Wyatt Whitegoat ’16: Indigenous health pioneer

In the past five years Wyatt Whitegoat ’16 received two master’s degrees and returned twice to work on the Navajo reservation where he was born. Still not satisfied he was doing enough, he is now pursuing his Ph.D. in Indigenous health as part of a program at the forefront of Indigenous health equity.“Growing up I was always told to go get an education. I pursued my interests, but I always kept my culture at the center. I knew that, at the core, I was doing it not only for myself but for my people and for my community,” he said while visiting his family’s home on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. 

Wyatt Whitegoat ’16
Wyatt Whitegoat ’16

In 2012 Whitegoat was one of only three native students when he arrived on the Cornell College campus.

Through Cornell’s Office of Intercultural Life, Whitegoat found like-minded students. He and Kayne Whyte-Dale ’16 founded Native Americans at Cornell to educate the campus about their culture. He majored in kinesiology and psychology and said two activities—being a sports medicine assistant and joining former Psychology Professor Melinda Green’s research team—had a major impact.

“Cornell really, really prepared me for my academic and professional studies,” he said.

Whitegoat earned his master’s of athletic training at St. Louis University in 2018 and returned to the reservation. As a certified athletic trainer he engaged people in physical activity and injury prevention treatments to promote a healthier lifestyle. But his opportunities were limited by a lack of awareness for the profession and the fact that the Indian Health Service doesn’t recognize athletic training as a service to reimburse. 

Rather than be discouraged, he was inspired. 

Whitegoat helped found the Native Athletic Training Group and moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue a master’s of public health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

Degree in hand, in 2020 he returned to the reservation as a wellness program specialist for the Indian Health Service. The reservation had been hit hard by the pandemic and Whitegoat also became involved in the vaccination rollout. Motivated by his impact, as well as a desire to address the underrepresentation of Indigenous scholars, he looked for a way to do still more. 

He was accepted into a first-of-its-kind doctoral program in Indigenous health at the University of North Dakota. He is now studying full-time remotely while working as an athletic trainer in Washington, D.C. When he completes his doctoral degree, he plans to not only apply his knowledge on his reservation but also address the issue of underrepresented Indigenous scholars, possibly working as a professor.

“My goal in everything I have achieved is to inspire not only Indigenous scholars about what we can do,” Whitegoat said, “but also non-Indigenous scholars about traditional knowledge and how to properly integrate it into Westernized studies.”