WASHINGTON – The lack of funding for the federal Indian Health Service is a function of the failure to honor treaty obligations never more evident than in the disproportionate and extreme impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in Indian country, according to testimony offered to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
on July 17.
National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Acting Chair William Smith from the Valdez Native Tribe of Alaska testified before the commission in a virtual public briefing, entitled: Covid-19 in Indian Country: The Impact of Federal Broken Promises on Native Americans.
“The indigenous experience with Covid-19 affirms that colonization continues to function according to its design,” Smith said. “The most obvious problem is the underfunding of the Indian Health Service, which is the only federal healthcare system created as the result of treaty obligations and is the most chronically underfunded federal healthcare system.”
Smith spoke on a panel including Geoffrey Blackwell, Chief Strategy Officer, AMERINDRisk; Chief Lynn Malerba, Secretary, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.; Jonathan Nez, President, Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President; Fawn Sharp, President, National Congress of American Indians, and Francys Crevier, Executive Director, National Council of Urban Indian Health.
He did not limit his criticism to IHS funding shortages, but also discussed the government’s, paternalistic reluctance to expand self-determination and self-governance policies across the spectrum of federal agencies.
“This coronavirus disease continues to disproportionately ravage the disempowered among us and Indian country is right at its center. But to understand what is happening to tribes, America must first insist on an honest reckoning of history, for what we are seeing today, is indeed, the offspring of colonization,” Smith said.
“The United States must revolutionize its approach to tribal nations and break new ground by truly honoring its trust and treaty obligations. A good first step is making massive and sustained investment in rebuilding tribal communities and health systems in its response to Covid-19,” he said.
The U.S. healthcare system spends about $9,409 per year for one American’s health – unless that American be native. The system spends just $3,779 per year for one American Indian or Alaska Native person’s health, he noted.
According to the Government Accountability Office, from 2013 to 2017, the IHS annual spending increased by roughly 18 percent, while spending under Medicare and Medicaid increased by 22 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
Contact Talli Nauman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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