By Janeeí Doxtator-Andrews
Long before the colonization of our indigenous ancestors, sovereign nations of people inhabited the lands and governed themselves. They had traditional uses of plants and animals for healing, as well as diets. Plants and animals have always been at the core of culture, from the collection, to the preparation, to the serving and consuming. It connects us to our past, present and future.
Today traditional holistic healing practices are still used alongside western medicine. And while the modernized medical field offers a number of advancements for our American Indian people, there is still the need to understand the unique conditions and health issues of those throughout Indian Country.
Just as the pendulum has shifted between United States policy preferences for assimilation and for self-determination for Indian people, so has Indian health care. Indian health care as we know it is a result of the U.S. trust obligation to provide these services to American Indian and Alaska Native peoples via Indian Health Services (IHS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Many of the new regulations have advanced as the political landscape has changed over time, while others are remnants from earlier decades. In an attempt to fulfill the federal trust responsibility, IHS, tribes and organizations like the National Indian Health Board have developed hospitals, clinics and programs alike.
For more than 40 years the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) has been elevating the visibility of Indian health care issues on Capitol Hill. In 1985 the 501(c)3 nonprofit organized as a voice to advocate for self-determination and attain treaty rights relating to all aspects of health services. NIHB continues to enlighten and provide the public a better understanding of matters of health affecting our tribal communities. Its board of directors consists of representation from all 12 IHS service areas and reflects the unity of tribal values and opinions.
Tribal communities have long experienced lower life expectancies, disproportionate disease burdens and inadequate health care education. Poverty, discrimination and cultural differences seem to prevail. According to IHS, American Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy of 73.7 years, which is 4.4 years less than the all the other races in the U.S, which hovers around age 78.1 years. The leading causes of death in Indian Country are rooted in heart disease and diabetes. Health care experts, policymakers and tribal leaders are looking at many factors that impact upon the health of Indian people, including the adequacy of funding for the Indian health care delivery system.
Today, many tribes have an integrated food and health system to not only provide tribal members with traditional foods and health care, but to also inform them of health risks and improve quality of life. Providing comprehensive and appropriate health services in tribal communities helps to ensure the physical and spiritual health of American Indians for the next seven generations and beyond.
NIHB provides a variety of services to tribes, area health boards, federal agencies and private foundations. As the leader in Indian health, policy formation and analysis has been at the forefront of NIHB’s efforts especially with President Trump’s recent nomination of Robert M. Weaver for IHS Director. The leadership void at IHS has been on NIHB’s radar because there has not been a permanent director at IHS for more than two years. Legislative and regulatory tracking, another service of NIHB, is imperative in a time like this as there has been some concern with having someone from outside of the federal government in leadership. But if the appropriations bill that is under consideration in Congress passes, IHS will see a nearly $3 million dollar increase to President Trump’s original 2018 budget request.
As the only organization that respectfully presents the tribal perspective while monitoring federal legislation, and offering opportunities to network with other national health care organizations, NIHB intertwines policy decisions at the federal level and changes in mainstream health care. NIHB along with its partners at the area Indian health boards work to improve the quality of and access to health services for our people nationwide.
Each year the NIHB holds the National Tribal Health Conference attracting hundreds of tribal leaders, health professionals, advocates, researchers and federal agencies. The three-day event provides an opportunity for leaders in Indian health to network, receive training and participate in tribal consultations and listening sessions.
This is an opportunity to advance sustainable health care systems in which American Indians and Alaska Natives can easily access reliable, high quality and culturally-driven health care.
For more information on NIHB and its services visit www.nihb.org. ♦
Location: 910 Pennsylvania Ave. SE,
Washington, DC 20003
Director: Stacy A. Bohlen
Mission: To advocate on behalf of all Tribal Governments, American Indians, and Alaska Natives in their efforts to provide quality health care for ALL Indian people.
Conference: NIHBís 9th Annual National Tribal Public Health Summit will be May 22-24 in Prior Lake, Minnesota