11/19/2011 Navajo Times: Top doc Diné medical doctor hired to develop 10-year wellness plan By Bill Donovan, Special to the Times: The Navajo Nation once again has a top doctor. Dr. Gayle Diné Chacon reported for duty as the medical adviser and chief medical officer to the Division of Health, where she will help the tribe develop long-term strategies to restore the people to good health. She will provide guidance to President Ben Shelly as he seeks to fulfill a campaign promise to develop a 10-year wellness plan to alleviate some of the most chronic problems on the reservation, including diabetes and alcoholism, and make everyone healthier.
Hers is a position that was held before by only one person – the late Dr. Taylor McKenzie.
McKenzie, the first Navajo to earn a medical degree, was appointed the tribe’s chief medical officer in 2006 and served in that capacity until his death on April 13, 2007. The position has been unfilled since then, primarily because the tribe was never able to find a Navajo physician willing to accept the job.
“I was offered the job several years ago,” said Chacon, but she was then serving as director of the Center for Native American Health, an organization she helped create at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She is currently on sabbatical from that position.
Chacon is Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for Kiyaa’aanii (Towering House Clan). Her chei is Tachii’nii (Red Running into Water Clan) and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Kinlichii’nii (Red House).
Born and raised in Chinle, she knew from an early age that she wanted to do something with science, inspired by a book her father, Frank Dinéyazhe, brought home when she was 5 or 6 years old.
Her father, who is now retired, worked for the BIA and one of his duties was to burn discarded equipment. But when the load contained books, she said, he couldn’t bring himself to burn them so he would bring them home for his children to read.