Press Release

Contact: Jennifer Speight at
Statement on the Passing of NIHB
Tucson Area Representative Sandra Ortega
WASHINGTON, DC—April 6, 2022 – The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) offered the following statement from NIHB Chairman William Smith on the loss of NIHB Tucson Area Representative and Tohono O’Odham Nation Councilwoman Sandra Ortega.
“On behalf of the National Indian Health Board, our sympathy and prayers go out for Sandra Ortega, her family, and to all who knew Sandra. Sandra was resolute, generous and effective in her service to the Tohono O’Odham Nation and an advocate for all Tribes on the national level. She was a quiet, humble and mighty warrior for Indian country.”
Ms. Sandra Ortega passed away due to complications from diabetes. Councilwoman Ortega was a Community Health Representative (CHR) for 16 years. She served on the Tohono O’Odham Legislative Council for 21 years for the Hickiwan District. She was instrumental throughout the process of the Tribe’s struggle and ultimate victory in  achieving self-governance. Sandra’s contributions led to the Tohono O’odham Nation’s successful establishment of a Tribally-operated health system. Councilwoman Ortega served on the Cultural Preservation Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, and was Vice-Chair of Human Resources Development. Ms. Ortega served as the Tucson Area Representative to the National Indian Health Board for over a decade. She also served on the Direct Service Tribes Advisory Committee and the Tribal Advisory Committee for Community Health Aide Program (CHAP). Councilwoman Ortega spoke the O’odham language, wrote poetry and played traditional music on the harmonica.
NIHB Billings Area Representative and Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Timothy Davis remarked, “Ms. Ortega was a woman of conviction and integrity who served our Indian People with distinction honor and determination. I am thankful to have served with her on the National Indian Health Tribal Advisory Group for CHAP. Our very first meeting in Phoenix will forever be remembered. The Indian Health Service was trying to replace her beloved Community Health Representatives with the newly mandated CHAP and her eloquent and forceful “no” to that idea was profound... “You can’t spell Christmas without CHR!,” she is remembered saying.”
Councilwoman Ortega was a respected Tribal elder who offered these words as a prayer, “Everyone has a beauty, everyone has a sign that hovers over them, that shines upon them and that is coming to them from the Creator…This pandemic has brought a lot of worries and hardships and fears into the life of our people. Where there is fear, we ask for faith, where there is darkness, we ask for the Creator to enlighten us with His grace and in the darkest corners of the world, there is grace always that lights it up, we ask the same light for wisdom, for strength, for courage for each and every one.”
She is now woven into the stars and into the river of the Seven Generations and her legacy will last even longer. We are grateful that we worked shoulder-to shoulder with Sandra and that she was our friend.

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. 
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