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Health Care for Native Americans

Native Americans are the most socioeconomically deprived minority group in the United States. The poverty level for children on reservations is more than twice the national average and unemployment rates are three times that of other Americans.1 Health statistics are consistent with this: in January 2006, Native Americans had 7 times the rate of tuberculosis, 6 times the rate of alcoholism, nearly 3 times the rate of diabetes, and a 62 percent higher rate of suicide than the American population as a whole.2

Matthew 25:36b says, "I was sick and you took care of me." The United States government is bound by treaty to provide health care for all Native Americans. In exchange for millions of acres of land, the United States government obligated itself to provide medical and health care services to members of the Tribes with whom they wrote treaties.

The United States government now provides medical services through Indian Health Services, United States Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services to 1.5 million American Indians/Native Americans who belong to more that 557 federally recognized Tribes in 35 states.3

Since the establishment of the Indian Health Service, infant mortality in the population it serves has been reduced by more than 80 percent through the "provision of safe drinking water, nearly universal immunization of Indian children, and emphasis on comprehensive, community-oriented programs focused on maternal and child care."4

Despite these successes, the federal government's legislative and executive branches frequently threaten to reduce funding for the Indian Health Services Program. Any funding cuts could severely curtail or cancel health care for a large number of eligible Native Americans.

Only a small number of Native Americans can afford to buy private health insurance, and even so, such insurance has the grave defect of the absence of a large enough risk pool to spread the risk of costly serious illness.

Our Christian faith calls on all to support the poor-"For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever" (Psalm 8:18).

Therefore for all Native Americans, The United Methodist Church supports access to adequate medical services to ensure a balance of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being for the "Journey Toward Wholeness" and asks that the United States Congress increase rather than decrease federal funds to operate Indian health facilities.

The General Board of Church and Society will submit this resolution, on behalf of the General Conference, to all United States senators and legislators who have Indian Health Services within their respective state.

1. Patricia Wilson, Reuters, September 4, 1997,

2. Catherine Komb, "Congress, President, Still Ignoring Obligation to Indian Health Care," The New Standard, July 14, 2006; Peninsula Peace and Justice Center,


4. E. R. Rhoads, et al, Mortality of American Indian and Alaska Native Infants, Annual Review of Public Health, 1992;13:269-85.

Resolution #3337, 2008 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #134, 2004 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #122, 2000 Book of Resolutions

See Social Principles, ¶ 162A.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2012. Copyright © 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.