Native American ATs

Muriel, Wyatt, Marisha, Jasmine and Alyssa are Native American Athletic Trainers. They join John Ciecko and Jeremy Jackson to teach about their background, stories, and experiences.

Muriel's Native American Background:

I attended several undergraduate programs in my journey. I was a non-traditional student who returned to pursue my undergraduate in 2009 at the University of New Mexico-Gallup branch campus. After I completed my AA-Assoc. of Business Administration, I transferred to the main campus in Albuquerque, NM in 2013. There I completed my BS in Athletic Training in May of 2018 with a minor in Business Administration.

During my undergraduate journey, I managed to work a full-time job, have my two boys who are now 9 and 15 years old, and take care of my family of four. It was certainly difficult trying to juggle being “Mom, Wife, Student AT” all at the same time and commuting weekly back and forth to home, but I knew ever since I was about six or seven years old Athletic Training was what I wanted to do, although at the time I had no idea the profession existed

Alyssa's background and schooling

My last two years of high school introduced me to my first Athletic Trainer (JD Burgess). A late tour senior year to Fort Lewis College introduced me to Athletic Training/Sports Medicine as a major so I immediately applied and began my education at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. I graduated in 2007 and was able to pursue my Masters at A.T. Still University in Mesa, AZ. I graduated in 2009 and went back to Durango to work at the Head AT at Durango High School as a part of Mercy Regional Medical Center. I stayed there until 2015 when my husband and I took a year off to travel and move back to Hopi. After that I set up an AT program at the local high school.  There have been a lot of road blocks

Marisha's Life as a Native American

Marisha Little, LAT, ATC currently works as the graduate assistant to the University of West Florida Athletic Training Program and as a PRN athletic trainer in the Sports Medicine Outreach department of Andrews Institute. She graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training from the University of West Florida and is currently working on her Master of Science in Health Promotion. She is the recipient of the Bobby Gunn Award from the Southeast Athletic Training Association, the Legacy Scholarship of the Athletic Trainers Association of Florida, and the Memorial Scholarship of the Southeast Athletic Training Association. Marisha served on the National Athletic Trainers Association Student Leadership Committee from 2018-2019 and currently serves on the Public Relations and Marketing Committee of the Athletic Trainers Association of Florida.

A little about Wyatt

Wyatt's first exposure to AT was in undergrad as a potential PT student.  Changed paths when he was applying for PT school.

Masters of public health from GWU

He left the tribe to get the experience off the reservation to be able to get more perspective.

Currently back on the reservation as a wellness program specialist for Native Americans.

Jasmine's Story:

Descendent of trail of tears

I come from a long line of strong, resilient, compassionate, indigenous women, so it was only natural that I want to help others.  When I was in high school, at Culver City High School, we had a sports medicine program and I was introduced to the field. I went on to get my AA in Kinesiology at El Camino College and then graduated in 2016 from Azusa Pacific University with my BA in Athletic Training. My career started with working for West Coast Sports Medicine and Team to Win, which is a non-profit sports medicine clinic for the local high schools, that are typically in under-served and systematically oppressed communities. I then started my life at Lawndale High School as the ATC.

After my first year there, with the help of my Principal Dr. Rodas, Athletic Director Demetre Howard, and Football Coach Travis Clark, established a sports medicine pathway and program and offer a sports medicine curriculum for the biomedical careers academy and have over 250 students enrolled. We currently have one of the best Sports Medicine programs in the South Bay.

Being the ATC at Lawndale changed my life, it made me want to be a better person for my athletes and students because they deserve greatness from the people around them, they became my motivation. Our football program won a CIF state championship in 2018, I was awarded CIF Athletic Trainer; Champion of Character for 2018/19, and I received the Far West Athletic Trainers’ Association Excellences in Athletic Training award in 2020. I am now the coordinator and program director for the sports medicine education pathway and sports medicine apprenticeship/team we have

Cultural experiences with medicine

  • Other Cultural Experiences
    • Navajo
      • Largest landmass reservation
        • About the size of West Virginia
      • Honor and value kinship
      • Always at the forefront of what we do
      • Known for basketball
      • 40% have no running water, less with electricity and internet
      • We live by a concept of balance 
        • When this gets out of balance we see much more illness
        • Restore balance by getting up early, running to the east, ceremonies, running to the east
      • Over half of the Navajo tribe does not speak the native language because of assimilation.
      • Living in two different worlds is difficult as some of the older people do not feel she is “Navajo enough”
      • Ingenious framework
      • Maternal lineage society
        • Clan type society that essentially makes your extended family your family and builds a close-knit group
    • Hopi
    • Muscogee
  • My experience with medicine and culture started before I started my education in AT and my career. My family has influenced a lot of my “whys”, I have two examples. 
    • Respect to Quality of Life
    • Assuring Pt comprehension and understanding
  • Traditional Ceremonies/Beliefs
    • Kinnalda, Solar Eclipse 
  • (Alyssa) As Hopi, we have our traditional medicine men/women that help with a variety of mental, spiritual, and physical maladies. It is not customary to pay them money, but rather with food (nova) and cornmeal (homa).
  • (Alyssa) Personally, I didn’t have much experience until my freshman year of high school when I broke my ankle. Along with a visit to IHS which wasn’t a great experience, my mother arranged for me to see a medicine man to “reset” my ankle. Very painful and then I received a cast and had no other medical help with rehab/return to sport. 
  • (Alyssa) Our families continue to use Medicine Men/Women for treatment, I don’t know much about Navajo but rely on the athlete/family to keep me updated about what they can/can’t do. The same goes for Hopi, but the very good ones know when to send them to me or IHS for more orthopedic. 
  • (Jasmine) works with many Polynesians at work as well. Tongan doctors and medicine is important for her population
    • Her tribal understanding has made the inclusion and relatability much easier
    • “For your body and practice, what do you need to do?”
    • Prays for her students and asks her ancestors to guide her to best care for her students
  • (Wyatt) – uses a holistic approach and connects the mind and body.
  • (Muriel) – with head injuries, the Navajo will pour water on the ground to shift the energy and try to reset the balance.
    • Teams will go together before a season and have ceremonies together
  • (Marisha) – you may speak to an older person in the third person…instead of “you have this injury…” one might say “if a person has this injury…”
    • In Navajo culture, if you say Grandma when addressing a patient you are showing respect
    • In western medicine that is possibly offensive

College experiences with western medicine

  • Anatomy Lab
    • (Alyssa) College/Grad School was my first experience with cadaver lab anatomy and physiology. We have some taboos about dead bodies so I went to my grandma (So’oh) to ask about what I should do. She explained that since I was doing this as learning to help others, it was ok to do, but try not to touch. Luckily, both my teachers were very understanding and allowed me to observe and let my classmates do movements for me. I had to cleanse myself, spouse, and the apartment every time I got home with cedar smoke (momahpi) and cedar wash (boiled cedar water). 
  • (Alyssa) When I was in Durango, I experienced what it was like for families that had good insurance. We were spoiled as we had two Orthopedic Surgeons that did visits to our school and when they needed to get seen quickly, all I had to do was call. We also had access to a school health center with an NP on-site as well as several Family Physicians. This was something I never saw at home on the reservation.
  • (Jasmine) We learn the routine basics, core classes, AT classes, etc. I think one in order for us to be good at our jobs we need to be understanding of western medicine. But we also have to be willing to learn about other cultural medicine. When it comes to my practice we focus on a lot of mind and body experience; refocus before treatment, we do breathing exercises and have a conversation focus on what the patient's body is telling them and then reinforce the idea that whatever we are doing will improve their well being. My AT education incorporated a lot of other styles of medicine; eastern medicine for example. I had a professor Bill Ido tell us all the time; “treat locally, but look globally” What is really wrong with the patient. We incorporated a lot of cupping, essential oils, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into the athletes' diet. We have to embrace our cultures and other cultures and accept the fact that sometimes western medicine isn't always the correct method, it's subjective (Jasmine)

Current job and AT experience

  • Alyssa
    • Part-time AT at Hopi Jr/Sr High School (2016-current) l and created a Sports Medicine Club (2019) at my hometown high school on the Hopi reservation.  I have another full-time job as a Parent Educator.
    • Arizona Athletic Trainers Association Secondary Schools Committee Member (2019-current)
    • Native ATs Discussion Group (2020)
    • Head AT Durango High School (2009-2015)- responsible for over 23 sports and three different venue sites. Proctor for Fort Lewis College student ATs. 
    • AT Still University (2007-2009)- Various GA Assistantships at a city public high school, private high school, and sports performance clinics. Was able to cover the NABI basketball tournament and be a speaker for youth (2008).
    • Fort Lewis College (2003-2007)- Women’s basketball student Athletic Trainer senior year
  • Jasmine: Athletic trainer for TTW and Children's Hospital of Los Angeles; CTE Sports Medicine Program Director

Things I should know when working with a Native American

  • Family Oriented- Strong family ties
  • Athletes sometimes work with Traditional Medicine People, or Shalman’s and so we have to be mindful that they can’t do certain things or ask about treatments they may have received? For example: 
    • Navajo way – they remain revenant sometimes for four days, so this may mean they can’t be at practice, or they can attend but not allowed to participate. Just varies from each athlete. 
  • When working with anyone from a different culture or race we first need to check our own implicit biases we may have about that culture or identity, and then be culturally sensitive, ask lots of questions beforehand and understand that you may need to incorporate traditional medicine people or medicines into your practice. Be open to learning about other medical practices
  • (Alyssa) Many students are shy and need to take some time to talk to you
  • (Alyssa) Hopi still practice our cultural traditions and our ceremonial calendar runs from Jan-Nov as a part of the solstices. It is very common for athletes, coaches, and staff to miss school/practices when we have many of our dances/ceremonies. In February, we have our Purification time (Powamuwa) where all the villages are busy so the schools offer Cultural Days every Friday to accommodate all the students/staff not being at the school.
  • (Alyssa) Working with Navajo and other tribes students are affiliated with is asking what they are comfortable with and making efforts to be respectful of different beliefs.

How has COVID affected your nations and how have you been able to help?

  • Alyssa – there are alot of considerations
    • It takes us an hour to fill our tanks and 3 tanks to fill our cistern…we have to haul water in and 20 seconds of handwashing might not be feasible
    • Maybe have kids shower at school to improve water usage
    • They do not have any full functioning grocery stores without driving to a city
  • Jasmine – took it as a call to action to bring awareness to the situation with her people.
    • She was told “if it does not meet a social media agenda then it wont pick up steam”
    • She decided to teach her students about it and that has brought about change inside her school
  • Marisha – You can still make a difference wherever you are
    • Stand in solidarity with her tribe.
    • Multi-generational housing
  • Muriel – experienced a lot through COVID
    • Became a pharmacist delivery agent
    • Used her AT connections to help guide her community in education and contact tracing
    • “57 – hour lockdown” have prevented some people from being able to get the supplies they need

How can we help advocate for Native Americans?

  • Wyatt – educate yourself and advocate for equal rights
  • Muriel – reach out to someone in a similar situation
    • I want to be a mentor to our upcoming youth
  • Marisha – being aware and education; collaboration
    • Navajo water project
    • National missing and murdered women and children 
    • Bi-culturalism is a real gift
    • We are looking for people to connect with
    • Education is not solely our responsibility, it has to come from the top and the bottom
  • Jasmine – Educate and advocate
    • I do not want our culture to be unheard
  • Alyssa
    • We have learned how to balance living in both worlds.
    • I had to learn how to look people in the eye
    • There is an assumption that all native tribes are the same…

Call to action:

  • (Alyssa) All Native American ATs need to come together to show our youth, especially on the reservations, the wide world of Sports Medicine. There are so many professions to pursue that our tribes need and we have to not be scared to be the “first” or “only” in those professions. I am unfortunately used to being the only Native in a lot of AT and Sports Medicine circles. I want that to change, I want to see more faces like mine, not only in the AT profession but in leadership roles as well.
  • Join the Native American Athletic Trainers Instagram group
  • Or the Native American ATs Facebook Group
  • Or the Native American Athletic Trainers video chats

Contact the Native American ATs

Muriel –, FB:Muriel Tapaha-Tsosie, IG: @runsmallsrun

Alyssa –

Wyatt –

Jasmine – @jasvelasquezatc 

Marisha –

John Ciecko – @JohnCiecko on Twitter


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