Loving service is NHI’s method for addressing inequities, and serves as our primary funding source. Below is a short description of how and why NHI came to use this approach…

Download “What is Loving Service” here

In 2004, a group of Tribal leaders and health professions students created an internship program that would bring students to work with Tribes on health projects. There was a sense that this work was needed, and that despite the lack of infrastructure and financial support, the internships could and would happen if everyone gave of their talents and resources to make it happen. In addition, it became clear as the summer of 2005 neared that the group working to make this first summer a success were more and more friends, not merely “co-workers.” It was not just the fact that everyone was volunteering their time to plan for the summer; there was a sincere trust that amongst the NHI members, one that allowed communities to invite in strangers from afar, and which allowed students to work tirelessly to recruit volunteers and to arrange the logistics. And as all of this incredible energy grew, many well-meaning folks from outside institutions cautioned, “It’s a good idea – wait a few years and write some grants to make it happen.” NHI members persisted and the first summer’s internships brought nine students to Tribes in NC, with a total budget for the program amounting to $0.00. This is what we call “loving service,” the funding source for the vast majority of NHI’s work.


Loving service is a term we have given to a communal ethic of trusting friendships that are the foundation for addressing injustices and moving toward a more equitable, caring society. Loving service is our way of describing the currency of Indian communities, where the titles, degrees, and one’s financial wealth are not as important as one’s willingness to help family and community members, one’s desire to sacrifice

their time and resources for the greater good. Loving service, then, is not something unique to NHI, but is a way of being that we have adopted from Indigenous communities. Honoring its roots, we understand loving service as a circular concept, not one that can be linearized into a definition. Whenever possible, we use Indigenous terms/concepts to explain its meaning, recognizing that “love” is not a term used in some Tribes.

A’jooba and Nalyeeh- two Navajo words used to describe Loving service; the first means “to have mercy, no matter what” and the second means “to give back, what you owe.”

Why do we choose loving service:

1) It is a return to an Indigenous currency, one where money is not central, but instead one’s sincerity and goodness toward others is most valued. As one Pueblo elder said, “I see our young leaders today, and all they are after is money. They have forgotten that our relations with others is what is most important to us Indian people.”

2) It inspires a human-to-human element to our work, a communal ethic that minimizes the ego and maximizes all of the qualities we hope to amplify in our partnership (caring for one another, kindness, honesty, trust, )

3) It builds on the strength of Indigenous communities, and helps to educate our volunteers, our partner organizations, and academic and governmental institutions about this aspect of these communities.


When we asked NHI members to describe what loving service meant to them, here is what they said…



Loving service is giving without expecting anything in return. The ability to serve someone in need can be a gift in itself.”

-Randi Byrd (Cherokee), NHI-NC supporter since 2004


“To me, it is not so much an act but a state of mind. I believe it is giving of oneself truly and completely to someone you would not normally do so, like a complete stranger. By putting their needs and wants above your own, you can truly serve in love. It is much more than a “service”, its adding people to your family and treating them as one of your own.”

  • Rachelle Smith, 2008 Summer Intern with NHI-NC


Loving service is service and fellowship that makes your soul feel good.”

– Roberto Blanco, NHI-NC volunteer

NHI’s Loving Service Awards


Delight Telawepe

Sarah Bitsui

Kee Straits

Doreen Bird

Helen Bird

Native American Community Academy


Luke Esquibel

Kewa Pueblo Health Programs

La Plazita Institute

Walatowa Green Stars

Roxane Spruce-Bly


NHI North Carolina

APPLES program at UNC for their sincere partnership with NHI over the last 3 yrs.

NHI New Mexico

Chris Jaramillo for his positivity and example as an NHI volunteer

Raphael Lope for inspiring us to bigger and greater things

Gordon Yawakia for his dedication to our youth

Annie Liu for her tireless service during her summer internship in Santo Domingo Pueblo

Gianna Uttaro for her dedication to the Laguna Pueblo community


NHI North Carolina

Brittany Simmons for her tireless energy toward her Tribe’s youth and toward NHI’s summer internships

Preston Sweeney for his hospitality during NHI’s summer orientation

NHI New Mexico

Joaquin Baca for his smile, energy and partnership with NHI

Catherine Joy for her guidance, support and service in helping NHI-NM get off the ground