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News Release

National Indian Health Board

Yesterday, the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) hosted three federal agency tribal listening sessions during the pre-conference day of its virtual National Tribal Health Conference. National Indian Health Board board members, who represent 12 regional areas, led discussions with the Indian Health Service (IHS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to federal listening sessions, tribal leaders and health advocates gathered to discuss a holistic and quality approach to health equity that meets the spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health needs of indigenous people.

“The National Indian Health Board National Tribal Health Conference is an opportunity for tribal leaders and health advocates to interact with federal agency representatives and even though we’re meeting on a virtual platform this year, tribal health issues are still at the forefront, and we still expect our federal partners to address our issues and answer our questions,” said National Indian Health Board Chairman William “Bill” Smith who is the Vice President of the Valdez Native Tribe of Alaska and a Vietnam veteran. “Federal, state and tribal relations and meaningful consultations are essential when making decisions that impact our tribal communities, children and elders especially during this time of uncertainty.”

A group of Indian Health Service officials joined the listening session to each give respective updates on direct service programs, COVID-19 response, CARES Act funding and fiscal year budgets, tribal consultations, health IT and sanitation and facilities. Tribal leaders asked Indian Health Service about mandatory funding, advanced appropriations and reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

“The Indian Health Service appreciates the opportunity to participate in today’s listening session. It is valuable to hear from all tribal leaders and people working in the tribal health field. You all tell us where we should put our focus,” said Indian Health Service Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler.

During the Veterans Affairs listening session,  Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough assured tribal leaders that his team is dedicated to working with tribes and tribal organizations to improve healthcare services to veterans at all stages of their life, including strengthening the Memorandum of Understanding, identifying “contracted travel” for reimbursements and establishing a  Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Board.

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“Indian Country always has a seat at the table with the  Department of Veterans Affairs. Those promises once broken will no longer be broken. The  Department of Veterans Affairs intends to fulfill its obligation to veterans with the same fidelity and loyalty they had when they served,” said Sec. McDonough. “For generations our country has not served American Indian and Alaska Native veterans well and it’s my job to change that, it’s  Department of Veterans Affairs’s job to change that, and with your help, we can change that.”

Dr. Jose Montero, Director of the Center for State Tribe, Local, and Territorial Support with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) answered questions from tribal leaders about funding streams that flow directly to tribes, strategy around vaccine hesitancy and meaningful tribal engagement during a listening session that included other CDC officials such as Dr. Melinda Wharton, Associate Director for Vaccine Policy, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease; Dr. Erin Tromble, CDC's Vaccine Task Force Chief Medical Officer; and Mark Stenger, Lead Tribal Support Section.

The listening session on national health equity was interactive and included presentations from leading experts in the field but the highlight of the session was the participant breakout discussions and regrouping to share different meanings of health equity. The groups looked at health equity from various angles that included tribal sovereignty, food sovereignty, cultural approaches, connectivity and broadband, improvement of data collection and stronger state-tribal relations. Experts who led the session were Dr. Donald Warne, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Director of the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) at the University of North Dakota; Bette Jacobs, professor in the department of health systems administration at Georgetown University; and National Indian Health Board CEO Stacy A. Bohlen.

Visit National Indian Health Board - YouTube to watch the listening sessions.

National Indian Health Board’s annual National Tribal Health Conference officially starts tomorrow, October 5 with an opening plenary session featuring U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm, Indian Health Service Acting Director Fowler and sharing their work on health equity is the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Chair, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith and Tribal Representative, Victor Joseph from the Native Village of Tanana of Alaska. See the full conference agenda at: Conference Agenda - 2021 National Tribal Health Conference (

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National Tribal Health Conference, October 4-8, 2021 - banner graphic