Indianz.Com > News > Charmaine White Face: Fortitude in fighting for Indian health care
Charmaine White Face in her home in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News Today
Getting to the U.S. Supreme Court
Friday, May 7, 2021

When Donna Gilbert asked me to be a part of her lawsuit, I immediately said yes. After having survived three other lawsuits, I should have been leery.

But when peoples’ lives are at stake, it is not hard to make a hard decision.

Initially it was the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court (OST). It was my son’s idea to go to the Tribal Court because we knew what the outcome would be. The OST court would dismiss our case because the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board (GPTCHB) was under the jurisdiction of the state of South Dakota and was not a Tribal Organization.

Donna Gilbert, Julie Mohney and Charmaine White Face have been part of a lawsuit challenging the Indian Health Service for approving a self-determination contract with the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, now known as the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board. The plaintiffs are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case after losing at the lower levels of the federal judicial system. PDF: Writ of Certiorari: Gilbert v. Weahkee

But we needed this verified by a court. We also knew that the other federal courts would acknowledge the Tribal court ruling, or were supposed to. It would be a win for the OST Court and for the patients who use Sioux San Hospital. As it turned out, the federal District Court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals both ignored and disregarded the OST court ruling.

The second place we went was the state court since GPTCHB was under state jurisdiction. However, the GPTCHB used as their defense the J. L. Ward case in which a federal judge magically gave “tribal sovereign immunity” to the GPTCHB. This happened before the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court had ruled that the GPTCHB was NOT a Tribal Organization.

Our case was dismissed at the state level because GPTCHB had “tribal sovereign immunity.” I didn’t know a judge could grant “tribal sovereign immunity” or the IHS decide an organization they established could be a Tribal Organization without being under any Tribe. Learn something new everyday…even if it is illegal.

The next court we went to was the local federal District Court in Rapid City which also dismissed our case despite the OST Court ruling. We had not pushed the Treaty issue as I had been warned by many elders not to muddy the Treaty in the court of the enemy, the U.S. federal courts. The OST court ruling should have been enough in the federal courts besides all the regulations governing the Indian Self- Determination Act. Our case was dismissed without prejudice. So it could be brought up again.

All of these efforts cost money. As an elder, 74 years old, my Social Security check barely covers my living expenses. There was no way to pay for an attorney besides the court costs so I went in Pro Se meaning ‘by myself.’  So when Donna asked me to come in with her on her case, she said they already used our arguments from our previous case. She had consulted an attorney.

In our Oceti Sakowin culture, there is a virtue called ‘Fortitude.” Patience and perseverance are also included. The direction this virtue comes from is the North to help us withstand the cold and snow of winter. Personally, since I was a kid, I have loved winter, and I try my best to practice this virtue.


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Read the rest of the story on Native Sun News Today: Getting to the U. S. Supreme Court

Charmaine White Face or Zumila Wobaga (74) is an Oglala Tituwan Oceti Sakowin great-grandmother, scientist, and writer. She can be reached at

Note: Copyright permission Native Sun News Today