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Historic Win for Tribal Health Care in Latest Omnibus Package

At the end of December, President Joe Biden signed a $1.7 trillion spending package to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, 2023. Included in the package was a historic win for Indian Country: For the first time, the Indian Health Service (IHS) received funding for more than one year, also referred to as advance appropriations.

This is vital for tribal communities because typically, when the federal government shuts down, so does health care and medication funding for 2.5 million tribal citizens who rely on the IHS.

The package allocates more than $5 billion in advance appropriations for IHS, in addition to nearly $7 billion for IHS in FY 2023. The inclusion of this funding is a testament to the strong advocacy of tribes, tribal organizations, and tribal health directors, and the support of key leaders in Congress and the administration.

“I’ve long joined Native health advocates and Tribal leaders to call for increased stability in IHS programs, and today we achieved that,” said Rep. Sharice Davids (KS-3) in a press release. “This will ensure that patients are not subject to the uncertainty of the government funding process, saving lives and creating stronger, healthier communities.”

There have been congressional efforts to permanently address this issue with the Indian Health Service Advance Appropriations Act (H.R. 5549) and the Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act (H.R. 5567/S. 2985), but they have yet to advance in either chamber. 

“We applaud Congress and the White House for listening to Native communities and doing what is right. For far too long, the federal government has allowed political disputes over budgets to jeopardize the lives of American Indian and Alaska Native people,” said Sonya Tetnowski (Makah), president of the National Council of Urban Indian Health. “We look forward to working with our leaders to help the United States make good on its responsibility to provide health care for the people who gave up the land we are on today.”

Road to Healing Tour Continues

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland continued the Road to Healing tour this month, with stops in Arizona at the Gila River Indian Community and the Navajo Nation. The tour, part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative’s work, is important for Native communities to have their voices heard on the traumas of the Indian boarding school era.

Arizona had 47 boarding schools, some of which are still in reformed operation with involvement from tribes and include cultural teachings in the curriculum.

“We know that our federal records and documents can only tell so much of the story. Your words and your experiences are crucial to telling the whole story – not just for us in the federal government but to the American people,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. He shared that next steps in the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative include identifying marked and unmarked burial sites.

Bill Tracker

Native American Languages Resource Center Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-335)

On Jan. 5, President Biden signed the Native American Languages Resource Center Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-335) into law. This law authorizes the Department of Education to establish a resource center to improve the capacity to teach and learn Native American languages.

Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-337)

On Jan. 5, President Biden signed the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-337) into law. This law directs the president to review whether federal agencies are in compliance with statutory requirements to promote the use of Native American languages, improve interagency coordination to support the use of these languages, and survey the use of Native American languages in the United States.

What We’re Reading 

People: Portia Skenandore-Wheelock

Portia Kay^nthos Skenandore-Wheelock

Congressional Advocate, Native American Advocacy Program (2021-2023)

Portia managed the Native American Advocacy Program, lobbying on legislation that affects Native communities.