Eden Pope, first-year medical student at Noorda-COM.

Most twelve-year-olds’ lives revolve around typical middle school worries – friendship drama, upcoming homework and scheming for the next dance. 

Eden Pope spent her childhood searching through ancestral records. 

Pope’s interest in her heritage was instilled by her half-Cherokee mother, but exacerbated by classmates’ repeated, awkward questions of: “What are you?” and “Where are you really from?” 

Whenever Pope revealed that she was Cherokee, her peers would look confused – they didn’t even know “what” a Native American was.

“It was especially strange because I went to school right next to a reservation,” Pope explained. “It [my heritage] just wasn’t part of the education system; most Natives stayed on the reservation.” 

So, Pope did her own research and continued to learn about cultural practices through her mother. After uncovering her lineage, Pope became even more exposed to Native life through church involvement. 

“Every Wednesday, we would go onto the reservation and help with different things – gardening, or creating first aid kits.” 

Pope, age 17, during a Native healthcare trip.

These experiences opened Pope’s eyes to the needs of her community, and knit her heart to theirs. As she progressed in high school and thought about a future career, she frequently returned to lessons learned on the reservation. 

“I really enjoyed learning about their approach to medicine… They truly appreciated nature and cherished the earth’s medicinal resources.” 

As a personal trainer, Pope further honored her heritage by fusing Cherokee principles of meditation, diet and introspection into her clients’ routines. She firmly believes that Native philosophies can increase physical health; wellness isn’t just exercise, it’s also shedding emotional weight and strengthening mental muscles. 

“I integrated Native practices into my training because so many people’s problems come from things they’re not dealing with – burdens, deep down, that they need help accessing.” 

Yet as Pope approached college, she felt conflicted. She loved the principles behind Native wellness but also respected traditional Western medicine. 

“I actually considered becoming a naturopath because I was so inspired by their cultural practice of natural medicine,” Pope recounted. “But at the same time, I also recognized that there’s a time and place for Western medicine. I didn’t want to be limited in my scope of practice.”

Eventually, Pope decided that the best way to combine her heritage, experiences with other tribes and understanding of modern medicine was to pursue osteopathic medicine.

“I chose the D.O. route because I felt like it integrated the necessary components of Western medicine and other sources. It not only cures your medical problem but also cures you as a person and aids your overall well-being.” 

While Pope has many titles – daughter, personal trainer, first-year medical student – she will always remain true to her Cherokee roots and advocate for cultural awareness in healthcare. 

“There is so much more potential for curing disease and all-around wellness that we just haven’t tapped into yet,” she explained. “I think we’re so quick to judge other people when their makeup isn’t the same as our own. Because we want to find flaws in another system, it makes us feel reassured that our way is perfect. And it’s because we’re afraid; people are always afraid of change.”

If you grew up in Eden’s hometown, would you have noticed her? Would you have noticed the twinkle in her eyes? Would you see the spark of that little girl who, from a very young age, was fascinated by family trees and tribal traditions? We must be willing to see the merits of other cultures and their approach to wellness, Pope insisted. 

“What’s the harm in opening your eyes? If you have the ability to better yourself, then why wouldn’t you try new methods or look beyond the scope of what you’ve always done?” 

Pope is excited to pursue her medical degree at Noorda-COM and continue forward with her commitment to cultural awareness in medicine.