Micheal Weahkee, the Principal Deputy Director of the Indian Health Service, addresses the 13th annual National Tribal Public Health Summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on May 13, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Native Sun News Today: Activists hold out hope for troubled Indian hospital

Not too late to stop Sioux San takeover

RAPID CITY— Many times, critical influences in major stories are not covered by the major news outlets. Narratives are normally slanted to favor the perspective of the involved parties, and mainstream media tends to rely on the narratives of the more vocal and visible participants. The following story, exclusive to NSNT, offers an intimate perspective from long time Rapid City Indian Community advocate, Mark Lonehill, on the recent controversy over the Indian Self Determination Act 638-contract takeover of the Rapid City Indian Hospital, or Sioux San, and explains why it is still not too late to stop the 638 takeover.

Mark Lonehill is the son of Hobart and Poxy Lonehill. Hobart was perhaps the greatest amateur boxer the state of South Dakota ever produced. Poxy (nee Estelle Walking Elk) was instrumental in getting the first Rapid City Community Health Board started. During those decades, the 56-year-old Lonehill got a chance to see up close the day-to-day struggles to defend the quality of health care in the Indian community. Few people have had such a comprehensive participation, and understanding of the histories and issues over and about the Sioux San.

Lonehill explained what the initial strategy was when the 638 takeover was first proposed: “The main goal was to get the word out and inform the people. During the first meeting, I was overwhelmed by the people who didn’t want it, and the only people that wanted it seemed to be people who worked for Great Plains or their families. We decided to have a public meeting at the Mother Butler Center since that was the usual community meeting place where Native Americans go."

"The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCHB), offered more money to have their meeting (after Mother Butler had already contracted a meeting paid for by Lonehill). After they didn’t get their way, they still tried to claim it was their meeting, they posted flyers, stating that it was their meeting," Lonehill told NSNT. "It was my meeting but they were trying to claim it was their meeting. You got to remember Jerilyn (Church, GPTCHB director) never had one meeting about trying to takeover the San until I had my first meeting.”

The Sioux San Hospital is an Indian Health Service facility in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Lonehill said that at that meeting, Charmaine White Face, a fellow community advocate, and Church discussed that each would have ten minutes to talk, but Lonehill said “Jerilyn didn’t like that format and refused to participate, to tell her side of the takeover. She gave a brief introduction about herself but that was about it.”

Three resolutions were needed from the three tribes designated as managing partners of the Sioux San, Cheyenne River (CRST), Pine Ridge, (OST) and Rosebud (RST), for the GPTCHB to take over the operation of the Sioux San via 638 contract. After GPTCHB got all three resolutions, White Face decided to take the OST to to court, and she was heard before their tribal court.

“(OST) said they lacked the jurisdiction to rule on this matter," Lonehill said. "The point Charmaine wanted to make was if their courts have no authority off the reservation, then neither do their resolutions, because it says in the tribal constitution, that their power ends at the tribal borders, and I still believe she’s right on that.”

That belief, however, had no impact then or now on eventual Indian Health Service (IHS) approval of any 638 takeover plans.

The GPTCHB plans at that time were to move out east of Rapid City to the Shepherd Hills location, relocating the Rapid City Indian Hospital. But if even one of those resolutions was rescinded, Lonehill and White Face rightly reasoned the Shepherd Hills move would be denied by James Driving Hawk, director of the IHS in Aberdeen.

Kathleen Woodenknife spearheaded the RST council move to rescind the resolution. Before that rescinding there was another community meeting at which a representative of Senator John Thune was present, and according to Lonehill, Church was not restricted from attending this meeting in any way, and the representative was puzzled why she was not present. Woodenknife was present, and the very next day she took her concerns back to Rosebud and the RST rescinded their resolution. By midafternoon of the same day, IHS had denied the Shepherd Hills plans, also citing concerns over the qualifications of a health care advocacy agency, GPTCHB, to manage a hospital like Sioux San, something at which they had zero expertise or experience.

Far from defeated, Church moved ahead with a plan to divide the hospital between IHS control and 638 contract control, getting the CRST and the OST to amend their resolutions to proceed without RST involvement.

This plan was eventually approved by IHS.


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James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com

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