Local News


Feb 21, 2017

Mel Tonasket, Vice-Chairman of the Colville Business Council, and Richard Tonasket, Chair of the CBC Tribal Government Committee, are among Tribal leaders invited to an important bill signing Wednesday in the State Capitol. The two were specifically invited by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, in part because of the Colville Tribes’ work to secure passage of the legislation for nearly a decade.

Senate Bill 5079 will create the opportunity for Washington Tribes to use Dental Health Aide Therapists in their on-reservation health clinics, a need that Tribes have recognized for decades.

“This legislation is a creative and courageous example of how Tribes and Tribal organizations have come together to develop solutions to meet the needs of their communities,” Mel Tonasket said today. 

“This service is vital for the native communities,” Mel Tonasket said.  “The new law will increase the volume of available dental services in Indian Country and reduce the cost of providing dental care services to Tribes.”

Under the legislation, also known as “DHAT,” federally recognized Indian tribes in Washington with on-reservation clinics will be authorized to train, employ, or contract with dental health aide therapists.

Eighty percent of American Indian/ Alaskan Native (AI/AN) children on the Colville Indian Reservation between ages of six-nine had a history of decay in their primary or permanent teeth according to a 2014 IHS Oral Health Survey of AI/AN Elementary School Children.

“Half of all AI/AN children on the Colville Indian Reservation had untreated decay. Only five percent of AI/AN children on the Colville Reservation had at least one dental sealant on a permanent tooth,” Mel Tonasket testified earlier this session to both state House and Senate Health Committees.

“Congratulations to all Washington Tribal leaders who continued to press for this legislation,” CBC Chairman Dr. Michael Marchand said today. “Their work will truly make a positive difference for our tribal members, particularly children, who have had inadequate dental care.  We appreciate their perseverance and teamwork and look forward to seeing better health outcomes for our people as a result,” said Colville Business Council Chairman Dr. Michael Marchand.

The bill provides state Medicaid funding to eligible tribal clinics for these critically-important services.  It will take effect 90 days after Governor Inslee signs it on Wednesday.

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