Center for Indigenous Health, Culture and the Environment

Our Mission and Goals


The Center for Indigenous Health, Culture and the Environment at Heritage University supports sustained community-based research and development, building regional and global partnerships to empower indigenous peoples.


  • To promote self-determined indigenous communities.
  • To address community health inequities and promote well-being through interdisciplinary health research.
  • To foster indigenous language and cultural revitalization through community-based initiatives.
  • To support sustainable stewardship of natural resources through incorporation of traditional ecological knowledge in research and education.
  • To establish collaborative inter-tribal partnerships among the Columbia Plateau Tribes including the Yakama Nation and global indigenous communities.
  • To advocate for educational access and success among indigenous community members through local, regional and international initiatives.
  • To host and sponsor seminars and workshops to address indigenous health, language, environmental issues and challenges.

Our Vision

To promote sustainable culturally vibrant communities in the Columbia Plateau Region and beyond, informing transformational practices through global indigenous exchange.

Our History

The Center for Native Health & Culture at Heritage was first conceptualized by President John Bassett and Yakama tribal member Dr. Michelle Jacob. In a series of discussions during 2011 and 2012, Bassett and Jacob brainstormed ideas for increasing the capacity and visibility for research at Heritage. In the spring of 2012, Dr. Jacob visited the Heritage main campus in Toppenish, WA, on the Yakama Nation, to discuss the formation of the Center with a collective team of administrators, faculty, staff, students and community members. Discussions indicated widespread support to launch the new Center.

Dr. Jacob began her work as a Faculty Fellow and Director of the Center for Native Health & Culture in July 2012. The Center’s Grand Opening was held in October 2012. Dr. Jacob transitioned to the University of Oregon in December 2015 and Dr. Jessica L. Black assumed the responsibilities of the Interim Director in January 2016. Dr. Black was confirmed as the permanent director of the Center in September 2016. The Center was changed to reflect broadening, global partnerships with indigenous groups from Central America and is now the Center for Indigenous Health, Culture & the Environment. Dr. Black is Mexican-American and is also an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Heritage University.

The Center’s graphic identity was designed to honor indigenous peoples and cultures. The pattern at the top of our logo honors the Klickitat basketry tradition. The three eagle feathers represent the holistic Native health philosophy of mind, body and spirit. One cannot think merely of one aspect of health without considering how they impact the other two. Our Center’s motto was gifted to us by Dr. Virginia Beavert, longtime Heritage faculty member and master Sahaptin/Ichishkíin speaker and teacher, as well as Yakama tribal elder.

Our motto is: Nákxtwishana pxwit, wáwnakwshash, ku wak’íshwit
We are strengthening mind, body and spirit.

Contact Us

Jessica Black, PhD