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Permanent Support for Native American Research Leadership

March 19, 2021 Bloomberg School of Public Health staff report

Group of donors endows chair in Native American Health

The Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health has selected Victoria O’Keefe to a five-year faculty leadership chair in Native American health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

portrait of Victoria O'Keefe
Victoria O’Keefe, the Santosham Chair in Native American Health, has contributed important mental health resources to the Center of American Indian Health’s COVID-19 response.

O’Keefe, a psychologist who develops, implements, and evaluates culturally-driven behavioral health interventions in partnership with Native American communities, has been named the first holder of the Santosham Chair in Native American Health, named for the center’s founding director Mathuram Santosham.

A member of the Cherokee and Seminole Nations of Oklahoma, O’Keefe was appointed an assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School in 2016, becoming Johns Hopkins University’s first-ever tenure track faculty member of Native American heritage. The chair provides permanent support for Native American research leadership at the center, giving faculty the flexibility to create culturally competent innovations that leverage tribal sovereignty and build upon community strengths.

“I’m thrilled to announce this new chair, endowed by a group of generous supporters, which recognizes the extraordinary contributions of Dr. Santosham,” said Ellen MacKenzie, dean of the Bloomberg School. “Dr. O’Keefe’s innovative work with Native communities focuses on an incredibly important public health issue — youth suicide. I’m excited about the significant contributions her research is producing through empirically supported cultural- and strengths-based approaches.”

O’Keefe’s leadership has contributed important mental health resources to the Center’s COVID-19 response, including a children’s book called Our Smallest Warriors, Our Strongest Medicine: Overcoming COVID-19. The book, which has reached tens of thousands of Indigenous families, promotes communal efficacy, strength, and hope in the face of the pandemic. In addition, O’Keefe is working with colleagues to develop an Indigenous version of Psychological First Aid for frontline workers addressing COVID-19 in tribal communities. In the past year, she also led the production of a new strengths-based guide for tribal leaders to prevent youth suicide, called “Culture Forward,” which will be disseminated nationwide. Her newest work is focused on advancing an Elders’ Resiliency curriculum to promote youth wellness and prevent suicide that was designed by the White Mountain Apache community.

Founded in 1991 and based in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the center supports public health interventions designed for and by Native peoples. The center has offices in tribal communities across Arizona and New Mexico as well as a Great Lakes Hub serving tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and along the shared border with Canada. The center also supports public health interventions in more than 140 tribal communities in 21 states. These partnerships have achieved landmark public health breakthroughs credited with saving millions of children’s lives in the U.S. and worldwide.

Learn more about the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. 

Topics: Bloomberg School of Public Health, Promote and Protect Health, Support Scholars