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Posted: October 15, 2020


National Indian Health Board Honors Heroes in Health at Annual Awards Gala

WASHINGTON, DC—October 15, 2020—In a year packed with change and uncertainty, the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) was pleased to recognize and honor, in a virtual setting, a group of Tribal health leaders, providers and advocates during its Heroes in Health Awards Gala on October 14 at NIHB’s National Tribal Health Conference. NIHB presented 36 awards in the categories of Local Impact, Area/Regional Impact, National Impact, Youth Leadership and the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Jake Whitecrow Award.

“This year’s Heroes in Health Award recipients are an exceptional group that, in the face of a global pandemic that has entered their homes and communities, have risen to a level of service that is far beyond outstanding. With COVID-19 dominating much of our lives these days, it’s important, now more than ever, that we share stories of resilience and perseverance across Indian Country,” said NIHB CEO Stacy A. Bohlen. “As Tribal health professionals and citizens, we have seen the devastating impacts of COVID-19 but we have also witnessed kindness, selflessness and extreme acts of love. That is the place where our best work comes from – the heart. On behalf of the NIHB Board of Directors, I give our deepest gratitude and congratulations to all the award winners and continued blessings to their communities and the people they serve.”


2020 Jake Whitecrow Lifetime Achievement Award

The Jake Whitecrow Award, in memoriam of the founder of the National Indian Health Board, recognizes an individual with outstanding lifetime achievements in elevating health care advocacy, raising awareness or affecting positive change for Native health care. This year’s award was given posthumously to the late Michael D. Mahsetky of the Comanche Nation who was the former Director of Congressional and Legislative Affairs with the Indian Health Service (IHS).

Mr. Mahsetky was nominated for his leadership and keen legislative insight by former colleagues, including former Indian Health Service (IHS) Director Dr. Charles Grim who gave a heartfelt message, “I relied on him much when I was director of the Indian Health Service and I know that was the same with anyone who has every needed him in all roles he played throughout his life. I hate that he isn’t here today in-person to accept this award. If he were here, I would thank him for what he did for me personally and for all of Indian Country, all the battles we fought hard including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act that had positive impacts on millions of American Indian and Alaska Native lives. What’s a little sad is that most of these people will never have heard of Mike Mahsetky and realize the impact of his life’s work on their lives. But that’s the way with heroes, their work often goes unsung. Michael would say that we didn’t do it for the recognition, we did it to make our people’s lives better and give them more opportunities for the future and because it was the right thing to do.”

Mr. Mahsetky’s wife Eve sent a message on behalf of the family. “We appreciate the honor bestowed upon Michael. Michael’s passion was always for improving the quality of Indian health in Tribal communities and we are grateful for this posthumous award that will honor his legacy. To his many Friends and Colleagues, thank you for your friendship and for your tireless advocacy and work. This work and his relationships with you fueled his drive to work in this field. Thank you, National Indian Health Board, for remembering Michael and may you continue in your endeavors to bring awareness to issues on Indian health.”

2020 Youth Leadership Award

Each year, NIHB awards a young American Indian or Alaska Native for their leadership and outstanding efforts to increase the quality of health care, public health services or awareness of health issues within their peer group or community on a local or national level. This year’s Youth Leadership Award went to Emelia Pino from the Pueblo of Zia for her selfless acts of kindness and coordinating food distribution drives after COVID-19 hit her small community.

2020 National Impact Award

All honorees were nominated by their peers from across the nation. NIHB had the privilege of honoring six individuals or organizations with the National Impact Award for their tireless efforts in improving the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

  • Dr. Donald Warne
  • Dr. Winifred Booker
  • Indian Health Service, Division of Environmental Health Services
  • National Council of Urban Indian Health
  • Native American Research Internship, Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline

“StrongHearts Native Helpline is honored that our important role in addressing the domestic violence crisis in Tribal communities has been acknowledged with this prestigious award,” said StrongHearts Director Lori Jump.

“The National Council of Urban Indian Health is honored to receive this award for our work on COVID-19. Since February, NCUIH has been fighting to ensure that all of Indian Country receives the necessary resources to combat this pandemic that is killing our people every single day. Due to our advocacy, resources for urban Indians were included in all legislation addressing COVID-19. We will continue to hold this Administration and Congress to their trust and treaty obligations,” said NCUIH CEO Francys Crevier.

2020 Area and Regional Impact Award

This year NIHB acknowledged eight individuals and organizations with the Area and Regional Impact Award. Their respective work has affected change or impacted health care and public health services for their entire IHS Service Area or region.

  • Alaska Area – Alaska Blanket Exercise Program
  • Albuquerque Area – Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center (AASTEC)
  • Billings Area – Emily Salois
  • California Area – Wendy Schlater
  • Nashville Area – United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.
  • Navajo Area – Dr. Jill Jim
  • Phoenix Area – JT Nashio
  • Portland Area – Toni Lodge

“[This is] a much-deserved recognition for our fearless leader Toni Lodge of the NATIVE Project,” said NATIVE Project Chief Operations Officer Maureen Rosette.

“The Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center is truly humbled to receive this award in recognition of our team’s COVID-19 response efforts in partnership with the 27 Tribal communities that we serve. We know there is still a tremendous challenge ahead of us, but remain deeply committed to continuing this important work alongside so many other dedicated individuals, programs, and communities working tirelessly to protect the health and wellness of American Indian people throughout our country,” said Kevin English, DrPH, Director of the Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center with the Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board, Inc.

“In my work and role as a two-spirit Native relative to everyone, I always strive to develop safe, uplifting and life affirming programs and policies with our Avellaka team staff and community by serving in the footsteps of our people’s traditional teachings and values. I am honored to receive the NIHB Area Impact Award on both their and my behalf,” said Wendy Schlater, La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians Tribal Vice-Chairwoman and Director of the Avellaka Program Director.

2020 Local Impact Award
  • Alaska Area – John Washington
  • Alaska Area – Norton Sound Health Corporation Pharmacy Department
  • Albuquerque Area – Bernadette Analla
  • Albuquerque Area – Iris Reano
  • Bemidji Area – Mariah Norwood
  • Bemidji Area – Ho-Chunk Health Care Center Medical Services Team
  • California Area – Leticia Gonzales
  • Great Plains Area – Monique Runnels
  • Great Plains Area – Danelle Smith
  • Nashville Area – Vickie Bradley
  • Navajo Area – Navajo Community Health Representative Outreach Program
  • Navajo Area – Zoel Zohnnie
  • Oklahoma City Area – Amanda Wyatt
  • Oklahoma City Area – Choctaw Nation Health COVID-19 Response Team
  • Oklahoma City Area – Choctaw Nation Food and Nutrition Services Department
  • Phoenix Area – Gila River Indian Community COVID 19 Taskforce
  • Phoenix Area – Rainbow Treatment Center
  • Phoenix Area – San Carlos Apache Tribe – Alternate Care Site
  • Portland Area – Rochelle Ferry
  • Portland Area – Cow Creek Health and Wellness Center

NIHB gives special thanks to special guest Than-Povi Martinez, prima ballerina from the Pueblo of San Ildelfonso, who performed a unique dance piece in honor of the award recipients, and William Coffey, former Chairman of the Comanche Nation, who provided the blessings. The Heroes In Health Awards Gala was sponsored by: MedscapeBeWellNM and Southern Plains Tribal Health Board.

View the digital program here.
Social media information:
  • Facebook: /NIHB1972
  • Twitter: @NIHB1
  • Hashtags: #NIHB #NTHC2020 #healthytribalcommunities #IndianCountry #Nativehealth #ReauthorizeSDPI #ActofLove #WalkwithNIHB


National Indian Health Board Mission Statement
Established by the Tribes to advocate as the united voice of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, NIHB seeks to reinforce Tribal sovereignty, strengthen Tribal health systems, secure resources, and build capacity to achieve the highest level of health and well-being for our People.
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