Blog Posts Related to the Native American Community

  • Together We Must Face the Challenge of HIV/AIDS in Native American Communities

    March 20, 2010 is the fourth annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  It is a day to renew our commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS and to challenge the stigma surrounding the disease by increasing awareness of the risk factors for infection.  I know that many people are uncomfortable talking about HIV and AIDS, but progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS depends on our knowing the basic facts about transmission as well as on increasing American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) access to HIV testing and comprehensive health services. 

    Even though AI/AN HIV/AIDS cases comprise less than 1 percent of total cases in the U.S., AI/AN communities are disproportionately impacted by the disease.  American Indians and Alaska Natives have a 40% higher rate of AIDS than non-Hispanic white Americans, and the AIDS rate among Native women is 2.8 times that of non-Hispanic white women.  AI/AN communities experience significant health disparities and face high rates of substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections, which increase the risk of HIV transmission.  Additionally, many American Indians and Alaska Natives, like other Americans, do not know that they are infected and are therefore more likely to spread the disease.  Together, we must continue to expand access to confidential testing in both urban and rural areas.  As a Nation and within our Indian health system, our promotion of routine HIV screening combined with AI/AN community acceptance is helping to reduce stigma and confidentiality concerns.

    To be effective, HIV/AIDS prevention programs must also be culturally sensitive.  Current programs in Indian Country, therefore, are focusing on traditional teachings and the importance of community.  The Phoenix Indian Medical Center, Gallup Indian Medical Center and Alaska Native Medical Center are just a few examples of comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs involving HIV prevention programs and treatment and care services.  Smaller service units and urban facilities such as Pine Ridge, SD and South Dakota Urban Indian Health are also expanding HIV testing services and experiencing positive community acceptance - a much needed effect to help reduce stigma surrounding HIV. 

    In addition to increasing the availability of culturally sensitive HIV testing and prevention programs in rural communities, we must work to overcome the barriers keeping American Indians and Alaska Natives from obtaining needed care and treatment.  Towards that effort, the Indigenous HIV/AIDS Research Training (IHART) program, designed specifically for Indigenous and other underrepresented ethnic minority (UREM) scholars, mentors and trains AI/AN and UREM scholars to design culturally grounded research that will contribute to ameliorating health disparities among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the areas of HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, and mental health.  The IHART program nurtures the grant making skills of AI/AN tribal, community, and university-based scholars and incorporates culturally specific Native epistemologies, methodologies, and research protocols.  Increasing the ranks of AI/AN and UREM scientists conducting culturally grounded research will generate information that can guide effective future prevention and intervention programs.

    The White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) is also joining the fight against the epidemic.  ONAP is currently developing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy with input from the public and from agency partners, including the Indian Health Service, to more effectively address the epidemic.  Participation from stakeholders, including tribal leaders, will be necessary to ensure that all affected populations benefit from the implementation of the National Strategy.  Together we must confront the high rates of poverty, drug use, mental health issues, high-risk sexual behaviors, and violence, which increase the risk of HIV transmission and limit individuals’ ability to access services.

    Raising awareness about HIV/AIDS is only the first step in overcoming this public health crisis.  Today, we honor the efforts of those working to improve the lives of AI/AN people living with HIV/AIDS, including the dedicated staff at IHS, tribal, and urban Indian health facilities. 

    As we move forward, it is important that we continue to empower AI/AN communities in rural and urban areas to reduce new infections and increase the availability and accessibility of culturally competent care.

    Kimberly Teehee is Senior Policy Advisor of Native American Affairs for the White House Domestic Policy Council

  • For Native American Women, a Triumph of Justice

    All Americans should be heartened by the recent announcement that the Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, is strengthening its commitment to fighting crimes of violence against Native American women.

    As part of broader DOJ reforms to dramatically improve public safety in tribal communities, the Attorney General recognized that though there is no "quick fix," we "must continue our efforts with federal, state, and tribal partners to identify solutions to the challenges we face."  After holding listening sessions with tribal leaders across the nation, he directed all 44 U.S. Attorneys' Offices with federally recognized tribes in their districts to reinvigorate efforts to combat and prosecute violent crime, particularly against women and children. And he announced an additional $6 million to hire Assistant United States Attorneys—and additional victim specialists—to assist with the ever-growing Indian Country caseload.

    After all, for Native American women, even "challenges" may be an understatement. On some reservations, violent crime is more than twenty times the national average—but women tend to suffer most. Some tribes face murder rates against Native American women of more than ten times the national average. And tribal leaders say there are countless more victims of domestic violence and sexual assault whose stories may never be told. As President Obama put it at the White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5, "the shocking and contemptible fact that one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes is an assault on our national conscience that we can no longer ignore."

    The White House strongly supports efforts to strengthen the capability of law enforcement to address public safety needs on reservations, including the announced Justice Department reforms and the Tribal Law and Order Act. That's why at the Tribal Nations Conference, he commended Attorney General Holder for his efforts to ensure greater safety in tribal communities and thanked Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan and Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin for their leadership on this important issue.

    In his memorandum to U.S. Attorneys, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden explained why the federal government has a responsibility to address the endemic pattern of abuse, assault, and other violence that reservations across the United States face every day. Our unique legal relationship with Native American tribes mandates it. And the 1994 Violence Against Women Act authored by Vice President Biden calls for it. But our national conscience also demands justice.

    Only now, we can finally come to expect it, too.

    Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women

  • Tribal Input and Agency Plans to Implement the Executive Order on Tribal Consultation

    Ed. Note: the list of agency contacts below was updated on January 6, 2010.

    As part of the President Obama's commitment to regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with federally recognized Indian tribes, we are pleased to update you on the implementation of the Presidential Memorandum on Tribal Consultation, which the President signed during the White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5, 2009. The President directed federal agencies to develop plans to implement Executive Order 13175, "Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments." These plans are to be developed after consultation with Indian tribes and must be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget by February 3, 2010.   

    Through interagency coordination and other methods, agencies are presently seeking input from tribal leaders. For example, the Department of the Interior initiated a series of consultations starting on December 1, 2009.  The Department of Justice is conducting teleconference calls with tribes; please visit their website for a complete schedule of calls. Through national conference calls and in writing, the Department of Homeland Security is requesting tribal input on a draft consultation policy and a plan. The Department of Veterans Affairs is also requesting written tribal input. The Department of Labor will be hosting two national consultations; more details can be found on their website.

    Please communicate with the agencies directly for more information, and please click here (pdf) if you would like the latest list of agency contacts. 

    For general questions, please email GeneralTribalIGA@dsr.eop.gov. We encourage you to participate in these ongoing discussions, and we look forward to working together to strengthen the Nation-to-Nation relationship.

    Jodi Gillette is with the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Clearing Up a Few Myths on Health Insurance Reform and the Indian Health Service

    I wanted to record this new video for the "Reality Check" site and write this post to debunk the myth that the Indian Health Service (IHS) is a government health plan gone wrong.  It is truly unfortunate that recent press stories seek to scare Americans about health insurance reform by highlighting the IHS system.

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    First, the IHS system is not an insurance plan.  And comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges.  IHS provides comprehensive health care services to approximately 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives living on or near reservations in 35 states.  Some of these health services include doctor visits and check-ups, dental and vision care, diabetes prevention and treatment, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and home health care.  IHS also helps construct hospitals and clinics and provides safe drinking water and sanitation facilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives.  Health insurance, by contrast, provides individuals a guarantee to a defined set of benefits for a price.  While the IHS accepts insurance payments for care it provides, it is not an insurance plan.

    Second, national health reform will not dismantle IHS.  American Indians and Alaska Natives will continue to have access to their Indian health service facilities. And third, while Indian health has been is historically underfunded, several tribes have developed innovative and award winning approaches to provide health care to their communities. These sites serve as successful models for other rural and public health programs.  President Obama supports IHS which is why he proposed a 13% increase in the FY 2010 budget, and invested $590 million in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.          

    Kimberly Teehee is Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council.