded Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program and the California Department of Health Services funded Tribal MAT (Medicated Assisted Treatment) statewide assessment. They work with tribal communities (rural and urban) throughout the state to implement and assess various interventions. She has previous experience working with the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission through attending the City Council vote for Indigenous Peoples Day, conference calls about removing the Columbus statue, and assisting Commissioner Dr. Andrea Garcia’s projects (Native American Access to Affordable Healthcare in LA and the assessment of Native American Homelessness.) Working with UAII and Commissioner Chrissie Castro, as her mentor and supervisor, in a public health and civic engagement capacity has been the catalyst for Cynthia’s interest in serving as a member for LA City/Council Native American Indian Commission.
One of my goals as a public health researcher and epidemiologist is using evidence-based research to inform funding. As a commissioner, I would provide my perspective as an American Indian woman, a former case worker (under the Workforce Investment Act Grant and Community Service Block Grant) coupled with my experience as a researcher using a community based-participatory research design and mixed-methods approach within tribal communities throughout California (both urban rural) to help relay our communities needs to inform funding.