2020! Another year and decade have passed, and we are now looking at a new year and a new decade. What has happened during this last decade that, today, profoundly affects the everyday lives of 5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives? Ten years ago, Indian Country was talking about the potential passage of a new law called the “Affordable Care Act,” commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”
Concurrently, Indian Country was concerned about how the reauthorization of the “Indian Health Care Improvement Act” should be handled: Should it (the reauthorization) move ahead as a “stand alone” bill? Or should it be attached as a section in the Affordable Care Act? It was decided that it be attached to the Affordable Care Act, and with the passage of the Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was permanently reauthorized. This was just one major achievement in the last decade.
What will be accomplished during the next decade? By the end of the decade, I hope to see Indian health be recategorized from being treated as a “discretionary” program to an “entitlement” program. After all, that was part of the “contract” (trust responsibility) between the federal government and American Indians and Alaska Natives agreed to in exchange for the acquisition of Indian lands and resources.
Moreover, I anticipate more American Indians and Alaska Natives assuming control over their educational institutions, thereby reaffirming and strengthening their tribal languages and traditions by establishing their own curriculum, not those created by the states. Also, by the end of this decade, I expect there to be a law protecting tribal elders as there is for Indian children.
Our elders have long fought for these ideas to become reality. Some have walked on never seeing the outcomes of their efforts. Remaining elders are in the twilight of their lives. It is time that the youth carry on the fight for the ideas dreamt by their elders and their ancestors. These are not for the faint of heart or the “sunshine Indian”, but for those young Indian people who deeply believe that it is worth fighting for.
The National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) has long believed that the intergenerational qualities of Indian communities have historically been the bedrock of our resilience. Elders’ life experiences provide them with an understanding of what’s important. It is this knowledge and wisdom gained from living through world wars, economic upheavals and changing demographics that provide them with the strength to stand fearlessly and look to the future with hope. This is resilience. May we in Indian Country look fearlessly to the next decade.
NICOA has and always will advocate to improve the lives of our elders, just as we have for the past 44 years. We thank you for your support, prayers and donations.