I had the pleasure of attending The National Indian Health Board’s (NIHB), National Tribal Nations Annual Health Conference and 33rd Annual Consumer Conference, in Scottsdale, AZ a few months ago. NIHB represents all 567 federally recognized Tribal governments—both those that operate their own health care delivery systems, and those who receive health care directly from the Indian Health Service (IHS).
While at the conference, I had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people, eager to share their stories, perspectives, and insights. Based on my experience during the conference, these five key points emerged:
- Unique Challenges – Tribes often face challenges in regard to the grant process recognizing and respecting their traditions.
- Similar issues – Tribes have similar issues to non-tribal entities, such as data being reported up but not always back down, the need to break down silos, and the need for additional funding.
- Great work is being done to improve health among Tribal communities - a good resource is the National Tribal Behavioral Health Agenda book. Also, lots of work on trauma, increased youth involvement, research and data, and increased access to tele-health services.
- There is much work remaining - specifically in water, fracking, federal budgets, recruitment and retention of clinicians, improving government interactions and understanding of tribal ways.
- The energy is tangible – There is a strong commitment to community, connection to culture, youth empowerment, connection to the earth as a way of life, and respecting traditions.
After the conference, I was left with three profoundly powerful words to describe what I had experienced and the many people I had met: Passionate, Compassionate, and Insightful.
NEHA attended in an effort to better understand some the larger public health issues that face tribal communities. NEHA's Program and Partnership Development team’s priorities over the next couple of years include an increased focus on environmental health issues affecting tribal communities, especially in terms of partnership, advocacy, and assistance. By attending the National Tribal Nations Annual Health Conference, NEHA was graciously allowed a glimpse into how our skills and resources might best be utilized, and how we can move this conversation forward.
NEHA is currently hard at work developing training for tribal safe drinking water programs, securing tribal related sessions for our 2017 Annual Education Conference, and assisting with and participating in NIHB’s upcoming Tribal Public Health Summit which showcases their new environmental health track and Climate Ready Tribes Program! Do you have ideas, projects, initiatives within the tribal framework that you’d like to see NEHA get more involved in? What role should NEHA play? I invite yout to share your thoughts here.
The NIHB mission is one voice affirming and empowering American Indian and Alaska Native Peoples to protect and improve health and reduce health disparities. As the environmental health profession, there is no better time to show and strengthen our support and our connection to ensuring healthy environments for all. This is a mission that as environmental health professionals we can and we must support, at all levels of government and in all disciplines of public health.