Memory Keepers

Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team

We Are Driven to End American Indian & Rural Health Disparities

The University of Minnesota's Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team is focused on Vascular Dementia in tribal communities. Led by Dr. Neil Henderson, the team, based on the Medical School's Duluth Campus will work to preserve brain health by the improved understanding of dementia and diabetes as an interactive syndemic. The logic in naming the project the Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team is significant. In Native American culture, memory keepers are traditionally adults and elders of the tribe who are responsible for preserving sacred medicine bundles, sacred songs, and stories. By prevention and aggressive management of diabetes, the risk of vascular and other dementias that rob people of their memory can be reduced. In this spirit, the research to preserve brain health will enable Native American communities to continue to benefit from the wisdom of their adults and elders. Because rural populations are also plagued by dementia and diabetes, the Medical Discovery Team will develop interventions and research to meet the challenges of health disparities among people living their lives far from the resources of urban population centers.

Dr. Neil Henderson Posing for Camera

Memory Keeper Team Leader: J. Neil Henderson, Ph.D.

Dr. Henderson is Executive Director of the Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team on Health Disparities at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus and his research areas focus on dementia and diabetes among American Indian people. Specifically, his work is on dementia and diabetes as an interactive syndrome, biological and cultural influences regarding recognition and treatment of dementia and diabetes, cultural constructions of disease, and community health interventions and education in the context of cultural diversity. Dr. Henderson, who is Oklahoma Choctaw, was awarded the Leadership in Prevention for Native Americans, 2006, by the Loma Linda University School of Public Health and the Award of Achievement by the University of Oklahoma, College of Public Health. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology and past-President of the Association for Anthropology and Gerontology and has authored many articles in the scientific press.

National Leader in Rural & American Indian Health

native american duluth campusThe University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus is nationally recognized as an emerging center of rural, American Indian and Indigenous health research. In 2016, U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Minnesota Medical School 5th in the country for Rural Medicine on its Best Medical Schools rankings. Our Duluth campus possesses one of the highest American Indian faculty ratios at any U.S. medical school and our Center for American Indian and Minority Health (CAIMH) is devoted to American Indian health works to raise the health status of American Indians by recruiting and educating Native American medical students, increasing awareness of American Indian health care issues, and conducting research that serves the health interests of Native American communities.

Our Mission

The University of Minnesota Medical School's mission in Rural and American Indian health extends back to the 1970s. Our Duluth campus is a nationally recognized leader in American Indian education, social welfare, and policy research that is well respected by tribal communities. 

We have the highest American Indian faculty/staff to student ratio of any campus in the U.S. and are home to innovative, nationally prominent programs in American Indian Studies, American Indian education, and tribal governance. Our Duluth campus also provides a welcoming home for both rural and American Indian health researchers. 

Our Memory Keeper Medical Discovery Team will drive the state's vision for discovery to address health disparities, further elevating the University of Minnesota Medical School's position as a leader in Rural and American Indian health equity research. For more information about the Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team contact Tracy Kemp at