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Crow Creek Sioux pedigree, Harvard Medical School degree

todayMay 31, 2024 4

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Dr. Victor A. Lopez-Carmen’s Dakota name is Waokiya Mani. It means “walks helping” and also captures his worldview.

“For me, being a Yaqui and Dakota, it’s not just a word, it’s not just a nationality, it’s a responsibility,” he said. “Those words to me, they’re verbs, they come with actions.”

The Yaqui tribe that’s also close to his heart is in Arizona, where he grew up. He is also an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe that’s headquartered in South Dakota. Aside from going to Crow Creek to visit family, he’s spent time elsewhere in the state, too.

“I lived on Pine Ridge for about six months,” Lopez-Carmen said. “I do my ceremonies at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.”

The 29-year-old graduated from Harvard Medical School on May 23.

“It feels like the beginning of a life where I can help my people, where I can help my community, my family,” Lopez-Carmen said.

Dr. Fidencio Saldaña, dean of students at Harvard Medical School, takes a moment to find the right descriptors when asked about Lopez-Carmen.

“Almost at a lost for words, to be honest,” Saldaña said. “I just have found Victor to be one of the most really bright, resilient and dedicated students that I’ve ever encountered at Harvard Medical School.”

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Saldaña arrived at Harvard Medical School in 1996.

“What I really admire about Victor is that I would say 24 hours a day, 365, his mind is on his people,” Saldaña said. “Everything that he does, studying, extracurriculars, advocacy, he really just exudes that he is really just a vessel for how he can improve the health care of his people.”

“Our health is our language,” Lopez-Carmen said. “Our health is our culture. Our health is our sovereignty. Our health is our kinship.”

Kyle Loudner, who sits on the Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Council, traveled to attend Lopez-Carmen’s graduation so he could show his support. For him, Lopez-Carmen recalls a previous era.

“Like a old leader from back in the 1800s, someone you would follow,” Loudner said. “Someone you would follow all the way.”

“It just humbled me that the tribe would support him to come,” Lopez-Carmen said.

Lopez-Carmen will soon begin a residency in pediatric medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital at the University of Washington. After that, he hopes to work in Arizona at tribal clinics. But not all year long.

“When things start getting warm, between like April until August or September, I’d like to be at Crow Creek, being a pediatrician there,” Lopez-Carmen said.

As he see it, his future and Crow Creek’s future are linked.

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“I’m so excited to be a doctor at Crow Creek one day, to invest in community gardens, invest in our young people as a pediatrician,” Lopez-Carmen said.

And as he looks forward to his future, he has a message for the youth.

“To all the Hunkpati kids out there, you can do whatever you want, and I’m here to support any future Hunkpati doctors,” Lopez-Carmen said. “I will not be the last Hunkpati doctor to go to Harvard Medical School.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in March described Native kids as hopeless and without supportive parents. Unprompted, Lopez-Carmen addresses the governor’s comments.

“I know a lot of politicians in South Dakota, including Noem, have said things about our people, that we’re hopeless,” he said. “But we’re not hopeless. We have so much hope in us that’s been protected by our ancestors, and we’re going to show ’em. And I’m glad that I was able to show Noem and any other politician who thinks that Dakota kids can’t accomplish anything. Well, look at me now.”

Saldaña looks at Lopez-Carmen and sees someone whose potential is limitless.

“I think that we are supposed to teach our students and leave them with a great deal of knowledge, but I think that Victor has left us with a lot here at Harvard Medical School,” Saldaña said. “I think he’s definitely impacted Harvard at least if not more than we’ve given to him.”

“Now I can actually as a doctor start putting this to work for the betterment of my communities, and I’m so excited,” Lopez-Carmen said.

Lopez-Carmen is set to move to Seattle on June 10.

Written by: The Dam Rock Station

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