Vaccines: 'We know our population and our patients'

Start your Monday off with with IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler explaining her vision for vaccinations. National Correspondent Joaqlin Estus talks about new opportunities in higher education in Alaska.
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Indian Country has been a leader in vaccination plans. The Indian Health Service is central to that progress. 

Elizabeth Fowler, Comanche, is acting director of the Indian Health Service, an agency within the U.S Department of Health and Human services. 

Diversity in education is a topic that has focused on students, curriculum and leadership.

Joaqlin Estus is our national correspondent based in Anchorage and she joins us now to talk about how that’s being played out at the University of Alaska, the University of Alaska Anchorage and even at Ilisagvik tribal college in Utquiagvik, Alaska. 

A slice of our Indigenous world 

  • San Diego County is lifting its ban that prevented 18 federally recognized tribes from expanding their reservations.
  •  The successful return of lamprey eels to the Snake River Basin in Idaho, is thanks to one tribe’s efforts. 
  • A Indigenous student has won an international award for finding a way to extract rare earth metals without hurting the environment.
  • In Canada, a young Mohawk student is moving schools after being forced to stand for the Canadian national anthem.
  • One year after the country closed down due to the coronavirus, the Sacred Pipe Resource Center is coaxing Native Americans out of pandemic hibernation.
  • Fifty years ago this year the federal government’s experiment with termination was crushed at the ballot box on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state.

(Related: The election that ended termination)

Some quoted from today's show:

Elizabeth Fowler 

"IHS has responded aggressively and proactively. I think it highlights the challenges that we face in Indian Country in terms of the remoteness of our locations, the under investment in funding for our Indian health care programs or Indian healthcare system. And it also highlighted our strengths with our vaccine effort, meaning that the successes that we've seen have been really a showcase of the work that we do every day. The primary health care that we provide, and the fact that tribes and our local facilities had flexibility in making decisions really because they know their communities best really helped to achieve the effectiveness of that vaccine effort”.

"Really in reflecting on how the vaccines rolled out and how we were able to accomplish vaccination so quickly has to do with the fact that one, we know our population or patient population, but also our patient population knows us. They know how to access healthcare through us, the vaccines that were delivered through the state health departments, you know, there are so many people out there who access healthcare in different ways, other than state health departments. And so I think you know, that was a bit of a challenge for them. Whereas for us, they're used to accessing care through our facilities and our sites, and it was just a natural fit for us”.

Joaqlin Estus 

"She explained that there are a couple of barriers for Native Americans. One is that they, we, we tend to focus on topics having to do with our own tribe or with Native Americans in general. And those are not topics that get picked up by mainstream journals. And there's not a lot of credibility or weight or value attached to some, some of those topics or to unpaid work. For instance, if somebody is an advocate for justice or equity, that kind of thing. And so she said that one of the things that could change that picture is if universities redefined the qualifications for academic leaders and give more weight to managerial experience, give more weight to people's experience at, at their tribe. For instance, and for that unpaid advocacy and that they give more value to non western thinking in as far as academic topics go."

(Read more: Indigenizing the universities)

"They cut most of their sports programs, some other programs and students were, and they laid off people, laid off staff and faculty and students got worried that they were not going to be able to get the classes they needed to complete their majors and graduate. So some transfers and enrollment dropped and there were even fears about the loss of accreditation, which didn't happen. So then you had loss of leadership, the University of Alaska president resigned and the university of Alaska Anchorage chancellor resigned on top of that. We had a 7.1 magnitude earthquake here in Anchorage and then came the pandemic. So, there are more budget cuts coming. So if Pearl Brower is selected, whoever is selected, they're going to be taken over at a very difficult time in her fight in her interview with the selection committee, Brower emphasizes the opportunities. And she said that there are opportunities for shared governance for partnerships to grow research and enrollment. So she really put a positive light on things.”

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. 

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today. Based in Anchorage, Alaska, she is a longtime journalist. Follow her on Twitter @estus_m or email her at

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