Meet our Quick Response Force Lead: Art Sakakihara-Chavarria! (Part 2)

A few days ago, we published Part 1 of our interview with Art Sakakihara-Chavarria (Mescalero Apache), MS-APA, PA-C. Today, we continue the story of Art’s journey into Indigenous health.


So Art, how did you get started with Tribal Health?

Well, this is a great origin story, For years I worked with a physician (Dr. Strait) who used to tell me about all his medical mission trips to “third world countries.” For years, I kept telling him, “I can show you some of the same poverty and disparity here in America.” So one day he said “Ok, let’s do it. If you go with me I’ll go.”

And in walks Tribal Health. I’d heard of Tribal Health through some conversations with friends, so I decided to pick up the phone and call them. Dr. Strait and I spoke to some other physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, and they were also interested.

I remember that first call. I told my recruiter Pamela Amiotte that I wanted to come to Rosebud and bring some providers with me. I told her that I had some Doctors & APPs that I wanted to introduce to Native American culture. I wanted them to see our healthcare struggles firsthand.  That was October 2022.


And we’ve loved working with you ever since. But what has it been like for you to work with Tribal Health?

It has been wonderful. Tribal Health is the best company I have ever worked for. It fosters trust and service. I worked with many contracting companies serving our Native communities through IHS and no other has impressed me as much as Tribal Health.

I found that the services rendered by Tribal Health were at a higher level of expertise and organization. In the 15 years of working with IHS, Tribal Health is by far the absolute best. We’re the leading agency that hires certified ABEM-ER physicians to manage our Emergency Department contracts. Ever since coming on board I have been nothing less than enthralled with the overall direction of company.

My short-term goal is to bridge some of that cultural understanding to new providers who’ve never worked in this community while staying centered on quality services to the patients. I see my position as an opportunity to help Tribal Health with its commitment to quality healthcare and medical services to our Native community.


What is your outlook for the future of Indigenous health?

Health disparities have always existed for American Indians and Alaskan Natives. IHS is charged with providing a comprehensive health service and delivery system for approximately 2.56 million of the nation’s estimated 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. IHS strives for maximum tribal involvement in meeting the health needs of its service population, who live mainly on or near reservations and in rural communities, mostly in the western United States and Alaska (IHS.GOV).

My personal motivation is to do right for our Native communities and help bridge the access to quality care. Some people think the current state of IHS Medicine “is broken, inconsistent and that IHS does not fulfill our treaty agreements with the US Government” and I understand that sentiment. But I also believe through firsthand experience that the system is not entirely broken and there are a lot of things that do work and those that don’t, can be fixed.

Many positive changes are happening in IHS and amongst the tribes attempting to progress to a self-determination status by attempting to manage their own medical services. I know that Tribal Health can be an integral part in these positive changes.


I’ll end on that promising note. But first – on the personal side of things – who are you when you’re not Art the PA?

I’ve been married for 20 years to my wife Lori. We have 4 kids. Arthur is 28 and lives in Korea; he’s an injured soldier medically retired from the Army. Alma is 23 and she recently graduated from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She’s taking the MCAT this summer. My daughter Azumi is 14 and she’s a multi-media and graffiti artist who loves to surf and dive. Then there’s Akizuma, who’s twelve and dabbles in whittling, woodworking, graffiti art, and music. He plays sax and guitar but his true love is harmonica.

We live mostly in Maui, but always come back to home on the ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.


And what do you like to do for fun?

Oh! I knew this question was coming and yes, I am a professional DJ. I am an old school turntablist scratch DJ that spins everything from old school hip-hop to EDM. I have DJ’d across the country on tours, but most notably I am the DJ/producer for an Irish Bluegrass Band from Rapid City. And yes, you can still find us on SDPR and NPR.

Whenever possible, I only drive 2 wheels. I ride my Harley Davidson and lots of VESPA scooters. I also like trout fishing, surfing – and yes, even at the age of 50, I still skateboard half-pipe.


I love your energetic spirit. Thank you for talking to us – and we look forward to following more of your adventures!






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