AFN delegates say lack of veterinary care is an ‘ongoing public health crisis.’ They’re calling for federal action.

Donald Charlie of Nenana
Donald Charlie of Nenana is a former musher and former chief of the Nenana Native Village Council, where he first pitched the idea for a resolution calling for the federal authorities to recognize veterinary services as health care. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Federation of Natives wants federal officials to recognize that a lack of veterinary care in Native communities is a public health issue. 

At its convention in Anchorage on Saturday, delegates to the state’s biggest Native organization adopted a resolution that calls on federal authorities to make a declaration that could lead to veterinary services through the Indian Health Service. The resolution describes the lack of access to veterinary care as “an ongoing public health crisis” that is severely impacting residents’ quality of life. 

“We really do support this resolution and view veterinarian services as essential, especially with the rabies problem that we see,” said Saagulik Elizabeth Hensley of Kotzebue. She was representing NANA, a regional Alaska Native corporation for the northwest Arctic. 

Caroline Ketzler, first chief of the Nenana Native Village Council
Caroline Ketzler, first chief of the Nenana Native Village Council. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

The resolution says residents in western and northern Alaska communitie “live under constant threat of rabies.” Alaska Native children have the highest hospitalization rates from dog bites in the IHS system, it says. 

Donald Charlie is from Nenana in the Interior. He’s a former musher, and former chief of the Nenana Native Village Council. He initially brought forward the resolution idea.

He said that when basic services like neutering and vaccinations are accessible, that helps control stray populations, disease and potential harm to people. 

“Almost everybody owns dogs, whether they’re pet dogs, working dogs, race dogs or whatever,” Charlie said. 

Caroline Ketzler, First Chief of the Nenana council, said there’s huge demand, even in her community on the road system. 

“The last veterinary services we received in Nenana, the entire tribal hall was packed,” she said. “And they were doing spays, neuters, vaccines as well as dental checkups.” 

She said that was years ago. 

The resolution is specifically addressed to the Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Jodi Mitchell (far right) moderates the consideration of AFN convention resolutions. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

The veterinary services resolution was one of 25 that delegates took up and adopted on Saturday, the last day of the AFN convention. Others included political endorsements to re-elect Mary Peltola to the U.S. House of Representatives and Lisa Murkowski to the U.S. Senate, and opposing the ballot question to hold a Constitutional Convention. 

The most divisive resolutions urge action to reduce fishing to address the crash in king and chum salmon in Western Alaska and the Interior. Delegates from the Aleutian Islands region vehemently opposed the resolutions, but couldn’t sway enough delegates to address the issue through other means. 

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Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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