Board of Directors
Aleena M. Kawe (Hiaki)
Founder, President & CEO
Aleena believes a systems approach – one that considers worldview, relationships, leadership and the collective will – is the key to achieving health equity. Aleena is a leader and advocate in Indigenous health with more than 25 years of experience working in partnership with communities to transform ideas into action. In 2018, she received national recognition for developing the first public health institute in the U.S. to focus solely on Indigenous wellbeing. For the last decade, Aleena has focused on building public health capacity among Tribal and Pacific Island public health systems in the US. More recently, her focus has shifted to exploring the role of governance in promoting the health of humanity and the environment through traditional ecological knowledge. Prior to Red Star, Aleena served as the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Education Director, and as the Administrator of the American Indian Research Center for Health at the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. Aleena is an enrolled member of the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians with cultural ties to Pascua Yaqui Tribe – Old Pascua Pueblo in Tucson, Arizona. She has a master’s degree in public health from The University of Arizona, where she is an adjunct faculty at the Global Health Institute.
Karen Francis-Begay, MA (Navajo)
Secretary; Founding Board Member
Karen has devoted her career to advancing educational access and success for Native American students and to fostering relationships with tribal communities. Karen is the Assistant Vice Provost, Native American Initiatives at The University of Arizona. Her primary role is to serve as a key representative and liaison between tribal leaders and the University in efforts to strengthen partnerships and advance mutual goals. Karen has a bachelor of science in public administration, a master of arts in American Indian studies, and is pursuing a PhD in higher education administration at The University of Arizona. Karen has served on numerous governing boards at the national, regional and local level, including the College Board, College Horizons and the YWCA of Tucson.
Todd Francis (Navajo)
Treasurer, Board Member
As a seasoned financial executive, Todd has been committed to affordable housing efforts for the past 17 years, particularly as such efforts impact Native American communities and families. Todd recently joined Native Community Capital (NCC) as their Chief Operating Officer. NCC is a non-profit, Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with offices in Arizona and New Mexico. NCC makes small business, debt consolidation, and home construction/mortgage loans in tribal communities. Todd has held a number of senior management positions throughout his career with for-profit and non-profit companies. In one of his most recent senior management positions, he held both CFO and COO roles with another CDFI, overseeing a staff responsible for delivering affordable housing services and mortgage loan products to low-to-moderate income households throughout Maricopa County, Arizona, a large county with 4.3 million residents. Todd is originally from Chinle, Arizona and is an enrolled member with the Navajo Tribe. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona, and he resides in Phoenix, Arizona with his son.
John R. Lewis (Mohave/Pima/Tohono O’odham)
Founding Board Member
Mr. Lewis’ life‘s work has been dedicated to strengthening tribal sovereignty, and upholding the government-to-government relationship between tribes and federal agencies, the State of Arizona, and state universities. Mr. Lewis served as the Executive Director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) from 1975 – 2013 during a time of great political change for tribes across the United States. In this capacity, Mr. Lewis worked to grow the organization from a staff of one with minimal funding into one that operates more than 30 programs, such as Environmental Quality, Health & Human Services, Nutrition and Health Research. Within Arizona, Mr. Lewis and ITCA were instrumental in successfully advocating for American Indian voting rights, establishing tribal liaisons in state offices, developing tribal consultation models, and organizing the Tribal Water Policy Council. Mr. Lewis continues to be an advocate and remains actively involved in cultural preservation, biomedical research, and policy.
Rebecca Tsosie JD (Yaqui)
Rebecca Tsosie is a Regents Professor at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, and she serves as a Faculty Co-Chair for the Indigenous Peoples’ Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona. Professor Tsosie, who is of Yaqui descent, is widely known for her work in the fields of Federal Indian law and indigenous peoples’ human rights. Prior to joining the U of A faculty, Professor Tsosie was a Regent’s Professor and Vice Provost for Inclusion and Community Engagement at Arizona State University. Professor Tsosie was the first faculty Executive Director for ASU’s Indian Legal Program and served in that position for 15 years. Professor Tsosie has published widely on sovereignty, self-determination, cultural pluralism, environmental policy and cultural rights. She teaches in the areas of Federal Indian Law, Property, Constitutional Law, Critical Race Theory, and Cultural Resources Law. Professor Tsosie is a member of the Arizona Bar Association and the California Bar Association. Professor Tsosie serves as a Supreme Court Justice for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and as an Associate Judge on the San Carlos Tribal Court of Appeals. She received her B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Frank Te Mihinui Kawe (Ngāti Ranginui/Ngāti Kahungunu)
Waka Captain/Cultural Advisor
Frank has a passion and desire to see the art of Māori and Polynesian sailing flourish once again across the Pacific. For the last 20 years, Frank has dedicated much of his time to relearning and revitalizing the traditional arts of waka ama (outrigger canoe) and waka hourua (voyaging canoe) in Aotearoa and Hawaii. In 2012, he served as captain of ‘Te Matau a Maui’, which completed an 18 Month from across the Pacific. He served as crew and supported the 4-year Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage around the world with the Polynesian Voyaging Society from Hawai’i, which culminated in 2019 on Oahu, Hawaii. In 2007, he was one of two Māori voyagers who took part in the ‘Ku Holo Mau’ voyage aboard the ‘Alingano Maisu’ canoe from Hawaii to the Island of Satawal in Micronesia, the home of traditional Master Navigator Pius Mau Piailug. More recently, he was featured as the skipper in Māori Television’s Waka Warriors, a 10-episode series involving three youth who joined the crew of Haunui Waka as they circumnavigated the North Island. Frank maintains strong relationships with voyaging societies across the Pacific, including the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Na Kalai Wa’a Moku o Hawaii, and other Ohana Waa. Frank also spent time in Native communities in Alaska and southwestern tribes in U.S.