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BHPN Native Listening Circle, Reflections from Randall Lewis Health Policy Fellow

Written by Jessica Mosher, MBA, DrPH Candidate on March 16, 2023

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In January 2023, the Build Healthy Places Network (BHPN) facilitated a Native American Listening Circle bringing together Native leaders and experts in community development finance, healthcare, philanthropy, community development, and public health. 

The listening circle aimed to inform the development of a resource on how to leverage partnerships between these sectors to increase investments in Tribal and Native communities, improving health outcomes while honoring communities’ self-determination. As the Randall Lewis Health and Policy Fellow, I had the unique opportunity to co-facilitate this event alongside the BHPN staff. Coming from the perspective of a Native American, it was exciting to be part of, what I feel is, a groundbreaking gathering of my relations and their supporters. Our voices are often forgotten when work is done in our communities or within our ancestral borders. 

There is an abundance of momentum surrounding direct investments in Native communities following the recent White House Tribal Nations Summit conducted under the Biden-Harris Administration. Long-standing injustices are now taking center stage, with marked progress being made to decolonize community development (CD), community development finance (CDFI), healthcare, public health, and philanthropic sectors to better meet the unique needs of Native and Tribal communities. Now is the time to make large strides in these areas with strength and power focused on improving our next seven generations. 

To illustrate the power of this moment, participants highlighted Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s recent quote in a press release saying, “The cornerstone of any culture or community is its language – is how oral histories are passed down, knowledge is shared, and bonds are formed. As part of our commitment to strengthening and supporting Indigenous communities, the Biden-Harris administration is resolute in its efforts to ensure Native languages are preserved and protected.” Along with strides in language and culture preservation come growing funding opportunities that support community-based approaches, focusing on reducing chronic illnesses based on building resources to increase tribal capacity within safety net programs such as CMS, HUD, and HHS to name a few.  

We heard about the inequity surrounding access to capital for Native-led CDFIs, despite being excellent conduits for such funding. Native CDFIs know the landscape and communities and can fund big projects at a fraction of the cost with significantly lower interest rates. There are opportunities to expand their capacity through cross-sector collaborations. Participants, for example, explored how Native CDFIs and community developers can partner with health plans to create affordable housing for their communities, or healthcare’s potential role in providing low-cost, patient capital to Native CDFIs through impact investing efforts. 

Acknowledging the challenges of available funding, the group emphasized the importance of providing information about current funding opportunities, such as federal and local grants and programs like the Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI) grants, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services through Indian Health Service grants, and Tribal Homeless Housing, and Assistance and Prevention (Tribal HHAP) Grants.  This includes leveraging current laws and treaties that have the potential to support economic growth and self-determination. Participants discussed Public Law 93-638, which allows for the privatization of Native healthcare facilities, as a potential for economic development for tribal communities as they can own or manage their own healthcare system. I view this as pivotal as it provides an opportunity for potential revenue so our tribal leaders, such as Elders and Council members, can fight attacks focused on dismantling their sovereign government, reservations, and other current issues like the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)/Brackeen v. Haaland.     

Despite new efforts by the Federal government and healthcare to meet the needs of Native and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, participants highlighted that there is still a need to navigate the sense of distrust, acknowledging the not-so-distant storied past of colonization, racism, and trauma. The group suggested several ways cross-sector partnerships can honor the self-determination of Native communities, including through data sovereignty. Native communities have been researched and surveyed extensively without adequate feedback mechanisms. It is essential to share the intentions of the research, share back data with the community, and design data collection and reporting so that it fits the local community model. This facilitates better decision making and outcomes by ensuring the interpretation of the data reflects the needs and aspirations of the community.

The virtual meeting concluded with connections and promises of collaboration among participants. Build Healthy Places Network acknowledges that their work moving forward must focus on meeting the unique needs of the Native communities, recognizing their rightful heritage and supporting efforts that improve health outcomes. These partnerships, when structured correctly, can help promote economic growth in Native communities where the communities control the funding to support and protect their self-determination.

Recommendations for how BHPN can use its field building platform to support cross-sector partnerships that bring investments to Native communities and strengthen self-determination included elevating the work of Native CDFIs in creating holistic approaches to healthy communities through supporting economic development, housing, and more. BHPN can also surface opportunities by designing an inventory of available funding and drawing out where common interests align between sectors and agencies to support future collaborations. Stay tuned for new BHPN content on this topic.

Build Healthy Places Network would like to thank the Native Listening Circle participants for their time and expertise. 

Jessica Mosher, MBA, DrPH Candidate, is a first-generation college graduate who completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at California Baptist University in 2010.  She completed her MBA at the University of Redlands, with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems/Location Analytics for which she earned membership into the Delta Mu Delta Honors Society.  Currently, she is a candidate for a Doctorate in Public Health, Health Policy and Leadership at Loma Linda University School of Public Health.  Currently, she is employed by Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy as an Admissions Concierge.

She is Yoeme (Yaqui) and she lives a life walking in two worlds, Indigenous and American, never really feeling like she belongs in either one.  She goes out of her way to be available to those that share the same journey. She has taken it upon herself to learn the ways of others and engage them with respect and without prejudice. Much of her academic research has been focused on closing gaps caused by inequities and directing resources to those in need. She plans on continuing to be a resource by sharing her difficult journey through the minority-phobic American formal education system, including how she progressed from academic dismissal to being inducted into the Delta Mu Delta Honors Society with a 4.0 GPA.  She plans to continue to use her education and skills in service to her Native American community when she graduates in 2023.