The USET/USET SPF Semi-Annual Meeting in 2022 was our first in-person convening since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, it was understood that the pandemic was not over, but rather that there were vaccine options available and proven public health measures that we could take to safely reconvene in-person activities once again.

Since that time…Indian Country, and society in general, have moved forward with our post-COVID return, with the Administration formally ending the federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration on May 11th of this year.

As we kick-off this year’s 2023 Partnership and Semi-Annual Board of Directors meeting, it is important to recognize that we now sit outside the worst of the pandemic…but a pandemic that took so many across the world…so many loved ones from our own families and communities…and a pandemic that had a disproportionate impact on Native people.

As we begin the long journey of healing ahead of us…as we attempt to rediscover and redefine what normal looks like for us individually, within our families and communities, and across our nations…it is important that we first pause in acknowledgement and honor for all those who gave of themselves so courageously and selflessly to help guide us through one of the darkest and untraversed moments of our lifetime.

Across our Tribal Nations, we saw elected officials, public health and direct care workers, emergency response workers, and everyday citizens take the necessary steps to protect the lives of others. We are confident that each one of your respective Tribal Nations are taking steps to properly acknowledge those individuals for all that they contributed to your COVID response and recovery efforts.

Additionally, the unique structure of USET and the USET Sovereignty Protection Fund allowed both to be on the front lines from both a policy standpoint and in the provision of supportive and educational services. Our structure allowed us to be fully engaged and to be a leader right from the beginning, not only for our membership, but nationally as well.

As President during that time, but also as a leader who has been engaged with this organization for quite a while, I cannot express enough my deep appreciation and admiration for the collective work of the USET and USET SPF team, generally, but particularly during this challenging time. For me, their actions demonstrated their strong dedication, passion, and commitment to all of us and to making a positive difference in our lives. For that, and so much more, I thank you all.

However, I do wish to acknowledge the following individuals specifically who played an outsized role in our organizational efforts to support our members and Indian Country. Please come to the front here with me when your name is called…

  • Christy Duke, USET Tribal Program Health Support Assistant Director & Epidemiologist
  • Dr. Harry Brown, USET Tribal Health Program Support Medical Epidemiologist
  • Liz Malerba, USET SPF Policy & Legislative Affairs Director

Also, while not USET/USET SPF staff members, but definitely individuals and partners who were equally instrumental and dedicated, I would ask that you come to the front as well, individually, but also in representation of your teams…

  • Dr. Beverly Cotton, IHS Nashville Area Director
  • Dr. Juanita Johnson, IHS Nashville Area Chief Medical Officer
  • Kimberly Bouchard, BIA Eastern Region Office Director

These individuals were working 24/7 to provide all of us with the necessary complimentary supports to help us navigate through this challenging time. While it has been a moment since its height, these are the individuals who frequented our calls to keep us all informed and who were the force behind all the supports and offerings that we received throughout the pandemic.

Additionally, I want to recognize some additional folks who were far less visible, but who provided the behind the scenes support to make sure information was shared timely and professionally, that PPE got ordered, to ensure timely distribution of funds, to maintain organizational staff continuity, support, and care, to ensure funds were being used appropriately, and so much more. I would ask that these individuals also join us up front…

  • Angela Snell, USET/USET SPF Communications Specialist
  • Vicki French, USET/USET SPF Communications Specialist
  • Steve Adams, USET/USET SPF Director of Finance
  • Tammy Fowler, USET/USET SPF Assistant Director of Finance
  • Melissa Stephens, USET/USET SPF Employee Relations & Personnel Management Director
  • Aspen Weathers, USET/USET SPF Employee Relations & Personnel Management Assistant
  • Jessica Bertram, USET Sr. Compliance Specialist
  • Stephen Wyatt, USET THSP Assistant Director

Again…THANK YOU all for your passion, dedication, commitment, knowledge, leadership, and guidance.

One of the ways we demonstrate our respect and honor for those we want to give special recognition is with a blanket ceremony.

The artwork depicted on the blanket…that we wrap you in to honor you…to honor your work, dedication, and commitment…is by a Shoshone-Bannock citizen. Its design is described by the artist as a beautiful testament to the continued growth of our families, communities, and knowledge.

Because of your efforts, because of others like you across our membership and Indian Country, Indian Country will persevere once again and our families, communities, and knowledge will continue to grow.