WASHINGTON, DC – September 26, 2022 – The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) 39th Annual National Tribal Health Conference - THE POWER OF IDENTITY: A PATH TO TRIBAL HEALTH EQUITY kicked off today at the Hyatt Regency - Capitol Hill, to continue developing better and more equitable Tribal solutions to address barriers that prevent access to high-quality care and improved health outcomes.
The National Tribal Health Conference explores health policy, Tribal health equity, and its impact on American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) Tribal nations. The annual conference advances Tribal capacity to influence federal law and policies and serves as a forum to discuss Tribal health care, public, behavioral, and environmental health, and legislative and policy priorities. “We are pleased to welcome everyone back to an in-person format to celebrate our 50th year as the National Indian Health Board. We encourage everyone to show their Act of Love and stress the importance of all COVID-19 safety measures in place and invite you to choose whether you wear a mask. This year’s conference promises to inform, assist, and move Indian Healthcare equitable into the future,” said William Smith, NIHB Chairman.
Day one began with the Opening Plenary Session for the 800+ conference attendees from across Indian County. The Lumbee Warriors association made up the color guard and posted colors to open the conference. Also on hand was Kyle Swann a member of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe to provide a land acknowledgment. The ancestral homelands of the Piscataway people make up what we now know as Washington, DC. NIHB Chairman William Smith and CEO, Stacy A. Bohlen provided warm welcomes to conference goers, informing everyone that every treaty Tribes made with the United States all include health in one manner or another.
Presentations in the Opening Plenary Session included a discussion with Principal Deputy Administrator, Jon Blum from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Leadership. In a question-and-answer session moderated by W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Chairman and Tribal Technical Advisory Group (TTAC). CMS is largely focused on advancing health equity by addressing the health disparities that underlie the health care system. Deputy Blum addressed conference attendees, “The mission of CMS is to reorientate to serve CMS customers and stakeholders better. We are reorganizing to become a stronger, trusted partner to promote health equity throughout all our programs”.
The next Opening Plenary Session was titled, Advancing Equity and Racial Justice Through the Federal Government. The update from the Biden-Harris Administration was delivered by Anthony Morgan Rodman the Executive Director of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, the council is co-chaired by Secretary Deb Haaland and Susan Rice. His update touched on the council’s pillars to strengthen federal Tribal engagement through Tribal consultations and their annual Tribal Summit. They used the power of their identity not just for their own work, but to inspire others.”
The White House Council in Native American Affairs is striving to coordinate across agencies, set a pattern for better work policies, and have a deeper understanding for the Tribal nations they serve. Executive Director Rodman expressed, “Gratitude for all the Tribal leaders who embrace the power of their identity in environments that don’t always welcome them. We, native people, belong here, we deserve to be here, and we are just getting started.”
An update from the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) was delivered by Acting Deputy Director, Dr. Rose Weahkee and focused on how the agency is working to achieve its mission to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of AI/ANs to the highest level by delivering quality comprehensive health services. “There has never been a better time to push Native American issues forward than now,” said Dr. Weahklee to an attentive audience. She encouraged conference goers to network and have important conversations to affect change and progress in advancing health equity.
The Power of Identity: A Path to Tribal Health Equity, a panel led by Dr. Alicia Mousseau had a focus on prevalent health care discrepancies that can be addressed through partnership with IHS. Dr. Mousseau said, “The effects of colonization on our people created a trauma that is real and we need to be prepared to address these needs by challenging western ways of knowledge and look to our traditional ways for guidance.” Equity is different from equality was another reminder set forward by the panel. “Health Equity means Healing our land, and people and we are getting the resources we need,” said Nickolaus Lewis (Lummi Nation), NIHB Vice Chairman.
The final presentation for the Opening Plenary Session was Honoring our Past, Preparing for our Future with a panel of Former IHS Directors and NIHB Chairpersons. moderated by NIHB Chairman William Smith and NIHB Great Plains Representative, Victoria Kitcheyan. The panelists included former IHS Directors and former NIHB Chairpeople. “The importance of Tribal hospitals and clinics and continuing to fund the improvements and maintenance of them,” said Cathy Abramson, NIHB, Former Chair.
CEO Bohlen, said, “The years of combined experience of the former Healthcare Directors and Chairpersons are highly valued as a way to remember where we started as an organization. We must always remember what is critical in Indian healthcare as we plan for the next seven generations”. NIHB Vice Chairman Lewis provided closing remarks sending conference attendees on their way with open minds and good hearts.
An IHS Listening Session was held for Tribal leaders to inform HIS of their priorities related to the provision of health services to Indian Country. IHS provided updates on recent consultation and confer activities. As part of this Listening Session, IHS invited the audience to share input and recommendations where Tribal leaders encouraged IHS to hear the voices of our Tribal people.
Afternoon workshops were focused on tracks regarding Health equity; Transformational Policy Change to Achieve Health Equity, Beyond Health Care: A Holistic Approach to Health Equity, Leveraging Tribal Resources for Health Equity, Respecting Tribal Sovereignty: A Path to Accelerating Tribal Health Equity, and Honoring our Past, Preparing for our Future.
Tuesday, September 27 starts early with Tribal Leaders and Healthcare Directors from across the country meeting in their respective area caucus meetings. Following is the plenary session. Presentations include those on Tribal Health Equity: Understanding Health Outcomes and How to Make Change. Secretary Denis McDonough will be in attendance to deliver the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Update. Additional morning panel topics focus on advancements in policy and funding sources as a path to Tribal Healthcare Equity.