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Montana's First American Indian Health Director Resigns

Mary Lynne Billy-Old Coyote is the director of Montana's Office of American Indian Health.
Courtesy Montana DPHHS
Mary Lynne Billy-Old Coyote is the director of Montana's Office of American Indian Health.

Montana's first-ever director of American Indian Health says she thinks state government lacks the commitment for her to do meaningful work, and is resigning.

Mary Lynn Billy-Old Coyote was appointed by Governor Steve Bullock in March of 2016. She submitted her resignation Saturday.

Billy-Old Coyote's letter says that she was recently informed that her Office of American Indian Health would be moving from the state health department to the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs. The letter says, “this action is an example of how the State is not intending to support American Indian Health by placing (it) outside of the State’s primary healthcare department."

Governor Bullock's office was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Billy-Old Coyote is a member of the Chippewa Cree tribe from the Rocky Boy's reservation. She was appointed American Indian health director after tribal leaders asked the Governor to create the position to address disparities in health outcomes between whites and Native Americans in Montana. The life expectancy for Native Americans here is 20 years shorter than it is for whites.

Billy-Old Coyote's resignation letter says that she is disappointed that the, “lack...of true intent to act upon the needs for American Indian people will result in the continuation of American Indian health disparities and suffering.”

Billy-old Coyote was unavailable for an interview yesterday. Her resignation proposes that she remain in her job until August 4th. 

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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