Special News for Indian Country: NIHB Travels to Geneva to Support Indigenous Health

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND— National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Chairman William Smith testified July 18 about the importance of culture in healing for Indigenous People at the 16th Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“NIHB’s sole commitment and focus is to the health care and public health for all American Indian and Alaska Native Peoples. That includes the work of healing our Peoples and our Nations,” said Smith, a citizen of the EYAK Tribe in the Alaska Village of Valdez. “That work cannot succeed without restoration of language and culture, and healing from colonization.  Our very concepts of what it is to be healthy are rooted in our cultures, languages and in in our shared and individual histories. Without standing in the full knowledge and understanding of the impact colonization has defined in all indigenous experience, we will not know health. We will not heal.”

In April, NIHB supported the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ (UNPFII) adoption of the Indigenous Determinants of Health (IDH), a paper written by an International Working Group that included NIHB and designed as a tool to help UN Member States understand the social determinants of health as they relate to Indigenous Peoples. In May, at the 76th World Health Assembly, NIHB supported the World Health Organization’s (WHO) adoption of the IDH.


Now, NIHB is focused on ensuring these organizations continue to listen to Indigenous Peoples to create further recommendations on health.


“The adoption of the IDH by the UN Permanent Forum and the WHO are important first steps to healing for all Indigenous Peoples, but now the hard work begins” said Bohlen, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. “Our health has been decimated by colonization across the world and this work must include culture and Member States must listen and follow the recommendations made by their Indigenous Peoples. "



The Seventy-Sixth World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on Indigenous Health, including developing a global action plan by 2026. The content of the resolution and its strongly supported by the normative framework and advice as included in Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)’s study on the “Right to health and Indigenous Peoples with a focus on children and youth” (2016). The latter is EMRIP’s first study focusing on the right to health. However, it builds on previous studies focusing on (a) access to justice and the health of Indigenous women and Indigenous peoples with disabilities (A/HRC/27/65); (b) health implications for Indigenous peoples of disaster risk reduction initiatives (A/HRC/27/66) and (c) the importance of indigenous cultures and languages for the health of indigenous peoples (A/HRC/21/53).

The WHA resolution and EMRIP’s studies are, likewise, aligned and supported by the work of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) throughout its history. UNPFII Members have acknowledged the importance and need for a global policy on Indigenous health adopted by the WHO in addition to the Pan-American Health Organization’s (PAHO) mandate for the Americas. In 2022, the UNPFII final report called for a Member Study regarding “Indigenous Determinants of Health (IDH) in the 2030 Agenda” to identify key challenges and opportunities for advancing Indigenous health and well-being globally. The final IDH study, released in 2023, reflects the voices and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples from around the world and offers a framework and recommendations for improving the health of all Indigenous Peoples.

NIHB has supported global Indigenous Rights for over a decade, including the mobilization of local community leaders to urge the US government to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP in 2010). NIHB has actively participated in UNPFII’s sessions and contributed to the IDH study. Its leadership adopted a resolution in May 2023 supporting the 76th WHA’s resolution on Indigenous Health, which shows both its commitment to the health of Indigenous Peoples globally and a practical example of the instrumentation of global instruments at the national level to support the well-being of Indigenous Peoples.

National Indian Health Board | www.nihb.org | 202-507-4070

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

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