At the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, we believe that the best way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is to continue to work for justice. The following blog post is offered in that spirit.

On Friday afternoon, Kat and I, along with advocates from a dozen different faith groups, met for a forum on Native Americans and Federal Native Policy organized by the FCNL. There we learned about a few of the current grim realities that Native Americans are experiencing as a result of the flawed policies and mismanagement of the United States government.

One injustice that we learned about concerns health–the infant mortality rate is 150% greater for Indians than it is for Caucasians. Indian life expectancy is six years less than that of the rest of the US population. And the suicide rate for Indians is two and a half times higher than the national average.

Tomorrow, the reauthorization of a bill to improve Indian health will be voted on in the Senate. Reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 (S.1200), or IHCIA, would update and enhance the care that Indian Health Services and Tribal Organizations are able to provide. IHCIA would provide resources for the social service and mental health needs of the Indian community, as well as medical needs.

IHCIA will be voted on tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 22) at 5:30 PM. Because we found out about this issue so late, our office did not send out an action alert; however, if you want to give your Senator’s office a call before the 5:30 vote tomorrow (the sooner the better!), then check out the National Indian Health Board’s IHCIA Fact Sheet and Action Alert for talking points.

A woman from the National Congress of American Indians told us that Native Americans are a very dis-empowered community in regards to their voice on national issues. “We had a much stronger voice in the 1970s, and the difference was you guys,” she said, scanning the room. “It was the national church organizations.” The voices of people of faith speaking to their representatives in Congress can lend strength and support to Native American organizations that are seeking justice.

In the future, I’ll try to stay attuned to federal legislation related to Native American justice issues, so that our office can give you plenty of notice for the next Action Alert. In the meantime, check out the National Congress of American Indians for ways to get involved!

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Lisa Swanson

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