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An Update on Tribal Public Health Law

posted on Thu, Aug 16 2012 10:39 am by Clifford Rees

The Western Region has taken the lead role on the topic of Tribal Public Health Law since the inception of the Network for Public Health Law. There are 565 federally recognized American Indian/Alaska Native tribal governments in the United States. It is well documented that American Indians and Alaska Natives have significantly higher rates of chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as higher rates of mortality from these diseases and cancer.

I was an attorney for the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) for 23 years, and in that role I needed to understand the unique legal relationships tribes have with State and Federal governments. I also needed to ensure that tribal sovereignty was acknowledged and protected in the numerous contracts for public health services between NMDOH and the three tribes and 19 pueblos within New Mexico’s borders. I was vaguely aware that there are many entities involved in the practice of tribal public health but didn’t know where to find them. As a result, the Network’s Western Region decided to create this Tribal Public Health Law Resource Table to aid those who sought more information. We developed the Table to identify resources and contact information for those organizations with experience in tribal and public health law. These include epidemiology centers, academic, non-profit and public or legal services organizations. We hope it facilitates dialogue between the Network and those who use the Table. Please e-mail me at if your organization is not on the list and you would like to be added.

Network attorneys were invited to speak at two Native American Public Health Conferences this summer. One was the National Tribal Public Health Summit, in Tulsa, OK, which was sponsored by the National Indian Health Board. We also spoke at a training seminar, Public Health Law and Science: A Seminar for Tribal Judges, held in Tucson, AZ. This training was sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Center for Public Health Practice and funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Law Program through a sub-award from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Of particular interest at these conferences were the use of public health law as a tool for tribes and pueblos and an explanation of inter-jurisdictional legal issues that impact tribes and pueblos.

Are you interested in tribal public health law? Then take a moment to join the Network and connect. Please let us know if you have expertise in particular areas of Tribal Public Health Law that can be shared with others to help grow the practice of this important area of law.

This blog was prepared by Clifford M. Rees J.D., senior attorney at the University of New Mexico School of Law, Institute of Public Law.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.

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