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A COVID-19 community vaccine event on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Indian Health Service
Health care is paid for with treaty land… and then some
Monday, May 24, 2021
Native Sun News Today Columnist

I once heard a local veteran state that he is “Indian” first and a veteran second. His comment reflects my sentiment “to the T.”

I was once told by a local Indian Health Service (IHS) employee to use the Veteran’s Administration medical facility located in Hot Springs. So, I stopped using the local facility in Pine Ridge a long time ago and managed to stay away for many years.

My experience with the local IHS facility was disappointing and disheartening. For example, each time I went to the hospital for a cough, I was prescribed aspirin and sent home. Since the cough persisted, I usually go to see a doctor in a neighboring town and find a serious condition like pneumonia. I’ve heard many express their frustration as a family member was misdiagnosed which exacerbated their condition.

As early as the 60s and 70s, I heard local “Indian” residents lament the less than quality treatment they had to endure at the IHS facility. In recent times, most patients in need of specialty care, like surgery and severe trauma injuries, are being referred out and airlifted to the new Monument Hospital in Rapid City, or to medical facilities in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and sometimes to Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

I was probably off the mark but I suspected they were preparing to close shop and vacate the premises as part of a secret plan. I was surprised to see some developments that say otherwise. About three weeks ago, I ended up going to the new Emergency Room and was dumbfounded. I will say it appears to be state-of-the-art. For a moment, I thought I was elsewhere.

The wife, a dialysis patient, was taken there for “chest discomfort.” It appears the facility is upgrading their facility to improve health care. I sat with the wife waiting for her ground transport to Rapid City where she was treated and released. I ended up paying for her prescriptions.

As for prescriptions, the IHS pharmacy often does not carry the medicines prescribed by “outside” physicians. Usually, I end up with “generic” medicines that may have been used during the war in Korea and World War II. Other than the VA facility pharmacy, there were many times when I had pay for my medicines and it has been pricey.

Aside from my personal experiences, I don’t know much about the local IHS facility, other than the obvious, like the helicopter, ambulances, and their COVID-19 inoculation service. I understand people still have to wait after arriving for scheduled appointments. Anyway, I just want to understand why the government provided health care and services we have are not top quality.

I do know the federal government hid the Fort Laramie Peace Treaty of 1868 from its public. The Black Hills was established within Dakota Territory (1864-1889), which later became South and North Dakota. The Black Hills was part of the Great Sioux Reservation. It was promised as a permanent residence for the “Sioux” until gold was “discovered” there in 1874 and taken in 1877, without the permission of the natives.

Anyway, back to health care. Article Thirteen of the 1868 treaty reads, “The United States hereby agrees to furnish annually to the Indians the physician, teacher, carpenter, miller, engineer, farmer, and blacksmith, as herein contemplated, and the appropriations shall be made from time to time, on estimate of the Secretary of the 
Interior, as will be sufficient to employ such persons.”

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Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at matonasula2@gmail.com.

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