My regular ongoing involvement in tribal issues and budget deliberations have been a highlight of my time so far as Deputy Secretary. I want all of you to know that Secretary Azar and I are advocates for better health and better services in Indian Country
As Prepared for Delivery
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, as always, to all of the members of the Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee for joining us here, and thank you to the Salt River-Maricopa Indian Community for graciously hosting this meeting. I’d also like to welcome, in person, our new members of the STAC, since we unfortunately did not see each other in person earlier this year. Especially Tori Kitcheyan on her recent election as the new STAC Chair, and Bruce Pratt who will be serving as the new Vice Chair. And finally, I’d like to thank Chester Antone for his distinguished service and leadership over the last three years as the former Chair of STAC.
This is the third meeting of the STAC we’ve now held in Indian Country, first with Secretary Price in Oklahoma in 2017, me in Alaska in 2018, and now Arizona, and I am happy to be here. To us at HHS, this meeting signifies one of the ways we are fulfilling the commitment this administration has made to strengthening the government-to-government relationship by holding one STAC meeting each year in Indian Country.
Each one has offered unique perspectives: I hadn’t been confirmed in time to attend the meeting in Cherokee Nation in 2017, but I was at the meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, this past September, and I’m so glad to be here today.
Each new tribal community I have the chance to visit offers the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the triumphs and challenges of Indian Country. In fact, IHS was one of my first agencies as a Deputy General Counsel under then General Counsel, Alex Azar. On this trip, for instance, I’ve had the chance to visit a number of different tribal programs, including those with a more urban focus. These visits help us to understand more about the range of health, public health, and human services issues faced by American Indians and Alaska Natives.
I also got to visit the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, the IHS’s largest facility, and home to an HIV Center of Excellence, which has had significant success in fighting HIV/AIDS. In northern Arizona, I also had the chance to sign an important data agreement—the first of its kind—between the Navajo Nation and grantees of the National Institutes of Health’s Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes, or ECHO, program. The agreement was facilitated by NIH and will allow data and research work in the coming years to improve the health of mothers and children in tribal communities and across America.
All of these experiences, and my regular, ongoing involvement in tribal issues and budget deliberations, have been a highlight of my time so far as Deputy Secretary. I want all of you to know that you can see me and Secretary Azar as advocates for better health and better services in Indian Country. I believe that was reflected in the President’s 2020 budget request, which proposed substantial investments in tribal health programs. In fact, IHS, along with FDA, was highlighted as one of the two agencies at HHS to receive the most emphasis in our budget negotiations. This shows the emphasis President Trump, the Secretary, and I all place on tribal issues.
I also want to emphasize that many of the healthcare and public health challenges of Indian Country are front of mind for this administration. That includes the opioid epidemic, which we have been working on with tribal governments for some time, but also elevating the importance of primary care and community health clinics, and delivering on the President’s vow to end the HIV epidemic in America by 2030, with a special focus on hard-hit demographic communities like American Indians and Alaska Natives. IHS is one of five agencies highlighted in this initiative, and that is not by accident. President Trump has vowed that forgotten people are forgotten no more – and he means it.
But we know tribal issues extend beyond just these priorities, and every tribe’s needs are different. So I am pleased to be able to devote the time and attention needed to understanding the complex, diverse policy questions involved in our tribal programs, and I especially appreciate meetings like these as opportunities to hear from you about specific issues we can work together to address.
That was exactly what went on at our national tribal budget consultation in Washington last month. We had a highly informative, back-and-forth discussion, and we were delighted to welcome more than 30 tribal leaders to that meeting. As an example, we had a discussion about the Community Health Representatives program and the President’s budget proposal to expand the Community Health Aide Program outside of the Alaska. This program has operated in Alaska since the late 1960s and offers a strong base of evidence as a way to bring more extensive health services to remote communities. After some tribes expressed concerns about this proposal, we realized we could be doing more outreach to explain what it would mean to take CHAP national, and that was the genesis for the session you all just had on the program.
So I hope today can also be an opportunity to continue these kinds of conversations and to hear from the STAC about your priorities for the coming years. We are listening intently and, on returning to Washington, we will continue working hard to address your concerns.
Certainly, you can ask any member of my staff or any of our division heads here today if I’m one to bug about an issue that I haven’t gotten an update on recently—they’ll tell you I can be relentless.
What we discuss here today is crucial to setting priorities and direction for our work as part of the government-to-government relationship. I look forward to our discussion today, and I hope you find these meetings to be as valuable an opportunity as I have. Thank you again for joining us here.