Militarized health care for Native Americans

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

One of the best-kept secrets in American health administration is the existence of Indian Health Service (IHS).

Unbeknownst to many outside the Native community, in the United States our health care is actually delivered by the military.

Oh sure, they call themselves the âeoePublic Health Service Commissioned Corpsâe which is just a nice way of saying they donâe(TM)t carry guns, but you can bet that you will more than likely receive care from someone dressed in full-out camouflage gear who indeed works for the U.S. Uniformed Services.

How did this all get started? Well for lands seized (read: stolen) the government has a federal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans. After assimilating us and annihilating our culture, the War Department had this duty in 1849, which was then overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs who was responsible for the many abuses and mistreatments that occurred under their umbrella until 1955, when the government thought it would then be a good idea to turn it over to the Department of Health and Human Services.

I donâe(TM)t know about you, but Iâe(TM)m not really comfortable going to see a doctor wearing army boots in a non-war torn country. Last time I checked, they havenâe(TM)t exactly been our best friends in the Native community (forcible removal to attend Residential Schools, reproductive trauma from military testing anyone?) Iâe(TM)m also less than pleased being the only race whose health care comes like this.

Among the numerous other problems that you can already think of that exist with this kind of oppressive set-up, IHS lacks several necessary services and policies that exist in other clinics and hospitals because, as sovereign peoples, we arenâe(TM)t subject to receive the same things as everyone else.

Sovereignty is supposed to mean governing our own people, on our own land, the way we want to, but in reality it means doing what the United States allows us to do, when they want to. I saw a really good example of this recently in Oneida, Wisconsin when I was reading a posted U.S. government bulletin on minimum wage that basically read, âeoeas a federally recognized Indian tribe we donâe(TM)t have to make sure you get equal pay since you are a separate entity.âe

Oh, but how dare we ever try to assert our sovereignty and take care of our own people according to our own ancestral traditions!

Missing links at IHS include sexual assault procedures and some 50 per cent of clinics that lack the trained personnel to administer rape kits, which is so very interesting when you consider our people have one of the highest rates of sexual abuse in the country.

This was all detailed in the latest Glamour article by journalist Marianne Pearl entitled âeoeThe Land Where Rapists Walk Free.âe (Iâe(TM)d also like to add to that article that the Yankton Sioux reservation where the story takes place had their IHS emergency room shut down earlier this year).

What is more, if you live in a major urban centre, or even away from your home territory, good luck trying to find an IHS you can go to. In California, Native Americans account for the largest âeoeethnicâe poverty group, while there are virtually no IHS clinics in existence to service the more than 70 per cent of people who live off reservation.

I was actually at a conference once where IHS personnel were wondering why some Native youth didnâe(TM)t want to come in to get tested for sexually transmitted infections to which I grabbed the mic and yelled, âeoeMaybe itâe(TM)s because we canâe(TM)t trust you!âe I mean, are we really supposed to have confidence in the same system that is still colonizing us, more than a hundred years later?

But donâe(TM)t worry: if you belong to a tribe and work for IHS, you donâe(TM)t have to wear the military garb.

Theyâe(TM)ll just separate the âeoesavagesâe from the âeoecivilizedâe .

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.