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The Daily Tar Heel

Fellowship recipient advocates for increased Cherokee Internet use

Due to reporting errors, the story below incorrectly portrayed Kaitlyn Jongkind’s research and the Cherokee tribe. The article incorrectly suggested that the Cherokee Native Americans are unexposed to modern medicine. It also incorrectly implied that Jongkind exposed them to the Internet and linked them to modern medicine. Jongkind researched the potential of using a website she created to spread nutrition awareness in communities with little Internet access. The article also incorrectly stated that the Cherokee tribe featured Jongkind’s work on their website. The Cherokee Health and Medical Division featured her research. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.

With the click of a mouse, senior Kaitlyn Jongkind exposed a group of Cherokee Native Americans to the Internet, expanding their world ­— and giving them a link to modern medicine.

Jongkind, a nutrition major, lived on a reservation in the town of Cherokee for two months last summer and gathered information to develop a website that raises awareness about Type 2 diabetes.

“This type of diabetes is directly related to weight,” she said. “We need to encourage programs with nutrition and physical activity.”

Jongkind said most Cherokee are not accustomed to using the Internet. As a result, she said the Cherokee often suffer from preventable conditions like diabetes because they lack the ability to use online resources.

As a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship recipient, Jongkind wrote her honors thesis about her time with the Cherokee.

“My concept of research was wearing a lab coat and using a test tube,” she said.

“Now I see that at UNC, students can explore anything they are interested in.”

The Cherokee Health and Medical Division featured her work on their website with suggestions for losing weight, eating healthily and engaging in physical activity.

Carmen Samuel-Hodge, one of the readers of Jongkind’s thesis, said she was amazed at Jongkind’s ability to adapt to the tribe, especially in a field with a great deal of face to face communication.

“She was an outsider who went into their community,” Samuel-Hodge said. “It is very rare for someone to build such levels of trust like Kaitlyn did.”

Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, who has also worked with the Cherokee for several years, was Kaitlyn’s research advisor for the thesis.

“She understood the importance of just being there and listening and spending time with them,” she said.

Jongkind said not enough research has been done regarding the Internet’s effect on Native Americans and said she hopes similar programs can be instituted for other isolated, rural groups.

Though the website aids the Cherokee, Jongkind said many of the elder natives were reluctant to abandon their traditional practices and modernize.

However, Mayer-Davis doesn’t anticipate this to be a major issue.

“The younger generation will teach their elders about language and culture,” she said. “Their use of technology on the reservation will improve over time.”

Jongkind said she is extremely grateful for her time spent in Cherokee and hopes to work with them in the future.

“The experience opened my eyes to the health disparities faced by many Native Americans and showed me that something needs to be done to help them,” she said.

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