WASHINGTON — In January, the 2020 cohort of the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Health Policy Fellows held its first face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C. As part of a week’s worth of events toward training the next generation of Native health leaders, NIHB’s Youth Fellows had the opportunity to visit with all four Native lawmakers – Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) – and engage in discussions about their experiences on Capitol Hill. The gathering marked the first time all four lawmakers had attended an event together.
Each lawmaker shared about their experiences with the Indian health system, and their efforts within Congress to honor and fulfill the federal trust responsibility for health services.
“We have Democrats and Republicans, and we have men and women,” said Cole, hlighting the fact that there is currently the largest and most diverse Native caucus in congressional history.
Through the sharing of personal experiences, all four members encouraged NIHB’s Fellows to apply their passion for Indian health to advocate for positive change.
“I think you will be amazed how quickly you will be called to lead” Mullin told the fellows. “I went to my first political meeting and was elected to Congress” he said. Further, Haaland encouraged NIHB’s Youth Fellows to create their own path to advocate for change in Indian Country.
The NIHB Youth Fellows were also provided an opportunity to ask questions and inform the lawmakers about the health issues facing their own Tribal communities.
Later that same afternoon, NIHB’s Youth Fellows traveled to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for a special bipartisan roundtable discussion with SCIA staff and with staff from the Congressional Native American Caucus.
NIHB’s Fellows were able to learn about congressional staff’s personal experiences that inspired them to get involved in national policy and advocacy, while also learning about ways they could get engage at the local level.
Congressional staff also shared additional information about the legislative process, including how legislation with Indian provisions moves in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate.
The NIHB Health Policy Fellowship is a professional development program for Native youth who are dedicated to making a difference in the health of their communities.
Each year, a cohort of fellows is selected to work directly with their tribal leadership to identify a priority health issue.