Published December 23, 2019
ADA, Okla. When European explorers first arrived in North America, Native Americans were adversely affected in ways many never contemplate.
Brandon Postoak looks back through the haze of time and pinpoints the diet brought by Europeans as one element central to declining health outcomes of Native Americans.
“My people were hunters and gatherers centuries ago,” the Chickasaw student of osteopathic medicine observed. “Their diet consisted of fruits, berries, nuts, lean venison, fish, corn, squash, beans and wild medicinal plants that acted as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It was a healthy diet. Add to that a demanding, physically-challenging way of life and you have a healthy, vibrant people.
“Our bodies are coded for certain foods based upon how we were raised many thousands of years ago. It is like a truck that runs on gasoline. If you put diesel fuel in it, that truck is not going to function properly.”
The European diet wreaks havoc on the basic DNA structure of Native people. Processed sugars and grains – white flour is an example – starchy potatoes and fat-laden meals cooked in lard led to heart disease, diabetes, fatty livers, obesity and maladies never suffered by Native Americans prior to contact.
“The bodies of Native people were unable to successfully digest, store and use the staples included in European diets. In fact, the opposite is true,” Postoak said. “It made my people ill, lethargic and has contributed to a perpetual decline in Native health. I am dedicated to doing something about that.”
A New Mission
Postoak is a second-year medical student at Oklahoma State University (OSU) College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa. Recently honored for his hard work and dedication, the Association of American Indian Physicians has named Postoak the first medical student ever appointed as an osteopathic medicine liaison for the Association of Native American Medical Students.
The 30-year-old Chickasaw’s goal is to encourage more Native Americans to consider a career in medicine and other health professions. He firmly believes increasing the number of Native American physicians will rebound to a healthier, happier Native American population.
“Honestly, I think Native American physicians can best address the medical requirements of Native Americans,” he said. “That is not to disparage any physician. It is just a realization Natives understand what other Natives have been through. We recognize the common ailments and the history of afflictions on our people. We understand what causes illness and we understand the steps to correct it so people can live quality, enjoyable lives.”
He sees his new liaison role as one that spans the entirety of serving Native Americans throughout college. “We will explore scholarships and any other opportunities. Natives are comprised of undergraduate students to attending physicians. They need to know how to apply for medical school; what to do in clinical orientation during their third- and fourth-year of school; how to obtain a residency and how to become an attending physician,” Postoak said.
Postoak had an inkling medicine was in his future. He studied at both Murray State College in Tishomingo and at East Central University in Ada with an interest in physical therapy or sports medicine. He graduated from Allen High School in 2007.
He credits the Chickasaw Nation School-to-Work program with introducing him to a career in medicine.
“It is a great program, second to none. I was able to follow Dr. Roger Charboneau during rounds at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center. I saw how he performed surgery on a patient who suffered from pain for years. After the surgery and physical therapy, the patient was pain-free and his quality of life was restored.”
Charboneau is an orthopedic surgeon who graduated from the same program in which Postoak is enrolled.
Dr. Kent Smith, Ph.D., is another professional cited by Postoak as having a major impact on him as a mentor. Smith, Chickasaw, is associate professor of anatomy and cell biology for OSU. He also is involved in the Oklahoma State University Native Explorers Program which introduces youth to archeological digs and fossil discovery.
Family is at the forefront of Postoak’s success story. “It really does take a village to rear a child and inspire youth,” he said.
His father is no stranger to the Chickasaw Nation. Eddie Postoak is director of cultural resources and attends most stomp dances and ceremonial events hosted by the tribe. “I can confidently say I would not be where I am today without effort of my family, especially my father,” Brandon Postoak said.
“It has always been my greatest desire for my children to succeed in whatever they choose to do in life,” Eddie Postoak said. “I am proud of Brandon. He is a kind, hardworking, caring person and has a great sense of humor. I believe he will excel as a physician with these traits.
“(The family) is proud of Brandon (and) what he has accomplished in a short time at OSU-CHS. He is dedicated and loyal to his family. We are proud of him because he has influence within our family members, showing that you can accomplish your dreams if you apply yourself and what you believe in. He has truly found his calling and will continue to thrive in his career,” he added.
The aspiring physician is primarily focused on helping and inspiring Native youth. “I see how my life was changed by a family who supported me and Natives who encouraged me. I want to do that for Native young people so I can truly make the impact I believe I was born to make. I see many opportunities for service, be it with Indian Health Service or as an attending physician at the medical center,” Brandon Postoak said.