Well respected within the Navajo community and on the national level for her efforts to improve healthcare on the reservation, she educated Navajos through home visits, a public health film, weekly radio programs, and collaboration with doctors on an English-Navajo dictionary of medical terms.
Dr. Annie Dodge Wauneka was a politician and public health activist who worked tirelessly to reconcile differences between Western and Navajo traditions in healthcare, especially in the fight against tuberculosis. The daughter of prominent Navajo leader Henry Chee Dodge, she was born near Sawmill, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation, where she began sheepherding as a young girl and learned to speak Navajo. Her father wanted his children to be both versed in Navajo culture and to receive a formal education. She attended boarding schools in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Attending Navajo Nation Chapter meetings with her father, she observed firsthand his efforts to bridge Navajo and Anglo cultures. These experiences influenced her entry into politics. She was named to the Grazing Committee of the Klagetoh Chapter of the Navajo Nation and went on to become the chapter’s secretary. In 1951, she was elected to the Navajo Nation Tribal Council representing the chapters of Klagetoh and Wide Ruins. She was the second woman elected to the council; Lily J. Neil had been the first. When elected, Wauneka was the only woman serving on the council, a position she held for 26 years. She won reelection several times, once in a match-up against her husband, George Wauneka. Throughout her years of public service, she also raised a large family, with the support of her husband. The two had met while students at Albuquerque Indian School and married in 1929.
As a tuberculosis epidemic ravaged the Navajo Nation in the 1950s, Wauneka was named Chair of the Health and Welfare section of the Community Services Committee. In this position, she educated herself about tuberculosis. She insisted on visiting the sick in their hogans–traditional Navajo dwellings–and hospitals and witnessed the devastation that tuberculosis inflicted on Navajos. Her primary concern became halting the spread of the disease, a situation compounded by the unwillingness of those infected to remain hospitalized until completely rehabilitated. Wauneka addressed cultural differences hampering treatment, as well as sanitation and cleanliness issues impacting the spread of the disease. In addition to her work on tuberculosis, she focused on other medical issues, including healthcare for pregnant women and infants, and alcohol abuse. She educated Navajos through home visits, the production of a public health film, and through a weekly radio program she hosted every Sunday morning. Wauneka also assisted doctors with compiling an English-Navajo dictionary of medical terms after observing the inadequacy of translations.
Wauneka was well respected within the Navajo community and on the national level for her efforts to improve healthcare on the reservation. She received numerous accolades for her work. She was named to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Committee on Indian Health Care and served as a board member of the National Tuberculosis Association. In 1959, she received the Arizona State Public Health Association’s Outstanding Worker in Public Health Award, as well as the Indian Council Fire Achievement Award from the Indian Council Fire, an award her father had received years earlier. In 1963, she was the first Native American awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the country. She also received an honorary doctorate in public health from the University of Arizona. In 1984, the Navajo Nation Tribal Council officially declared Annie, “Our Legendary Mother” and awarded her the Navajo Medal of Honor. Wauneka continued to work on improving Navajo healthcare and education until her death in 1997.
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Niethammer, Carolyn. I'll Go and Do More: Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo Leader and Activists. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
Witt, Shirley Hill. “An Interview with Dr. Annie Dodge Wauneka.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 6, no. 3 (Autumn 1981): 64–67.
Zanjani, Sally. Two Native Daughters of Substance: Sarah Winnemucca and Annie Dodge Wauneka. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.