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Episode #154: Interview with Tommy Ghost Dog and Celena McCray, Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center


Interview with Tommy Ghost Dog and Celena McCray, Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center


On this episode, you’ll meet Tommy Ghost Dog and Celena McCray and hear about their journeys into public health. You’ll also learn about the Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center, which is just one of 12 partner Tribal Epidemiology Centers funded by the Indian Health Service’s Division of Epidemiology and Disease Prevention to assist in improving the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives throughout the United States.


Listen To The Episode


I have two guests joining me on this episode, and they have a lot to share with you.This episode is a bit longer than most, but it is absolutely a great investment of your time to listen all the way through.



Tribal Epidemiology Centers


Tribal Epidemiology Centers (TEC) are Indian Health Service (IHS), division funded organizations who serve American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) Tribal and urban communities by managing public health information systems, investigating diseases of concern, managing disease prevention and control programs, responding to public health emergencies, and coordinating these activities with other public health authorities.


Tribal Epidemiology Centers provide various types of support and services due to the variation of the TECs organization structure, divisions, Tribal populations, and their mission and goals. There are currently 12 Tribal Epidemiology Centers in the United States.


Each month, one of the Tribal Epidemiology Centers will be featured here on the podcast. The purpose is to raise awareness throughout the public health community of the amazing and important public health work that is being done at each of the centers.


In this episode, we will feature the Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center.


About Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center


The mission of the Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center (Epi Center) is to collaborate with Northwest American Indian Tribes to provide health-related research, surveillance, training and technical assistance to improve the quality of life of American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/ANs).


The EpiCenter serves the 43 federally recognized tribes in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.


About Tommy Ghost Dog


Thomas Lee Ghost Dog Jr., (Burns Paiute, Oglala Lakota), is the Project Coordinator for We R Native at the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, in Portland, Oregon. He assists with several adolescent health promotion projects, including: Native VOICES, Native It’s Your Game (IYG), and We R Native. He manages We R Native’s monthly contests, community service mini-grants, gear requests, and shepherds 130 Native Youth Ambassadors. Tommy blends his own life experiences growing up on the Burns Paiute reservation into his work.


About Celena McCray


Celena J. McCray, is a tribal member of the Navajo Nation. Her clans are the Bitter Water People and the Mountain Cove People. Celena serves as the THRIVE & WA DOH Parenting Teens Project Coordinator at Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. She provides suicide prevention training, technical assistance, and develops culturally appropriate media campaigns and resources related to suicide prevention. She also assists adolescent health project staff with, WE R NATIVE, the national multimedia health resource for Native teens and young adults.


Tommy's Career Advice

  • Go into public health with an open mind. Meaning, try to understand that all people/populations aren’t just numbers. They’re human-beings that all have stories and history that go along with their “disparities.”

  • Make public health work for you and also see how your story can compliment public health. Experiences help when wrapping your head around public health and how you’ve seen it growing up.

  • Don’t be intimidated by numbers or data. Take a deep breathe and relax. Numbers and data are just as important as outreach.

  • Become familiar with acronyms you’ll be hearing or using daily, (for real). Create a cheat sheet of them and have it handy.

  • Think of Public Health as Holistic Wellness.

Celena's Career Advice

  • Embrace simple beginnings.

  • Seek experience.

  • Seek mentorship.

  • Be ready for adaptation.

  • Share your story.

  • It’s okay not to have a specified area of emphasis – that will develop along the way.


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