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Everyone Should Lobby Congress on Indian Health

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Congress should lose no time in reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and the recent introduction of House Bill 5312 in the House of Representatives is evidence that steps are moving in that direction. But this important bill to modernize and improve the health care system for American Indians and Alaska Native communities needs all the support and all the pressure behind it that it can possibly get.

Indian Country Today’s Washington staff writer, Jerry Reynolds, reports that the 1976 law was last updated in 1992. Reauthorization is needed to help modernize health care for the nation’s least healthy population – Native people. As a Government Accountability Office report recently documented, health care in the IHS is in crisis. GAO visits to IHS facilities concluded that many of the clinics can not adequately provide mental health, dental, in-patient and substance abuse treatment. This lack of services is hurting Indian patients, families and communities.

The bill to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is needed to address elder care, mental health, diabetes, health care delivery and other urgent matters affecting the Indian people in the most destitute of situations.

A strong Washington, D.C., ally, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, reminds us that changes in the reauthorization also include “home health and hospice care services. It would also shift the emphasis of health care in Indian country from acute care to chronic care and prevention and would give greater attention to such problems as suicide and methamphetamine addiction, which require comprehensive behavioral change programs.” There are also promising developments in telemedicine and telemental health that Indian country needs to be able to incorporate.

It is a good moment for all Indian and allied activists out there to take five minutes, find the name of your congressional representatives and send them all a quick message about how important their vote is on this one. Any tribal college students willing to stimulate a letter-writing campaign? Do it on this urgent bill. Devote 10 minutes to the issue. Grasp the information and write a message. Devote an hour and discuss it with your friends; offer it to your class as a project. Indian people everywhere need to organize networks of support to pressure congress on this and other important Indian issues.

Rep. Donald Young, R-Alaska, introduced the bill in the House and, along with the only Indian in Congress, Chickasaw Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., is pushing hard to pass the legislation. Both of them need to hear from you. Urge them to make sure that tribes do not lose or “regress” from already established services. The full promise of a progressive health care system for Indian people must be fulfilled.

In the House, the Resources and Energy and Commerce committees have concurrent jurisdiction over the reauthorization bill. Their members need to be sent messages. The Senate version of the bill, S. 1057, is before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. They, too, need messages.

All members of the Congressional Native American Caucus need to be encouraged to be vocal about H.R. 5312. All readers are urged to tell the House committees to move this important bill “straight to mark-up” – straight to a committee vote, without an intervening revisionary process.

We join the National Congress of American Indians and the many other national organizations calling for a winning effort to pass a reauthorization to this law. The time is now to urge reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which will modernize health treatment and services available to Native peoples.

Take action: Ask your senators and representatives to co-sponsor and support IHCIA reauthorization bills S. 1057, introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; and H.R. 5312, introduced by Young. Contact your members of Congress for free by visiting Contact Congress and the administration:

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<b>Kudos to Basil Brave Heart</b>

Basil Brave Heart, 73, Pine Ridge Oglala, is a leading spiritual man at Sun dances and other ceremonies and is well known for his quiet, compassionate approach to life. A retired educator, Brave Heart’s adeptness at addiction recovery and his decades of counseling young and troubled people recently garnered him the Consistent Activity in Recovery in Education Award of the Hazelden Foundation.

Hazelden’s CARE award is granted each year to an individual who has provided “extraordinary service” to the Hazelden recovery community.

Brave Heart is one of those rare individuals who applies his American Indian traditional healing knowledge, while always working to improve his own knowledge of the best scientific and other healing methods.

After completing counselor training at Hazelden in 1973, Brave Heart applied his vision to help people as an administrator for school systems in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. He organized dozens of chemical dependency programs in American Indian reservation schools and throughout the northern Plains.

During his career Brave Heart trained and guided a generation of some 150 educators and others in ways of stimulating addiction recovery.

He was a founder of the Hope Lodge halfway house and developed chemical dependency treatment programs at Loneman School at Oglala and at Little Wound School at Kyle on Pine Ridge.

His innovative Circle of Hope Program was particularly successful in coalescing various professional disciplines, from reservation school administrators and counselors to parents, to reach the young and afflicted.

Brave Heart accepted the award on behalf of the Lakota Nation, saying, “This recognition goes out to all the recovering Native Americans and is a result of the grace offered me by our Creator. Sobriety is a gift I have been given by the Creator and I’m just giving it back.”

Congratulations to Basil Brave Heart, a humble man who is a great example. May the Great Spirit guide all your days.