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Race, Religion & Social Justice

Proposed new state agency would focus on healthcare and social services for Native Americans

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KUER File Photo
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, told a legislative committee Monday that efforts to address healthcare and social services for Native Americans has been “diluted in the past.”

Utah could have a new agency dedicated to American Indian-Alaska Native Affairs, after a legislative committee gave the proposal the green light Monday.

The office would be in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and would focus on healthcare and social programs for Native Americans.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said it consolidates and expands existing efforts to address healthcare and social programs for Native Americans.

“It's been in a way diluted in the past,” Iwamoto said. “Indian children and families will be best supported through the creation of a dedicated Indian child and family office that will immediately support and strengthen their array of services and supports that are needed for this vulnerable population.”

Aspen Jensen, a member of the Navajo Nation and a law clerk, told the committee the United States has a history of separating Native children from their families through boarding schools. She said the state needs to work with tribes.

“The current bill does that,” Jensen said. “It opens that consultation. It puts people in place that understand these tribal sufferings and the cultural sensitivities.”

The office would also be required to consult with tribes when the Department of Health and Human Services is considering a decision that would impact a tribe’s sovereignty.

“Native American children are overrepresented in Utah's child welfare system,” she said. “Lack of critical infrastructure and state and tribal systems have left Indian children in Utah state welfare systems with the poorest of outcomes. Targeted and strategic infrastructure must be in place to support the underserved population of American Indian and Alaska Native children and families in Utah.”

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