Guest Commentary – Native News Online Exclusive
Published February 24, 2018
By Robert Weaver, CEO of RWI Benefits, LLC, President Trump’s former nominee to be Director of the Indian Health Service, member of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma
When President Trump nominated me to be the Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS), I said yes. I own five successful businesses that serve the healthcare needs of native peoples in many parts of the country. I was honored and humbled that last year, one of these enterprises was named Indian-owned Business of the Year by the NCAIED. (This award from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development is a high honor).
However, I had some misgivings about the nomination; the story of Native Americans attempting to engage positively with the federal government is well known and often tragic. Despite this, I said yes because I was very moved by President Trump’s victory speech on election night when he said that he was for the “forgotten man.” IHS is in many ways the forgotten agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and it serves some of the most forgotten populations in the country: American Indians and Alaska Natives.
And many Tribes supported me from around Indian Country. Why? I think because they know that babies are being born on IHS hospital floors. They know that people are dying of heart attacks because the crash carts at their IHS hospitals don’t have the proper medications. They know that some of the places where they live don’t have running water. They knew that I was the right person to start addressing these abuses because I’ve been an unwavering advocate for our peoples’ health and wellness for the past decade and I was willing to meet and listen.
For example, I saw an obvious unmet need within my own Tribe, the Quapaw, as only about 12 percent (as of 2010) of our people had access to an IHS provider. So instead of just complaining about it, I worked with our Tribal leaders and created the Quapaw Tribal Member Health Plan in 2011, which is still in use today. Now, 100 percent of Quapaw members have access to health, prescription drug, dental, vision, and end of life coverages. I believe in results.
I wanted to be the Director of IHS for the sole purpose of being part of the solution. I have lost family members and friends to opioid and drug abuse, alcoholism, other mental health disorders, and suicide because they sometimes didn’t have access to treatment.
But at 4:30 pm last Friday, February 16, I got a call from a staff member at HHS informing me that my nomination was going to be withdrawn. They gave me two minutes to decide on my public posture related to their announcement. After putting nearly a year of my life into gathering the broad support of Indian Country to help our peoples, they gave me two minutes, and then they forced me out.
Who are they? They are the creatures of Washington, the permanent government class that believes that elections don’t matter because they’ll outlive whatever reformers the people send their way. If they can’t outlive them, they seek to actively destroy them by undermining their credibility and checkmating them on a chessboard of their own making. They fear change because they’re comfortable with the status quo. They are the Deep State, they’re Democrats and Republicans, and they’re in every agency in every branch of government, seeking to undermine the agenda of the people’s elected leadership because they think they know better than us.
Unfortunately, my cautionary tale is par for the course in this town. I’m not the first Native American to be railroaded by an unelected federal official. As a Trump supporter raised in a small Kansas town, I’ve had a front row viewing recently of the swamp-drenched knife fighting that has passed for policy making in Washington for far too long.
I’m less then confident that the President knew of the full circumstances of my being forced out by staff at a federal agency, and this worries me. I believe that President Trump is the right man to clean up this IHS mess and many others in our country. And while my nomination may have been tanked by the Deep State, I hope President Trump succeeds, and I stand ready to help him in any way I can.
Don’t get me wrong; IHS has thousands of unsung heroes, its employees, who work tirelessly to improve our health.
I’m going to work to help them get the things they need and continue to serve Indian Country in my capacity as a businessman and Native American entrepreneur, focusing first on the tribes of the Great Plains. These remarkable survivors are a glaring example of the forgotten. They, in my opinion, are some of the worst served by the current system as memorialized by numerous reports by government and non-government officials alike—just go view the Dorgan Report.
For the last decade, my life’s work has been to improve the health and wellness of Indian Country, and although I won’t be doing that as IHS Director, I have a clearer perspective of the challenges that the Deep State poses to that mission. It shouldn’t have taken slanderous personal attacks by the Deep State and their allies in the mainstream media to bring the suffering of native peoples to the national spotlight, but if it saves even one life, it’ll be worth it to me. Simply said, I’m going to use what I’ve learned in the swamp to be more effective in helping our peoples. Let’s make sure the American Indian and Alaska Native are forgotten no more.
Robert Weaver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org