News Release

National Indian Health Board

April 28, 2021—At today’s National Indian Health Board (NIHB) virtual National Tribal Public Health Summit, plenary guest speakers, which included an official from the Administration for Native Americans and two members of Congress, each touched on three factors that impact tribal public health: social determinants of health, health disparities and racism. 

“The many health inequities and disparities among American Indian and Alaska Native people are results of decades of racist policies and neglect of the federal trust responsibility, and I can say with certainty that the National Indian Health Board is committed to addressing the health disparities and systemic racism that impact tribal communities,” said National Indian Health Board Vice Chairman Nickolaus Lewis who is also a Councilman with the Lummi Nation and Chairman of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared racism a serious public health threat, adding that it is a driver of racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and that the epidemic revealed that racism directly impacts public health.

“The pandemic exposed many gaps in critical public health infrastructure in Indian Country and while Indian Country remains resilient and committed to solutions, National Indian Health Board asks that our federal partners continue to prioritize Indian Country in COVID relief and public health response. We remind them that federal treaty obligations to the Tribes and American Indian and Alaska Native people exist in perpetuity and must not be forgotten during this pandemic,” added National Indian Health Board Vice Chairman Lewis. 

Michelle Sauve, Acting Commissioner for the Administration for Native Americans, an agency within the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services, focused remarks on partnerships with Tribes and other federal agencies to explore and develop frameworks around the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis, social determinants of health and food sovereignty during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) also addressed the audience today and mentioned the history of the federal government’s failure to uphold trust and treaty obligations.

“Native communities in Minnesota and across the country have done an outstanding job stepping up to the challenge of navigating the public health and economic crisis of COVID-19,” said Senator Smith. “But we know that COVID-19 has not been the great equalizer, and that Native communities have been among those hardest hit. These inequities are the direct result of the federal government’s failure to live up to its treaty and trust obligations and to make the investment it has promised in tribal governments, the Indian Health Service, housing programs and public health infrastructure. I’m committed to improving the federal government’s response to COVID-19 on tribal lands and will continue to lift up tribal public health efforts and ideas for how best to move forward.”

Congressman Don Young (R-AK) echoed his colleague from the Senate and vowed to continue working with Alaska Native villages and Tribes across the country to protect women and children as well as providing better access to health services, like substance and alcohol treatment, clean water and sanitation.

“Knowing that COVID infection statistics do not favor our American Indian and Alaska Native people, it does mean that the work we do for our tribal communities is just that much more important. Together, we can slow the spread of the virus and protect our People,” said National Indian Health Board Vice Chairman Lewis.

The National Indian Health Board National Tribal Public Health Summit continues tomorrow, Thursday, April 29. View the Summit agenda at:

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About the National Indian Health Board

Founded in 1972, National Indian Health Board is a 501(c) 3 not for profit, charitable organization providing health care advocacy services, facilitating tribal budget consultation and providing timely information, and other services to all tribal governments. National Indian Health Board also conducts research, provides policy analysis, program assessment and development, national and regional meeting planning, training, technical assistance, program and project management. National Indian Health Board presents the tribal perspective while monitoring, reporting on and responding to federal legislation and regulations. It also serves as conduit to open opportunities for the advancement of American Indian and Alaska Native health care with other national and international organizations, foundations corporations and others in its quest to build support for, and advance, Indian health care issues.

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