Navajo Nation Leader Honored at Wheaton College

Article ID: 18441

Released: 29-Apr-2000 12:00 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: Wheaton College (IL)

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Embargo until April 28

Contact: Denise Kerns, 630/752-5015


The walls of the famous Ellis Tanner Trading Post in Gallup, New Mexico serve as a veritable "Hall of Fame" for the Navajo Nation. Portraits of great Navajo men and women pay visual tribute to the legacy of those who have honorably led and served the nation. One of those portraits belongs to Wheaton College alumnus, Dr. Taylor McKenzie, Vice President of the Navajo Nation and the first Navajo physician and surgeon to serve that Nation's medical needs.

It has been 50 years since Dr. Taylor McKenzie, '54, first stepped on the grounds of Wheaton College. When he returns to his alma mater next month, it will be to receive the Alumnus of the Year for Distinguished Service to Society Award. Marilee Melvin, Vice President for Alumni Relations, said today that Raymond Carlsen '60, President of the Alumni Association, will present the award to Dr. Taylor at a luncheon on May 6 in Anderson Commons.

A member of the Kinlichii'ni clan, McKenzie was raised on a sheepcamp in Rattlesnake, New Mexico. As a child he attended the Navajo Methodist Mission School where he first learned of Wheaton College from mission school's superintendent, Willard Bass, also a Wheaton graduate. Later, with the encouragement of his wife, Betty, and funds provided by one of the first Navajo Nation scholarships, Taylor "bootstrapped" himself through Wheaton College, working as a carpenter on weekends to help make ends meet while completing his pre-med training.

He went on to receive his MD degree from Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, becoming the first member of his Tribe to graduate from "the white man's medical school." Subsequently, Dr. McKenzie completed five years of general surgery residency at the Pontiac General Hospital in Pontiac, Michigan prior to returning to his homeland. He began his long and distinguished career as a staff physician in orthopedics and emergency medicine at the Gallup Indian Medical Center in Gallup, New Mexico.

For 30 years Dr. McKenzie worked with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to provide surgical and orthopedic care to the Navajo people. In March of 1998 he was asked to head the newly developed Navajo Division of Health. Dr. McKenzie has been a tireless advocate for the healthcare needs of his people, spending two years as CEO for the Navajo Health Authority to develop a comprehensive health plan for the Navajo Nation. He has helped develop training manuals and tapes that are utilized throughout the Navajo Nation, and has worked to update the interpreting skills and abilities of hospital staffs.

As their Vice President serving alongside President Kelsey Begaye, Dr. McKenzie is working to help the Navajo people overcome a diabetes epidemic. In his view the disease has been fostered in part by dietary practices for which the constitutional systems of the Navajo are unsuited and by a sedentary lifestyle. He is also concerned about the high incidence of alcoholism among the Navajo people and about an unemployment rate that remains at about 50-60%.

Taylor McKenzie was nominated for the award by 1994 Wheaton alumnus Doug Evilsizor. Evilsizor, the Director of Development at Rehoboth Christian School in New Gallup, explained why he nominated McKenzie for the Distinguished Service Award: "One of Wheaton College's initiatives this year is to value and support diversity; Taylor McKenzie is a great leader and his contributions should be recognized."


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