'Somebody pinch me and wake me up'Omaha Tribe hails support for hospital built by Susan LaFlesche Picotte
By Kevin Abourezk
@Kevin_Abourezk Efforts to restore a historic hospital built by the first Native physician just got a significant boost. The Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital, located on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska, has been added to the list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced the designation on Tuesday. “Somebody pinch me and wake me up because I feel like this is a dream,” said Michael Wolfe, chairman of the Omaha Tribe. “We are a people that has kind of been forgotten, and then there are people like Susan La Flesche Picotte that has revived us.” The list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places includes structures that exemplify America’s architectural and cultural heritage and are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. The hospital was built by Susan LaFlesche Picotte, who was Omaha, in 1913.
Inclusion on the National Trust's list offers great promise to those trying to restore the facility as only 5 percent of the sites placed on the list since it was begun 31 years ago have been lost. Often, inclusion on the list has galvanized public efforts to save the endangered sites. Indeed, an effort to save the Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital is already under way. “The designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites from every region of the country,” said Dan Worth, an architect and member of the advisory committee that has worked to restore the hospital, during an event at the Nebraska State Capitol announcing the National Trust designation.
La Flesche Picotte was the nation’s first Native doctor, and her hospital represents the first constructed for an Indian reservation without federal funding. The hospital is currently unoccupied and in disrepair, facing an uncertain future. Recently, a group of Nebraska historians, the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs (NCIA) and the Omaha Tribe began working to restore La Flesche Picotte’s hospital and started a fundraising campaign to do so. Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of NCIA, said the National Trust designation will improve the hospital advisory committee’s efforts to raise money to restore the building. “It will elevate our profile so we will be more successful in our efforts,” she said.
The committee plans to submit an application for a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to renovate the hospital and plans to apply for another $500,000 from that agency after that, gaiashkibos said. Next, the committee plans to turn its attention to private donors, she said. Supporters have said they would like to see the hospital transformed into a historical site — the building is already a National Historic Landmark — and provide offices for the Omaha Tribe. But much work lies ahead to restore the 2 1/2-story wood frame building in Walthill to its original condition, including installing new windows and possibly a new roof. The project could cost as much as $1 million, according to supporters.
Born in a tipi in 1865, the daughter of one of the last recognized chiefs of her people, La Flesche Picotte graduated at the top of her medical school class in 1889. She did so more than 30 years before women could vote and Indians were recognized as U.S. citizens. Forgoing lucrative job offers and the promise of a life of luxury, La Flesche Picotte returned to the Omaha Reservation upon graduation, to practice medicine in a place where she lacked many of the basic necessities and medical staff needed to treat hundreds of patients. She spent many long days traversing the hills, galleys and rivers of her reservation, her buffalo robe draped across her shoulders as her horses and buggy carried her to the homes of sick children and elders. Beyond just providing primary care, however, La Flesche Picotte also launched public health campaigns that included eliminating the use of communal drinking cups and combating alcohol abuse. “She was more than just a health care provider, especially to the Omaha people,” said Susanne Shore, first lady of Nebraska and honorary chair for the hospital advisory committee. “She was an educator, an advocate, an advisor, a social worker and an activist. She built this hospital to serve her people with dignity and competence.”
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