When it came time to renew its annual in-person conference after more than two years of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Alaska Native American Indian Nursing Association (NANAINA) chose the University of Arizona College of Nursing as the setting for its 2023 gathering. Held between March 31 and April 1, this year's conference theme is 'Renewing our Spirit in Nursing,' a fitting title for a celebration of renewed optimism and hope. Founded in 1993, NANAINA grew from the desire of Native nurse leaders from around the country to represent nurses in their communities and work to improve healthcare services for Native people.
"We chose this topic because during the pandemic, those of us working for Native communities saw a lot of struggle, a lot of loss," says Mechem Frasier, MBA, BSN, RN, NANAINA Conference Planning Chair. "We felt we needed to come together in person and get that spirit back into us. We wanted to restore ourselves with those who have been through the same battles that we have in the last two years and come back to why we all went into nursing."
“To have these notable leaders who are well-known throughout Indian country come to Arizona, where I live and work, is extremely humbling. I hope it serves as a source of inspiration for our students to see beyond their school years and the potential impact they can have on healthcare throughout the nation," ~ Timian Godfrey, DNP, FNP-BC, FAAN
As for the choice of UArizona Nursing as the setting for this renewal, Frasier points to the college's strong nursing program and its progressive ties to Native health through the Indians in Nursing: Career Advancement and Transition Scholars (INCATS) program. "The support services the university has around Native health and the programs you have there were a big factor," she says. "Our conference is really geared around Native nurses and bringing light to these kinds of programs."
UArizona Nursing Assistant Clinical Professor and Project Director for INCATS, Timian Godfrey, DNP, FNP-BC,, is excited about the choice of the college for this year's NANAINA conference -- noting that It speaks to the work that has been put into the college's diversity grants, equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) efforts, and Native American workforce development. "The NANAINA conference committee was highly impressed with our community outreach and engagement that have been done through INCATS, so it was encouraging to hear we are nationally recognized by peers and indigenous nurses for the work we're doing. This serves as motivation to keep moving forward in the hard work we are doing with these grant projects."
In addition to providing a welcoming setting for colleagues to come together in person to share stories and bond over the collective challenges of the past few years, the 2023 NANAINA conference will give a platform for a slate of notable speakers from around the country. "I am in awe of the people who are coming to UArizona," Dr. Godfrey says. "To have these notable leaders who are well-known throughout Indian country come to Arizona, where I live and work, is extremely humbling. I hope it serves as a source of inspiration for our students to see beyond their school years and the potential impact they can have on healthcare throughout the nation."
Dr. Godfrey and José Muñoz, UArizona Nursing's Senior Professional, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, have been involved with the conference planning committee and will facilitate and moderate presentations. In addition, UArizona Equity, Diversity & Inclusion leadership will be taking a strong role, with Levi Esquerra, Senior VP for Native American Advancement & Tribal Engagement, presenting a welcome, and Karen Francis-Begay, Assistant Vice Provost for Native American Initiatives, reading the Land Acknowledgement. Other highlights include booths featuring goods from local Native vendors, appearances by local tribal leaders, poster presentations, a silent auction and banquet at Cocoraque Butte and Ranch on the Tohono O'odham Nation, and a presentation by a panel of UArizona Nursing INCAT scholars about their experience in the DNP program.
Kristin Melendez, a second-year DNP-FNP student and third-generation nurse, will be one of the student panelists at the conference. A member of the Tohono O'odham Nation, Melendez is excited to share her experience with her peers – and hopefully provide inspiration for others considering a career in nursing. "My passions are rooted in the Native community and how to better facilitate access to resources and education, because there's still that gap between our culture and western medicine," she says. “I’m hoping to meet people who share my experience and some of the challenges I’ve faced, so I can better help them and remind them that it’s possible and they can do it.”
With attendees traveling from as far as Alaska, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Baltimore, the 2023 NANAINA conference will be a celebration of renewal and hope. “It’s a great way to learn about the various aspects of Native cultures from Native American nurses from across the country,” Dr. Godfrey says. “We are blessed to live in a richly diverse indigenous state. However, there are hundreds of other Native American cultures out there. In addition to being a good networking opportunity for our students and faculty, it’s a great way to learn about and embrace Native nurses and the power that’s within us.”
Learn more about the 2023 NANAINA conference and register here.