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National Indian Health Board Outlines Tribal Heath Priorities in Testimony on the Year-in-Review of COVID-19
WASHINGTON, DC—March 23, 2021—Today, the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Chairman William Smith testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on “A Year in Review: The State of COVID-19 in American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Communities—Lessons Learned for Future Action.” Chairman Smith identified several policy priorities needed to help American Indian and Alaska Native communities protect and prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic, including full funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS), investing in water and sanitation infrastructure and expanding telehealth and behavioral health support. 
“One year ago, our Tribal communities were devastated by COVID-19 and today our Nations are still facing the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic. We remind Committee members that federal treaty obligations to the Tribes and American Indian and Alaska Native people exist in perpetuity and must not be forgotten during this public health crisis. Our treaties stand the test of time,” said NIHB Chairman Smith, who is also the Vice President of the Valdez Native Tribe of Alaska and a Vietnam veteran. “The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and there is much work still left to be done. The Tribes call on Congress to provide full funding and mandatory appropriations for the Indian Health Service. It is the most chronically underfunded federal healthcare system, and the only federal healthcare system not exempt from government shutdowns or continuing resolutions.”

According to IHS, as of March 21, 2021, there was 189,231 positive COVID-19 cases reported across all 12 IHS Areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on March 12, 2021, that American Indians and Alaska Natives were 3.7 times more likely than non-Hispanic white people to be hospitalized and 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 infection. 
Other Tribal priorities outlined in the testimony include:
  1. Provide full funding and mandatory appropriations for the Indian Health Service
  2. Prioritize Tribal water and sanitation infrastructure
  3. Increase support for Tribal mental and behavioral health
  4. Provide greater health care access and financial support for IHS, Tribal, and urban (I/T/U) facilities
  5. Create a sustainable Tribal health workforce
  6. Increase telehealth capacity in Indian Country while expanding broadband access
  7. Establish a 21st century Health Information Technology (HIT) system at IHS
  8. Expand and strengthen the government-to-government relationship with the federal government and the Tribes and expand self-governance
“Tribal government vaccine rollouts have been far outpacing their state counterparts because of jurisdiction and sovereignty. Tribes having the sovereign ability to self-determine and exercise flexibility to administer the vaccine to their citizens has resulted in higher rates of vaccinations. For instance, various Tribes in Oklahoma have opened their vaccine efforts to the greater community. This is proof that self-governance works,” said Chairman Smith.

Read the full written testimony here.

Established by the Tribes to advocate as the united voice of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, NIHB seeks to reinforce Tribal sovereignty, strengthen Tribal health systems, secure resources, and build capacity to achieve the highest level of health and well-being for our People.
National Indian Health Board | | 202-507-4070
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Reach the NIHB COVID-19 Response Team, contact
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