This month, we launch a new series featuring Native American students on their journey to success at Montana State University.
Meet Jade Yazzie. She’s a student on a mission to transform behavioral health on Indigenous reservations.
MTN News learned Jade is one of the few Native American students in the dietetics major at MSU.
It’s expertise she plans to use to impact the lives of people in the communities who have already given so much to her.
“I would like to give back to native communities in general, not just in my community but in all communities so that they can see dieticians in native communities are needed back home,” said Jade.
Indeed, Jade says she believes food is life. She says she decided to study dietetics because she feels there need to be more options to learn about behavioral health on reservations.
“Dieticians are there to help you understand food and we are there to help you in the long term instead of the short term,” said Jade. “That’s why I want to give back to native communities because we are losing our people, sadly.”
She grew up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and also has family connections in Rocky Boy. She first studied nursing but realized educating people about how better food choices could change their lives was her true calling.
“I would like to give back to native communities in general, not just in my community but in all communities so that they can see dieticians in native communities are needed back home.”
She dreams of sticking with a patient long after the event that brought them to the hospital for true long-term healing.
Jade says there’s a lack of education on reservations about everything from how to read food labels to what steps to take for long-term care after a diabetes or heart disease diagnosis, and she wants to change that.
“I want to give back to my community because I want them to know that dieticians do exist,” she said.
“I’ve never seen a dietician in any health clinics ever,” said Jade. “We are kind of the back burner but we play such a huge role with aftercare, especially with outpatients because they still need our help.”
Meantime on MSU’s campus, her friends say she already has a reputation for leadership and strength. She is a graduate student in her eighth year of schooling. But Jade recalls a time right after she left her Arizona home when she didn’t know if she could handle the pressures of college and being so far away.
Jade says she was able to overcome the homesickness because of Native American communities on campuses in Montana that took her in and showed her she was family.
“Just the welcoming and just being so happy,” said Jade. “Just welcoming me into your community and being so selfless and making sure native students succeed. I’m so thankful.”
She says she tries to show that same love to other students, and one day, the patients that will call on her for help.
"I’m not going change it overnight, but step-by-step as more progress is being made towards that, and I want to be a part of that change,” said Jade.
Jade said she’s passionate about bringing the four pillars of health into her practice: to be there for others—spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.