Martan MartinezPhoto Provided

Martan Martinez offers Natalie Aguilera a blessing to wish her success in her new role as CEO of the Native American Health Center.

Aguilera named CEO of Native American Health Center

By Chris Jennings
January 5, 2024

Choctaw tribal member Natalie Aguilera, MPA, has been named the new Chief Executive Officer of the Native American Health Center (NAHC) with offices in San Francisco, California. Aguilera has worked at the NAHC for 18 years and previously served as the Chief Administrative Officer.

The NAHC was one of the first Urban Indian Health Centers in the country and has grown to be one of the largest.

Serving Native Americans and other underserved communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, NAHC offers high-quality medical, dental, behavioral health, and social services, blending health care with traditional Native culture and traditions.

In a press release from the NAHC, Martin Waukazoo said, “NAHC is in good hands with Natalie. She has shown unwavering dedication to our community and has always been willing to meet the challenges to heal our community. I am proud of the work we’ve accomplished together, and I know she will lead NAHC to greater heights, keeping the dreams alive for our children, grandchildren, and the generations to come. Our legacy continues, and it is bright.”

Waukazoo served as NAHC’s CEO for 40 years before retiring on November 1, 2023.

By working at NAHC, Aguilera continues a family tradition of servant leadership by following in her grandmother Alice Carne’s footsteps. Carnes was a founding member of the Intertribal Friendship House (IFH) in 1955 and had dedicated most of her life to the IFH and the Native community.

Aguilera Graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, intending to be a lawyer.

“I had graduated from Cal and thought I wanted to go to law school. I was working at a law firm for seven years, and I realized I didn’t want to go to law school any longer,” said Aguilera.

That’s when her husband suggested coming to work at the NAHC with him. According to Aguilera, she had never thought about working at a non-profit before and told him she would try it out.

“I said, I’ll come check it out for a year or two while I figure out what my next career move is. So, I started working here and I just fell in love with the mission and I fell in love with the colleagues who are all so committed to our members,” Aguilera said.

The atmosphere was a big reason for her experiences, from being surrounded by older white men at a litigation firm in San Francisco to a more multicultural environment.

“You come here, and you’re at a leadership table with all Natives doing work for Natives. It was just a really cool change,” said Aguilera. “And it just grew on me; I love it now. I’ve been here for 18 years after I thought I’d be here a year.”

Aguilera has led several significant initiatives while at the NAHC, including launching the Seven Generations Scholarship Fund, through which NAHC has expanded its commitment to the future wellness, healing and success of the Native American community.

The idea for the Seven Generations Scholarship came to Aguilera while listening to a podcast. She said they felt they should be doing more to support our Native youth who want to attain goals but may have had financial barriers.

“I just started raising money, and I got a good little lump sum from one of the foundations out here,” said Aguilera. “The first year, three people applied, and I was so excited that we awarded money to three people. This past year, we had 26 people awarded almost $100,000.”.

Another program Aguilera is passionate about is NAHC’s expansion into housing development.

NAHC will own 36 affordable housing units above their 7 Directions clinic, and the new 3050 International Boulevard building that NAHC is breaking ground on in early 2024 will feature expanded dental services, a cultural community center and an additional 76 units of affordable housing.

“Health care and housing are interconnected. We know our community can’t focus on their health care if they’re worried about having somewhere to live. Bringing housing to our community is a huge goal of mine,” Aguilera said. “I’m excited to oversee and work through any barriers we have in prioritizing our Native community members getting into housing.”

Aguilera’s work and advocacy extends to the statewide and national level. She is an active leader and serves as a Board Member with the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health (CCUIH) and a leader with the National Council of Urban Indian Health Organization (NCUIH).

“When I started here 18 years ago, I never envisioned that this was where I would be. I’m grateful and excited for the opportunity to carry forward the legacy of Martin and the profound work he initiated over the past 40 years,” said Aguilera.