By Ben Smith, Director, Office of Tribal Self-Governance
This week, I traveled to Hamilton, New Zealand, to join more than 1,000 Indigenous peoples from around the world at the seventh gathering of the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide conference to present and share the lessons learned in the United States about the IHS Tribal Self-Governance Program.
I presented on a panel titled, “40 Years Later: The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Advancing Innovative and New Opportunities to Achieve Health Equity for American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
I shared examples of how American Indians and Alaska Natives have developed successful and innovative solutions and approaches to address health disparities towards achieving equity in health care for Native people. Tribes and Tribal organizations involved in the IHS Tribal Self-Governance Program have been at the forefront of these developments. They have led the way in communicating and providing outreach to educate Tribes and others about the unique opportunities these laws offer.
Forty years ago, in 1975, President Richard Nixon signed into law the historic Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which changed options for Tribal governments to provide services and programs, including health care to their citizens.
In 2010, President Barack Obama further enhanced options to provide more and culturally appropriate health care to American Indian and Alaska Native people when he signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I discussed the complex political, legal and programmatic framework that has unfolded over the past 40 years and how these two historic laws have changed the face of health care delivery to the Indigenous peoples in the United States.
In recognition of these efforts, in January 2015, Self-Governance Tribes were awarded the Director of the Indian Health Service “Special Recognition Award” for their National Indian Health Outreach and Education Initiative.
The Healing Our Spirit Worldwide movement began as one person’s vision to create an international forum and movement focused on the alcohol and drug abuse issues and programs in Indigenous communities throughout the global community. Maggie Hodgson, a Carriere First Nation woman, began her lobbying efforts with the International Congress on Alcohol and Addictions and the World Health Organization in the late 1980s. In 1990, the International Congress on Alcohol and Addictions included a special track on Indigenous addiction issues at their Berlin Conference. Attended by Indigenous peoples of Canada, New Zealand and Australia, this forum led to a discussion that became the foundation for an international healing movement. The Department of Health and Human Services, Indian Health Service has been an active participant in these gatherings since the early 1990s.