With a decade and a half of experience, Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Amanda Bradley finds satisfaction in working hard in the challenging public health sector.
She began her career with the Indian Health Service three years ago. As a health systems specialist and area project officer, Bradley oversees communication between IHS and its grantees for substance abuse and suicide prevention projects and domestic violence prevention projects in the Oklahoma City area.
The IHS district serves Oklahoma, Kansas and portions of Texas through eight service units with federally operated hospitals, clinics and smaller health stations. Bradley advises 26 SASP projects in Oklahoma and Kansas and eight DVP projects in Oklahoma, helping them facilitate their outreach and assistance to their communities.
It is her dream job, and not long ago, she doubted it would happen.
“It was one of those things I would say: ‘If I ever have the opportunity, I would love to work for the Indian Health Service,’ because I could help on a federal level. … So I always had it in the back of my head,” Bradley said.
A career in public health
Bradley attended the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma after high school and graduated with a bachelor’s of science in business administration and management in 2005. She started working for the Oklahoma State Department of Health following college and received several promotions during her time there. Bradley also returned to school, earning her master’s in business administration in December 2013. After 15 years in public health, she values its mission more than ever.
“We all have to take care of ourselves, and it’s unreasonable for somebody to not be able to be healthy in mind, body and spirit just because of their socioeconomic status. Because if you’re not healthy, it can make it harder to enjoy life,” Bradley said.
She spent most of her 12 years at the OSDH working with the Center for the Advancement of Wellness and the Commercial Tobacco Cessation/Prevention and Physical Activity/Nutrition grantees. Those programs focused on serving minority communities; however, Bradley wanted to focus on Native American outreach in particular.
“The topics that I work with such as suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence, those are big concerns within our Native communities,” she said. Bradley enjoys, “being able to help the projects build their capacity and knowledge to where they can be sustainable even after the grant cycle ends.”
Each tribe has its challenges, and every IHS program serves a specific population, making them useful and practical. Bradley assists those programs in reaching their maximum potential.
“I work alongside them and make sure they are able to achieve their goals (they set). And if they run into challenges, we work together to troubleshoot or talk things out if they need guidance from me. I also help make sure that they meet the grant requirements as well,” she said.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s House of Hope domestic violence program and behavioral health department’s substance abuse and suicide prevention program receive IHS grants, and Bradley enjoys the opportunity to work with her Tribe.
“I love hearing about all of the positive things that they’re doing for our people and the community,” she said. “Since I don’t live in the Shawnee area, I may not know about everything that the Tribe is doing. But I know that the SASP and DVP projects are working on these very important issues.”
The small things
Bradley spends most of her days on phone calls, in meetings and writing emails or reports — and now on Zoom due to the global pandemic. She fits the definition of a “people person,” always willing to collaborate or brainstorm with her projects or provide resources. However, she often finds simple things help the most.
“Just answering somebody’s questions or being responsive if somebody reaches out or being reassuring in any kind of way,” Bradley said. “If somebody calls me flustered or they are having some challenges, I try to assist them as best I can, and it’s always so rewarding to hear that genuine ‘thank you.’”
Bradley also enjoys traveling to every program once a year. She has been to more parts of the state during her time with IHS, such as Chelsea, Wyandotte, Miami and Ponca City.
“I love being able to visit the tribe(s) … Once I got into this position, I was able to visit a lot of places I’ve never been, which made me think , ‘I need to get out more,’” Bradley said and laughed.
The coronavirus pandemic moved more of her work online, including the SASP and DVP project annual convening. She works with the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board to gather the tribes and programs she oversees each year, providing them time to share ideas and successes.
“We all like hearing about what the tribes and programs are doing and what progress has been made. Especially this year with the pandemic, many projects had to cancel or modify their activities and events they originally planned. Additionally, we have had to do everything virtually, which has been a learning experience for everyone.” Bradley said.
More time at home also encouraged her to work on new hobbies. The Wilmett and Navarre family descendant took on personal projects to help her feel connected to her ancestors. She and her husband planted a vegetable garden again this year, and she plans to add Nishnabé medicines in the future.
“I’m going to try to grow my own sage and sema (tobacco), and also expand to include a Three Sisters garden next spring,” she said. “We’ll see how it turns out. I was kind of rusty, but I think being back into gardening this year helped refresh (my skills).”
She also felt a Potawatomi art form calling her name.
“I’m learning how to bead because that’s one of those things that I’ve always wanted to learn how to do but never had time. I love beadwork. It’s beautiful. So far, I have completed two projects: a ring and a medicine bag. I’m really enjoying it,” Bradley said.
She looks forward to accomplishing new tasks and challenges, both at work helping others and learning new cultural skills for herself.
“This is why I’m doing this because I feel like I’m making a difference,” Bradley said.
Read more about Indian Health Service Community Health programs at ihs.gov/communityhealth and CPN’s domestic violence program, House of Hope, at cpnhouseofhope.com. Learn beading techniques and other Potawatomi customs at cpn.news/YTCHC.