News Release

U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led an oversight hearing, “Examining the COVID-19 Response in Native Communities: Native Health Systems One Year Later.” The committee heard from the Indian Health Service’s Chief Medical Officer Michael Toedt, National Indian Health Board Chairperson William Smith, National Council of Urban Indian Health Board President Walter Murillo, Papa Ola Lōkahi Executive Director Sheri-Ann Daniels, and Alaska Native Medical Center Administrator Robert Onders.

In his opening statement, Schatz underscored the hard work Native health systems have done over the past year to fight the pandemic in their communities with limited federal resources.

“Despite decades of underfunding and almost zero access to critical pieces of our national public health infrastructure, Native health systems did their best to rise to the challenge. In short order, these systems mobilized and set up one of the most complex joint public health emergency responses in our shared histories,” said Chairman Schatz. “It took a global pandemic for us to step up: over the past year, Congress provided over $9 billion dollars in emergency health supplemental funding for Tribes, urban Indian organizations, the Indian Health Service, and Native Hawaiian Health Systems. Two-thirds of that funding has come as a direct result of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and this Committee’s work to enact it. This historic funding is proof positive that help is here. That we understand our trust responsibilities. That we can do the right thing. But this hearing is an opportunity to go one step further. To look at the lessons learned one year later, and to improve how federal agencies work with Native communities.”

To view the full video of the hearing, click here.

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