SUU Blog | T-Bird Nation

Monumental Dentistry for First Navajo Woman Dentist

By Southern Utah University on November 13, 2015 in

Alumni, In the News



The health clinic stands in the midst of traditions as ancient as the winds that buffet the mesas and desert lands that stretch to the horizon. And so, at the border of the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation, it's unusual to see a Native American woman tending to the sick, but for Crystal Willie Sekaquaptewa it has been her only desire.

“I had never seen a Native American doctor, especially a woman, when I was child and I was always thought how amazing it would be have a Navajo doctor that understood the people,” said Sekaquaptewa, who grew up on a NewMexico reservation in the Navajo Nation.

She began down the doctoral path at Southern Utah University in the hopes of becoming a dentist, and on graduation day with an acceptance letter in hand to Creighton University School of Dentistry she became the first SUU Native American student to be accepted into a professional school.

Sekaquaptewa continued to be a rarity in the medical world by being just one percent of the 77,000 students who are annually seeking their doctorate degrees in the United States, according Association of American Medical Colleges.

And after graduation the female doctor was once again a unique sight when she was hired at the Monument Valley Community Health Center as a dentist, becoming the first Native American woman to be hired within the Utah Navajo Health System.

Moving seamlessly between the medical and traditional worlds, Sekaquaptewa is well aware of how the cultural beliefs of her patients can affect what she does, something she believes can’t be done by doctors who are not Native American.

“Because of my background the patients automatically trust me,” stated Sekaquaptewa. “There isn’t a language barrier and I understand their diet and culture, things that a white doctor can’t.”

It’s not just dental patients receiving help from Sekaquaptewa; she is also touring Navajo Nation schools to prove to students that their ethnicity doesn’t determine their ability to succeed.

“These kids shouldn’t feel held back just because of their race. For them it brings them comfort to know I was just like them and I am now a doctor,” she said.

She went on to say that the biggest barrier to getting more tribal members to pursue professional careers is showing them that the goal is obtainable and persuading them to leave the reservation.

Native doctor role models, like Sekaquaptewa, are the biggest assets.