The Social Security Administration (SSA) has established an Office of Native American Partnerships to better represent and advocate for tribal communities.
In announcing the initiative Oct. 4, the SSA said the new office would “elevate and centralize” efforts to administer programs and policies affecting what it terms American Indians and Alaska Natives, or AIAN, and serve as Social Security’s primary point of contact on tribal matters.
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The office “will provide a platform to further develop and maintain a strong presence in Indian Country to ensure effective delivery of program services for people with disabilities, retirees and elder populations,” Nancy Berryhill, SSA’s tribal consultation official, says in a statement to AARP.
Organizations representing the AIAN population are closely watching an initiative aimed at addressing what they say are long-standing inequities and neglect.
The leader of a nonprofit focused on improving health in Native American communities says the new office reflects overdue attention to groups that historically have been underrepresented in the Social Security system and have an “innate reluctance” to trust government officials due to historical injustices.
“The federal government has been awakened to the awareness that American Indians have been neglected,” says Tom Anderson, executive director of the Oklahoma City–based Association of American Indian Physicians.
Signs of change
Native tribes are federally recognized as sovereign nations. Anderson, a Cherokee Nation citizen who grew up on Oklahoma’s Osage Nation reservation, says that in the past, government agencies that established tribal liaisons often tapped nontribal individuals who “did not get it” to lead the outreach.