U.S./tribal relationships topic of CANHR healthcare workshop

H. Sally Smith explains the U.S. obligation to Alaska Natives for healthcare. Photo by Diana Campbell

Tribal relationships with the U.S. government have had a long, sometimes twisting, path through American history.

In March 2012, CANHR investigators and staff spent the day in a workshop to hear from tribal leaders and others talk about tribal sovereignty in the Lower 48 and Alaska, the federal responsibility to tribes to provide healthcare and how that works in Alaska, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and current Alaska Native health concerns and priorities.

Speakers included tribal sovereignty expert Lisa Jaeger of Tanana Chiefs Conference; Miranda Wright, the director of UAF's Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development, who spoke about ANCSA; Paul Sherry, former CEO of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, who talked about how healthcare is delivered to Alaskan tribes.

H. Sally Smith, chair of the Bristol Bay Native Health Corporation board of directors and member of the National Indian Health Board, was the keynote speaker. Part of her talk explained that healthcare to Alaska Native people and Native Americans is not a free service, but that indigenous people paid for it with loss of land, lives and culture. It is a promise from the U.S. government, she said.

Todd O'Hara, CANHR investigator, noted on that basis, healthcare for Native people should extend into the future. Others appreciated spending time with the speakers.

"At lunch we talked about historical issues and triumphs related to Alaska Native health care," said Kristine Niles, a nutrition research technician. "It was awesome to hear directly from people who lived through some of those historical land claims times."

The workshop was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.

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