Meet the Scientist: Annabelle AllisonPosted on by
My “Meet the Scientist” series brings you conversations with NCEH/ATSDR scientists. These conversations aim to give you a sense of the talented people who are working to keep you safe and secure from things in the environment that threaten our nation’s health.
NCEH/ATSDR Tribal Affairs Liaison and Hatch green chili fan Annabelle Allison was born and raised in New Mexico. “I’m a member of the Navajo tribe. My mother’s clan is Honághááhnii, which means ‘One Walks Around You.’ My father’s is Tó dích’íinii or the ‘Bitter Water Clan.’ I grew up on the Navajo reservation in a small community called Tohatchi, New Mexico. I left the reservation when I graduated high school and attended San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico to study biomedical sciences.”
“I initially wanted to pursue a medical degree to become a pediatrician,” Annabelle said. “However, the universe had something different in mind for me. Instead, I ended up on an environmental health path.” After some time in Flagstaff attending Northern Arizona University, she transferred to the University of New Mexico where she received her BS in Biology.
Environmental Path Leads to NCEH/ATSDR
“My intention after getting my degree was to just take some time for myself, get a job, and save money. And then I’d go to medical school.” Annabelle explained. “I worked as an environmental scientist for a consortia based in Albuquerque called the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC). AIPC offered a number of services for the Pueblo tribes in the region–one of which was environmental protection. I started with the Superfund program and worked closely with staff from EPA in Region 6. I then went to work for a national tribal training organization based in Flagstaff, Arizona called the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. This provided me an opportunity to do a detail with EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards in the Research Triangle Park, NC. Eventually, I heard about a Tribal Liaison position within ATSDR, applied, and was hired.”
Most Exciting About Job
“I work with tribes across the country on environmental health topics. The largest component of my role is giving visibility to issues that American Indian and Alaska Native populations face. I’ve found that many people on the east coast don’t even know that tribes still exist. Also, many people don’t know there are 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States, or that November is Native American Heritage Month.”
I asked Annabelle what was most exciting about her job. “I always knew that I was going to work with tribes because I know the beauty that exists in tribal communities like the humor, the importance of family, pride in identity, and knowing where we come from. It’s in our creation stories, our prayers, and our regard for the surrounding environment. I also knew growing up on the Navajo reservation that we had some big obstacles in front of us like alcoholism, chronic illnesses, unemployment, and what I’ve now come to understand as historical trauma.
“I just knew that I wanted to do work that brought some visibility to the issues and to collaborate with each other to create unique solutions.”
“A critical component of my position is leveraging the expertise within NCEH/ATSDR divisions to strengthen our relationships with tribes. We have many existing activities and scientific efforts with tribes, and my job is to support staff in this work.”
“I began an initiative in FY 2011 called the National Tribal Environmental Health (NTEH) Think Tank, which is composed of 14 tribal professionals from the across the U.S. who are versed in various aspects of environmental public health. The Think Tank members provided feedback about EPH concerns in tribal communities and I’m now using this information to develop a 3-5 year OTA Strategic Plan. The concerns the Think Tank conveyed included issues such as chemical and toxic exposures, climate change, and access to safe water. They strongly encouraged OTA to increase opportunities for AI/AN youth to participate in CDC/ATSDR internships and fellowships at CDC/ATSDR. And they also conveyed the critical need for funding opportunities in order to address their EPH concerns. Year two of the NTEH Think Tank will commence in November and the members are eager to continue increasing visibility about the EPH issues in tribal communities.”
“I like to hike the North Georgia trails. I also like yoga and meditation. Whenever possible, I often go home to New Mexico to visit and reconnect with family.”
Annabelle’s favorite food is the spicy Hatch green chilies from Hatch, New Mexico. Did you know there’s even a Hatch Chile Festival? “This time of year, after it’s harvested, vendors can be seen all over town roasting the chilies and you can smell it in the air” said Annabelle. “There’s nothing like it.”