Gail Dana-Sacco

In Funded Scholars
Gail Dana-Sacco
Gail Dana-Sacco




Assistant Research Professor
University of Maine

Professional Bio

Gail Dana – Sacco, PhD is Assistant Research Professor at the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center; Faculty Associate, Center for American Indian Health, Johns Hopkins University. Formerly Assistant Professor of Public Health at the University of New England  and Director of the Maine AHEC Network, a statewide organization dedicated to improving the distribution of the primary care workforce in rural and underserved areas. Dr. Dana-Sacco holds the Wabanaki Center, Director Emerita position at the University of Maine, where she worked  for many years to support Native students, develop University–community partnerships, and build scholarship by and about the Wabanaki peoples. Her lifetime service to the Native communities of Maine includes positions in public health, education, and community development. Honors and awards include a New Connections grant to conduct research on improving the tribal-state relationship to impact persistent health disparities; and fellowships with the Kellogg National Leadership Program and the Daniel Hanley Center for Health Leadership.

Dr. Dana-Sacco earned her PhD in Health Policy & Management at the Johns Hopkins University conducting her dissertation research, Applying Passamaquoddy Wisdom to Contemporary Tribal Health Decision-making in her home community at Sibyig. She has taught Community-based Participatory Research, and an Interdisciplinary Approach to American Indian Health . She works with tribal communities to develop research capacity and address health and policy concerns. Her research interests include: indigenous languages and health; the politics of health policy; the structural basis of health disparities; injury prevention; and indigenous research methodologies.

Project Description

An in-depth case study of the development and implementation of legislation to address Passamaquoddy tribal health disparities will be conducted. The roles of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission (MITSC) and the tribal representative to the Maine State legislature (TRMSL) in addressing tribal health disparities though legislation, the quality of the tribal-state relationship and the socially constructed legal environment within which tribal-state relations operate will be explored. A deep understanding of mediating factors can inform policymaking processes in other jurisdictions where tensions between tribes and states can be more effectively managed in order to address persistent health disparities. This research builds on previous studies examining effective tribal health policy approaches by enlarging the inquiry to encompass the tribal-state relationship. Critically examining and improving decision-making infrastructures and strategies can address the seemingly intractable problem of persistent health disparities among Native populations reflecting RWJF’s attention to policy as the driver of change.
While a growing body of research examines federal and state policy solutions, the capacity of cooperative tribal-state efforts to advance health policy solutions has received scant attention. In this project, I acknowledge the complex historical legal and jurisdictional issues that undergird tribal/state relations and policy, and begin to illuminate the role that the tribal-state relationship can play in addressing persistent tribal health disparities. This study examines in depth how Passamaquoddy acts through the MITSC and TRMSL to address tribal health concerns, what factors mediate effectiveness of the policy pathway and how can improvements be made.

My New Connections Experience

In 2009, I became the first member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sibyig to earn a PhD. My persistence reflects both my personal drive to bring Native voices to the table with authority and the investment by the community in my success. By affiliating with New Connections, I will have an opportunity to get to know a diverse group of new scholars with similar interests and will become more familiar with RWJF. I am most excited to learn more about public health law research and to build my scholarship in that area. I hope to make a significant contribution to the field and to improving indigenous health through research. Tribal populations, by virtue of the historical underpinnings of health disparities and complex jurisdictional considerations constitute vulnerable populations. At the same time, these particular policy complexities and indigenous knowledge systems provide fertile ground for creative, innovative health disparities approaches grounded in and informed by indigenous knowledge. I hope to bring forth knowledge that can be applied to improve tribal health decision-making and build research capacity.

Research Interests

I am deeply committed to a research agenda and practice that serves indigenous communities, and builds our collective capacity to improve health and to eliminate health inequities. My community-based approach centers on developing and activating community knowledge to address important health issues. By engaging in the critical collective identification of problems, devising potential solutions and then implementing them, we can employ indigenous knowledge to catalyze substantive change. Engaging communities in reflective research and practice builds bridges of communication across generations and between individuals with varying fluency in indigenous languages. Through this work we can contribute new knowledge to community-based practice among Native populations by applying our collective expertise to implement a capacity-building model that utilizes indigenous knowledge as a foundational means to promote healing and to positively impact individual, family and community environments. My research focuses on how we can rebuild community capacity to improve health by critically examining and improving the structural drivers of health in Native communities. Particular areas of interest include: the effect of the tribal-state relationship on health; the relationship between speaking Native languages and health; and the impact of injury on tribal communities in both the current and historical context. The effect of law and governance on the creation and sustainability of environments that support our collective health is a primary concern. This research Informs the development and implementation of sustainable pragmatic policy solutions, which can be expected to have long-term effect.

The Details
  • New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
  • Award Year: 2013
  • RWJF Team/Portfolio: Public Health
  • Project Name: Studying development and implementation of legislation to improve health disparities affecting Maine’s Passamaquoddy Tribe.

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