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My Why: "We Are Still Here"

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 11:56 AM

Andrea DunnAndrea Dunn has lived in the Chicago area for most of her life, but a big piece of her heart rests near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, tribal land for the Cherokee.

In November, NorthShore celebrates Native American Heritage Month, and Dunn—a medical assistant at Northwest Community Healthcare—is a member of the Cherokee tribe. Growing up, her summers would bring an exodus from Chicago in exchange for extended visits to the reservation where open land was revered, and the internet was ignored.

“Growing up, my great-grandmother and great-aunts would make dream catchers and baskets out of nature's supplies and sell them at the local markets and pow-wow events, along with their herbs and vegetables from their gardens," Dunn recalled. “My great-grandfather and great-uncle would sing and play the drums while my cousins and I danced in the native attire and bells."

(In the photo) Andrea Dunn (left) poses with family, including her daughter Haley, her Aunt Rosie and her father, Rodney. Her father died about a year ago.

Dunn continued, “I still have my very first shawl that was ever gifted to me, along with a handwoven basket from my great aunt."

For Dunn, those regular trips to see fellow tribe members also revealed a sad truth that access to high-quality healthcare remained problematic for many living on reservation land. Her own father, Rodney, who lived on the reservation, passed away due to multiple health issues just about a year ago.

Dunn, who was attempting to set her father up for medical care in Illinois at the time of his passing, said this ongoing healthcare access problem is what inspired her to pursue her own career in medicine. Straight out of high school, Dunn became a certified nursing assistant and has moved on to work as a certified medical assistant and phlebotomist. She is currently working toward a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Her more recent visits to the reservation now include joining another family member to make home healthcare calls—along with cooking and finding essentials for the home—for those in need.

Improving healthcare access is a big and complicated issue, but with Dunn's experience, she can at least be a part of the solution. “We're still here," said Dunn, about her passion to share not only her Native American heritage but the needs of her fellow tribal members.