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NIHB celebrates life of

Cathy Abramson, former

chairwoman and leader 

Cathy (McCoy) Abramson, Ogitch’da, (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians)

The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) is deeply saddened by the passing of our former Board Chair, Cathy Abramson. Her commitment to her Tribe, NIHB, and Indian Country, are not defined by just the years that she served in official positions. She was a lifelong leader and advocate who readily listened and accepted the call to step forward to lead. She was a mentor and supporter of fellow leaders, especially Native women as she experienced and recognized the unique challenges they face.

Cathy was passionate about the health and wellbeing of our people. She was appointed to the National Indian Health Board in 2009 as representative from the Bemidji region and then elected as Chairperson in 2013. As Chair of NIHB, she urged Congress to exempt the Indian Health Service from further automatic cuts and restore funding, to stop leaving the first people of this land last in opportunity. She fought for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) and was persistent in advocating across the federal government for greater investment in Tribal health, reminding the government of their trust obligation for Tribal health is with the entire federal government, not just with Indian Health Services (IHS).

NIHB annually highlights some of the great health work occurring throughout Indian Country. The highest-level award is the Jake White Crow Award, which recognizes an individual with outstanding lifetime achievements in elevating health care advocacy, raising awareness, or affecting change for American Indian and Alaska Native Health care. In 2016, Cathy Abramson received the Jake White Crow Award from NIHB. She was chosen for her extensive advocacy and service over the last three decades. She also received the IHS Director’s Special Recognition Award in Tribal Leadership and Partnership in 2013.

Additionally, Cathy served as an inaugural committee member of the Health and Human Services Secretary Tribal Advisory Council (HHS STAC). She then became the first female chair of STAC by unanimous vote. Cathy also served on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tribal Advisory Board and on the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee.

Cathy was actively involved with her region and with her Tribe, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, serving on her Tribal Council and an active citizen.

Even when her own health started challenging her, she didn’t let that stop her and she continued to support others and share her tremendous knowledge with those that would sit with her and listen. 

Cathy's tenure at NIHB and as an advocate for her people undeniably left a lasting positive impact on health in Indian Country. She led with grace and strength, she cared greatly about our youth, and was a fierce mentor for Native women.

We are extremely grateful to her loving family for sharing her with all of us. We know the sacrifices she had to make as a leader are not just her own and are thankful that she had support at home. Our prayers are with her family and all who loved her. 

National Indian Health Board | | 202-507-4070

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For media inquiries, contact Ned Johnson at [email protected].

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