Remarks as Prepared for Delivery at the HHS Celebration of National American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month
Good morning. Thanks, Chris, for that warm introduction.
I'm delighted to welcome all of you to HHS as we celebrate the beginning of National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. It's a time when we recognize our commitment to working with tribes on a government-to-government basis and to supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination.
President Bush, Secretary Leavitt, and I are committed to ensuring the health and well-being of all Americans, including tribes.
I'm so committed to health and well-being, in fact, that I just went to the doctor myself the other day for my annual checkup. My doctor examined me, ran a few tests, and then sat me down to give me some news. "It turns out," he said, "that you are in excellent shape for a man of 60." Unfortunately, I'm only 40 years old.
Seriously, though, we've been working hard over the last decade to improve health in Indian country. For example, while the whole country is facing epidemics of preventable diseases like obesity and diabetes, American Indians suffer more from these diseases than any other ethnic group. These are diseases brought on by poor diet, bad health habits, and lack of exercise, so we need to spread the word on the importance of prevention.
So HHS officials took the message of prevention on the road, and spent the summer crossing the country on a bus tour, meeting with communities, and speaking with local officials. The bus tour was an opportunity to acknowledge and recognize over 180 individual tribes for their many contributions to promoting and creating a healthier Indian country. We raised awareness on the problems of chronic diseases, promoted Medicare's preventative benefits, and provided information on how beneficiaries can improve their health. We spoke with you about your concerns, listened to what you had to say, and looked for ways to develop and implement effective health promotion and disease prevention programs.
As a result of the tour, we developed a Healthier Indian Country Initiative. This is a $1.2 million initiative awarded to four national tribal organizations and 14 tribes to encourage healthy living across the country. It is designed to create a national best practice database as well as supplement existing Tribal prevention programs that are contributing to healthier Indian communities. We hope it will foster healthy lives across American Indian communities.
Another exciting area where we're promoting prevention among tribes is a memorandum of understanding IHS signed with Nike in 2003. As a result of this partnership, just a few months ago Nike announced that it had developed and was going to start selling at wholesale cost special shoes designed specifically for tribal feet. The idea is to get people at risk for problems like obesity and diabetes comfortable, useable athletic shoes. And Nike's reinvesting all profits into Indian health promotion programs.
Through events like the bus tour and partnerships like the one with Nike, we hope to lay the groundwork for a positive environment that will bear returns in good health for years to come. Prevention is, after all, about structuring today for a healthier tomorrow. It's about building a healthier nation and healthier Indian people.
Meth abuse is another area that's hurting tribal communities. To help American Indians overcome their meth abuse, last year HHS began working with tribes to implement an initiative called Empowering Our Youth through Tribal Leadership. Through this partnership, we have been hosting a series of roundtables with tribal representatives. Our hope is to find solutions to this problem and to keep your communities health, stable, and safe. Through this initiative, we are bringing federal, tribal, state, and local resources together to reach urban and rural American Indian communities and families.
We have also made consulting with tribes a routine part of our work. Over the past several years, senior staff at HHS have made many trips across Indian country to tribal consultation sessions - making us the only federal department to consult with tribes on a department-wide basis. These sessions are an effective way for us to find out what health issues about which tribes are most concerned. They give tribes a voice in decisions regarding HHS plans that affect native health.
At these sessions, tribal leaders, state leadership, and HHS senior leadership meet to discuss issues specific to each region and relevant HHS policies and programs. We also speak with them about our agencies' budgets and their needs. This year, the issues we focused on included long term care, methamphetamine abuse, suicide prevention, emergency preparedness, and pandemic influenza.
One thing we've learned from these sessions is that consultation works. The sessions have given us a greater understanding of tribal priorities. They have also helped us see how our policies and programs can provide solutions to your concerns. The result has been an increase in the portion of our budget spent on tribal issues. Simply put, we find tribal consultation a necessary part of our work at HHS. Our upcoming series of consultation sessions begins next spring. I hope many of you will attend them.
We've developed strong partnerships with tribes over the last few years. We share your concerns and value your advice. We welcome the role that tribal advisory committees, workgroups, and governments play. I hope over the course of the Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month you will find ways that we can work together to improve native health. Personally, I'm looking forward to traveling to Indian country soon to continue our common work.
I am confident that through open discussion and mutual friendships, we can help individuals and families in American Indian communities live long and healthy lives.
Note: All speeches from the Office of the Deputy Secretary are available at http://www.hhs.gov/agencies/depsecspeeches.html.
Last revised: December 5, 2007