Montana State University

Ronan student helps Crow women through research project

July 1, 2003 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU Research Office


Jana Smith   High-Res Available

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Jana Smith hopes to return to the Flathead Indian Reservation someday and use her education to improve her community.

"If I can do anything to help anybody there, I want to do that," the Ronan native said recently after helping young girls better their basketball skills during a sports camp at Montana State University-Bozeman. Smith is a shooting guard on the MSU women's basketball team.

In the meantime, she is working to prevent cervical cancer on the Crow Indian Reservation. As an undergraduate student at MSU, Smith is involved in a research and educational project, called "Messengers for Health."

Suzanne Christopher, her advisor and an associate professor of health and human development, received $768,000 from the American Cancer Society to work with women on the Crow Indian Reservation. The four-year project that began in 2001 and could someday expand to other reservations is training approximately 25 women about cervical cancer and the importance of regular checkups. The women, in turn, are spreading the word to other Native American women. Native American women have a rate of cervical cancer that's at least two times higher than it is in other minorities.

"Cervical cancer is higher among Indian women, just for the fact that they are not receiving the Pap test early and just lack the knowledge of how important it is," said Alma McCormick, project coordinator on the reservation.

"The older Native American women were always taught this is very private," Smith added, referring to women's health issues. "To go in and have somebody look at your body like that, they feel violated."

As a Native American majoring in community health, Smith said she wants other Native American women to know that cervical cancer doesn't carry an automatic death sentence.

"If you find cervical cancer in the early stages, you can live with it," she said. "Life is not over."

Smith became involved in the Messengers project when Christopher found out that Smith, a blonde, was a Native American descendent of the Salish and Kootenai tribe. Smith is the daughter of Joe and Dianna Smith, and Dianna is Salish Kootenai. Christopher asked Smith if she wanted to participate in the project and suggested she apply for the Undergraduate Scholars Program. The USP is one of several programs at MSU that encourage and pay undergraduates to do research.

"I got it and am really excited," said Smith who is working on her USP project this summer.

Christopher said Smith is one of about six Native American students who have worked on the Messengers project. Among other things, Smith is helping develop educational materials. She will assist with a three-day retreat in Bozeman and other training sessions for messengers.

When she's not working on her USP project, Smith said she landscapes for TLC Landscape and Excavation of Belgrade, lifts weights and swims. For two weeks this summer, she is working at basketball camps for girls.

"I'm a busy lady for now," Smith said.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu