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Transfer to Department of Health, Education,

and Welfare (1946-1969)

On July 1, 1954, an act of Congress transferred all Native American health care programs and responsibilities from the auspices of the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's Public Health Service (PHS).

From the time of the transfer, the PHS published many reports of its progress in providing improved health care to Native Americans over what the BIA had provided. Such PHS publications include pamphlets and brochures showing it to be a reliable provider of Native American health services.

Some of these were published to encourage physicians to consider government employment, working on an Indian reservation. Usually stressed were the unique challenges to be met and the recreational enjoyments of the West.

Before and following the transfer, congressional hearings continued to examine the poor quality of care provided to Native American patients at hospitals when health care was being administered by the Department of the Interior. One of these hospitals was Morningside Hospital (See also the hospital's earlier catalogs in exhibit case 4).


Exhibit Case 6

A male nurse looks at the ear of a young Native American boy.

Nurse examines the ear of a young Native American patient

A male technician prepares to x-ray the arm of a Native American patient in the Indian Hospital Santa Fe New Mexico 1951.

Technician prepares to x-ray the arm of a Native American patient


A two page spread from Progress in Indian Health Report on the Indian Health Program, PHS, 1959. While both pages have text, layered behind the text are images of Native Americans. On the left page is a Native American wearing Native American clothing holding a shield with feathers on it in one hand and holding a gourd rattle in the other hand. He is wearing an animal skin head covering with two horns on top. On the right page is  a silhouette of a group of five Native Americans sitting on the ground in front of Native American holding a gourd rattle in his right hand and a feather staff in the left.. He is wearing an animal skin head covering with two horns on top. In the background behind the standing man are tepees. To the right of that image is a picture of a building.

Progress in Indian Health: Report on the Indian Health Program
PHS, 1959.

A two page spread from Horizons in Indian Health Dentistry PHS Division of Indian Health 1959. On the left page are three images. On the top image is a dentist and a female dental assistant in a dental office taking care of a dental patient. In the background is a panoramic view of Alaska. The center image is two men fishing on the shore of a lake surrounded by rocks and boulders. The bottom image is a dog sled and dogs in a snow covered mountain area. A arrow from the right page points to the images stating Assignments in Alaska - Modern Clinical Denistry in A Sportsman's Paradise. The right page has an drawing of a dentist and a female dental assistant taking care of dental patient sitting in a dental chair. The rest of the page is text.

Horizons in Indian Health Dentistry
PHS Division of Indian Health, 1959.

Map of Federal Indian Reservations in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, opposite of page 1 from Indians on Federal Reservations in the United States: a digest, part 3 Aberdeen Area. Page 1 of Indians on Federal Reservations in the United States: a digest,  Aberdeen Area featuring information about the Ponca and Santee Sioux Reservations, Nebreaska. The Reservation section at the top features the location and land. The People section at the bottom features the tribes, population, and characterstics.

Indians on Federal Reservations in the United States: a digest, Aberdeen Area, PHS, Division of Indian Health, 1959.
Digests like this one were published as fact sheets for the PHS itself and distribution to other federal agencies.



"Adapting White Medicine to Indian Culture. If Western medicine is to help and not harm the Navajos, it must get them to accept our pertinent and practical knowledge without undermining their faith. Their faith must not be ruthlessly attacked simply because it offers some obstacles to medicine. Instead, Western medicine should be expressed to the Navajos in terms of their own culture, in ways that accord with their understanding of the world and their values. If a public health worker wins the friendship of a few Navajos and takes time to listen to them, he will learn much that will be of practical use in adapting treatments, procedures, and teachings to the Navajos. In the course of time, as rapport develops, the ceremonials which least interfere with medicine can be particularly encouraged; thus it may be that the physician is free to give penicillin and the Navajo is free to get the psychological benefit which he may derive from the religious rituals. For a Navajo patient, being helped by a "singer" is quite different from being helped by a physician or nurse.

The physicians, nurses, and other staff members who understand the Navajo's way of looking at the world and his psychological dependence on the "sings" are likely to have good relationships with the Navajo patients. Those who do not understand their ways, and attempt to force our beliefs and the scientific basis of our medicine on them, are likely to have poor relationships. Doctors at the Fort Defiance Sanatorium report that when, in recent years, they have suggested that patients have "sings" before and after sanatorium treatment, there has been less absence-without-medical-advice."

Source: Orientation to Health on the Navajo Indian Reservation: A Guide for Hospital and Public Health Workers, for the PHS Division of Indian Health, 1959, p. 18.


Hearings before Congress on the responsibility of Morningside Hospital's owners and the Department of the Interior for the poor care patients received there from 1948 to 1957. [book pages not shown in online exhibition].


A sick Native American woman lies in hospital bed at the Indian Sanitorium, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

One of a few single rooms. Indian Sanitorium, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1951.



"Virtually all the patients in Morningside Hospital are those committed from Alaska. Many of them are Alaskan natives, who had been transported over a thousand miles from their homes to the Morningside Hospital, and many of them have been separated for long periods of time from their family and friends."

Source: House of Representatives Committee Report on Morningside Hospital, 1958, p. 2.


To the First Americans: A Report on the Indian Health Program of the U.S. Public Health Service, 1968. The U.S. PHS began publishing these in 1967 [not shown in online exhibition].


An Eskimo man and an Eskimo woman dance while several men beat drums; many people look on, children sit in the foreground.

Celebration at the opening of a new Indian Health Service Hospital at Kotzebue, Alaska, c. 1961

Two women in three-bed ward Indian Sanitorium, Albuquerque New Mexico 1951. One woman is sitting on the middle bed while the other is sitting in a chair eating food next to the third bed.

Women in three-bed ward. Indian Sanitorium, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1951.