The Scalping of Indian Health Services: Why We Need to care about the Healthcare Debate & Trump’s Budget


Han Mitakuyepi! Hello, my relatives!!! It’s been a long time since I last blogged, Native Nation’s Rise march on Washington a few months ago to be exact.  My life has been crazy busy.

Just a brief update: Haven’t announced via blogging but I have founded Rising Hearts Coalition, back in January, and been hitting the ground running since.  RHC is a women, Indigenous led organizing coalition, planning and executing peaceful, non-violent direct actions in DC (for now), for our Tribal communities.  Our biggest focus has been on #NoDAPL and fighting for environmental justice, with other focuses on education, healthcare, cultural appropriation, and Violence Against Women/Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women.  We organize and mobilize the people, as well as distributing content and resources for people to reference. We schedule hill meetings for those coming to DC and help them navigate the particular way and motion DC has set. We helped organize Resistance-Inauguration events, Native Nations Rise, the People’s Climate March (Indigenous Bloc), Wells Fargo bank actions, and many other events, as well as partnering and joining other campaigns.   I have also co-founded DC ReInvest Coalition, where we are getting the city of DC to divest their funds from Wells Fargo (funding dirty infrastructure projects and has irresponsible banking practices: racial discriminatory lending, redlining, funding private prisons, etc), to keep fossil fuels in the ground, move towards Public Banking, and to reinvest in the people they represent. However, the purpose of RHC is not only be a voice and platform to elevate our causes in Indian Country, to generate awareness of the violations our communities face, but to highlight all the good that is happening too, we are here to build relationships and ensure our future generations no longer have to continue these fights.  Strength in numbers.  I believe in the people, and I believe that we can work together.  Indigenous people have always protected the land and the people.  We are in a time right now, where a lot is at stake. So not only do I advocate, or label me an “activist,” to protect and defend Indigenous rights and our sovereignty, but I advocate on everyone, mitakuye oyasin, we are all related. In protecting Unci Maka, grandmother earth, you protect the people. Which brings me to an issue, that sparked my passion, care and love for the people when I was little…. protecting our health and the services that belong to it. I saw at a young age what Indian Health Services can do, whether it was bad or good. It’s not a perfect system by any means but it has helped.  Healthcare is a right, and we are seeing a fight among many, across the nation to fight for that.

defend the sacred

My twin, my sister, and my Ina.


Here We Go:

While the headlines and TV News shows focus on Trump’s incessant over-compensating and bullying, American Indian and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) are under attack. The proposed Trump budget guts housing, healthcare, environmental and virtually every other federal program. Given that sovereign Native Nations work directly through the Federal government and that our communities are among the poorest in the country, these proposed cuts have an inordinately large impact for Natives. These cuts are happening in the shadows cast by a bombastic and ill equipped White House coupled by slavish and shallow attempts to awkwardly implement “conservative” policies.

Budgets and Scalping: Just a little off the top?

Misguided and non-strategic budget cutting in DC are really the culprits here. During the latter half of the Obama administration, Congress enacted a set of painful budget cuts actually designed to cause pain to core programs dear to both parties. The avoidance of these cuts, was supposed to incentivize cooperation on a budget resolution. But, predictably, the deal was subverted, primarily from the Tea Party Conservatives in the House. The Obama administration allowed the Indian Health Service (IHS) to be the only primary health provision program to be included in this mess. All other programs were held to the 5% sequester and IHS was held to the full 5 instead of 2.5%, which the money has yet to be appropriated back from Congress. Thus, IHS was subject to cuts that were neither anticipated nor strategic.  On my grandfather’s reservation, in Rosebud, death rates increased 100% the year after, and health problems were left poorly treated or not diagnosed across Indian Country. It was, and remains, a National tragedy.

stop trumpcare 1.jpg

The Trump Budget is similar to the sequester in that it does not discriminate. It just cuts. The budget mandates the Department of Health and Human Services to cut its budget, and the director of HHS, a true talking points conservative, simply passed on the cuts to programs across the board (with a few exceptions that would look bad politically). IHS, historically underfunded and now hobbled by sequester cuts, is once again subject to cuts forced upon it by politics, rather than reason.

A series of recent exposes by the Wall Street Journal and a meeting of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee attest to both the sorry state of IHS as a whole, and the failure of Trump-Appointed officials to both do their homework and to advocate on behalf of Indian Country.  IHS is admittedly, not arguably, in a state of emergency. IHS services in many regions are below third, crst houseor even fourth, world standards. Seriously. Not exaggerating. At least 30% of the doctors they are potentially able to hire, are not hired. Buildings are crumbling, supplies are dwindling, and direct care is suffering. It is painful to witness, and even to read about. The IHS infrastructure and services serving entire swaths of Indian Country have been put on notice. Yet, cutting resources ensures a structural inability to reach even minimal criteria. People are dying.

Enter the Trump budget. Like the sequester, the budget cuts are not targeted, and not reasoned. Trump ONLY wants 5-6% cuts in some areas (that is a $300 million dollar cut to an already strained IHS budget).  Imagine you are hungry and a pizza costs $10 dollars.  Imagine you have $11 and your friend has $15. Now, Trump or the sequester, mandate everyone to give up 25% of your budgets. You have to cut $2.75, your friend has to give stop trumpcareup a dollar more. The problem? You only have $8.25 left. You can’t buy half a pizza. No pizza for you. Your friend lost more, but they had more to begin with. They are left with $11.25. They get pizza, and maybe even a coke. You starve. This is analogous to what is happening across Indian Country. Budgets that were already stretched to the max are being cut. Housing, health, you name it. The problem, a little from these programs paralyzes them…no one gets any pizza, or healthcare, or heating oil. Untargeted across program cuts are ultimately malevolent.

At a recent Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on President Trump’s proposed budget and its impact to the Indian Health Services’ workforce, the current acting head of IHS demonstrated both his ineptitude and the irrationality of these sort of cuts. In a flop-sweat strewn performance that would make any Native ashamed, Acting Director Admiral Michael Weahkee was unable to answer even the most basic questions about the IHS budget, or how cuts would impact Native health. Two of my favorite senators when it comes to Native issues, Tester and Murkowski, were confused, saddened, and then angered by the inept and senseless talking points spewed nonsensically from Acting Director Weahkee. Watch below. It was a dark day.

Video’s here:

Senator Tester:

Senator Murkowski:

Healthcare Debate IS About Natives, too.

Many of my friends, while bemused by the spectacle, don’t see the link between the current debates on Obamacare and IHS funding. After all, the debate is about insurance and IHS is anything but insurance! It is quite simple: Both Republican Healthcare native-american-health-1proposals (actually 3 now), drastically cut medicaid.  Well, people on medicaid account for roughly 20% of the IHS budget:  Another inadvertent cut to IHS!!! It is a workaround funding source. But a large one. One we cannot afford to lose. So, when you hear that a bill would cut 23 million from health insurance, be aware that much of that is through de-funding Medicaid. A source IHS has used to make up for lost funding over the years.

I urge you all to pay attention to these issues. Indian Country is often the victim of negligence. The sequester, the healthcare debate, the budget are all examples of circuitous but devastating assaults on our essential programs. A little off the top is enough to kill all but the most hardy of programs. When it comes to Indian Country, and IHS, we can’t afford even a trim.

Read More on recent IHS failures and challenges:


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