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Native Sun News Today: Tribal group advocates for Indian health

Chief Administrative Officer Sonny Colombe and Chief Executive Officer Jerilyn Church at the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board offices in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by James Giago Davies

Advocating for Indian health
Clearing up how the GPTCHB works
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY –– “Our role,” says Jerilyn Church, Chief Executive officer of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board (GPTCHB), “is to advocate on behalf of Tribes, to the bureaucrats, to the IHS (Indian Health Service), and to HHS (US Department of Health and Human Services). Hopefully, to elevate the voice of the collective to the powers-that-be.”

It is easy to get the mission, purpose, identity, programs and activities of any tribal organization confused given all the acronyms and associations. Tens of thousands of people have been helped by the GPTCHB, even though most don’t know it even exists. There is a fundamental difference between an agency empowered by federal, state or tribal authority to administer specific service, and an advocacy board, set up to coordinate and facilitate and help ensure optimal health care quality for the 18 member tribes of the Great Plains.

The GPTCHB is the latter.

Even this article will be chock full of confusing, cascading acronyms (BIA, IHS, HHS, etc.), but the important distinction to recognize is the GPTCHB is not a government agency—it is a tribal organization, a board established in 1986 by the 16 tribal chairmen of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA).

The GPTCA does not have direct responsibility for the GPTCHB. That responsibility falls to Jerilyn Church and a professional staff of fifty people, spread over a wide area, but the administrative offices are located in West Rapid, just off Deadwood Avenue.

Church is forced to travel a great deal, given the 18 member tribal communities are spread over four states, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, and so she must meet with people from all over the country, and the world, attend conferences thousands of miles away. It is not easy coordinating all the GPTCHB responsibilities and activities, so the GPTCHB has a staff organized to accomplish exactly that.

If you want to set up a meeting with Church, you first hook up with Nate Livermont, Oglala Lakota, who is Executive Coordinator. He sets up the appointment and then a confirmation e-mail is sent indicating not only the time and purpose of the meeting, but bullet pointed for what will be discussed. Another e-mail is sent, probably on the off-chance the first e-mail was not received or opened.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Advocating for Indian health

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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