A team of southern Arizona advocates uses its deep knowledge of public health policy and law to research ways local native tribes can enjoy a healthier quality of life.

In her first week leading the Wassaja Carlos Montezuma Center for Native American Health, the staff’s new executive director said she is counting on her team to adopt a holistic approach; one that helps all members in a family unit.

Christina C. Bell Andrews brings her experience as a professor, law school and Masters of Public Health graduate, and a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Andrews, in her career, also helped establish Pima County’s Juvenile Indian Child Welfare court.

With this perspective, Andrews said she hopes the Wassaja Center can start to combine science and medicine with justice reform. This approach, she said, may help communities lower, for example, the rates of native incarceration and child welfare cases.

Andrews also said her team’s work will not be confined to meetings and conversations over coffee.

“We are now going to be reaching out to the tribes,” she said, “to be a part of this creation, this map that’s going to lead to the vision of assisting our of our relatives…expanding this Native American health center not only for the state of Arizona, but for the United States.”

The team at the Wassaja Center works inside the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine offices, and as a unit of the Dept. of Family and Community Medicine. Andrews said she hopes that, over time, the center builds and evolves beyond some of the work happening in other leading programs like the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health.

“We are looking at policy. We’re looking at law. We’re gonna see how that ties into health (and) social justice issues,” she said.

“It’s not just disease. Do we have this something exists like that? I don’t know of any that does exist like that, but I do know from personal experience, it’s essential and it’s needed. We can’t treat a Native American family without treating everyone.”

As the team gets to know each other more, Andrews said the most vital focus as a liaison will be to foster trust with tribe leaders over time. Her goal would be to show a proven track record that the center is actively listening and committed to invest in the community.