Native American Health Sciences honors graduates in first campus-wide ceremony

NAHS Honoring Ceremony attendees congratulate blanketed honorees.
NAHS Honoring Ceremony attendees congratulate blanketed honorees.

Washington State University’s Native American Health Sciences (NAHS) program recently hosted its first campus-wide honoring ceremony to celebrate over a dozen Native American graduates as well as campus and community leaders.

Graduates from the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, College of Nursing, and College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences spent the evening with friends, family, and NAHS Tribal Advisory Board council members for a traditional blanketing ceremony.

The blanketing ceremony recognizes graduates for their achievements and serves as a powerful testament to the unity and support within the WSU community. Generations of Native American WSU alumni, family members, and leaders from the Tribal community and WSU came together for the celebration, collectively sending the graduates off with a strong sense of belonging and a shared vision for their future success in health sciences careers.

“We lift our graduates up and show them the respect they have earned as they bring this portion of their lives to a close and move forward to serving the communities with their knowledge and expertise gained from their educational experience at WSU,” said Monica Tonasket, a Spokane Tribal Business council member who opened the NAHS ceremony.

Former NAHS Tribal Advisory Board members, Carol Evans, and Jessica Pakootas.
Former NAHS Tribal Advisory Board members, Carol Evans, and Jessica Pakootas.

Based on the WSU Spokane campus, NAHS is a program dedicated to recruiting and supporting Native students across the WSU system interested in or pursuing a health-focused degree. What started as a small program within the College of Nursing nearly 30 years ago has evolved into a nationally recognized center of excellence thanks to dedicated staff, community, and Tribal partners.

“We are especially grateful to our collaborative partners across all three health sciences colleges,” said Naomi Bender, director of NAHS. “They have dug deep to continue to find better ways to be inclusive and supportive of our Native students not just with their studies, but in residency, and beyond.”

During the ceremony, community and campus leadership highlighted NAHS’ decades of impact in engaging the community and WSU students. Additionally, Native American WSU alumni from each health science college returned to share sentiments of support and compassion with this year’s graduates. “This is the first time we’ve come together as a Health Sciences to celebrate the honoring of our students”, said WSU Health Sciences Executive Vice President and Chancellor Daryll DeWald. “It truly represents the collaborative spirit that has made our NAHS program so exceptional for our students and our community.”

DeWald recognized two members of the NAHS Tribal Advisory Board, Carol Evans, and Jessica Pakootas. Since 2007, both Evans and Pakootas have been long-standing NAHS Tribal Advisory Board members and have since retired or stepped down. Now, new members have been appointed and will continue their dedicated work as part of the board. Honoring Evans and Pakootas years of service to NAHS recognizes their efforts in helping the unit bloom into what it is today.

NAHS continues to build momentum each year, from broadening pathway opportunities for Native students to uplifting Native students both in Spokane and across the WSU system. This year’s ceremony is both a celebration of Native American graduates and a culmination of the program’s expanding list of accomplishments.

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