Transforming​ ​Tribal​ ​Healthcare​ ​at Standing​ ​Rock,​ ​South Dakota

Part II of IV

Published October 6, 2017

Author’s Note:  September 13th marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As designers and activists serving Native communities around the United States, we at Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative are acutely aware of the lack of impact this legislation has had. Yet we have also seen enormous progress made by numerous indigenous grassroots efforts over the last decade. Native News Online is publishing a series of stories this week that highlight the progress being made in several tribal communities: 

STANDING ROCK INDIAN RESERVATION –  ​The Standing Rock Lakota and Dakota Sioux gained international recognition in 2016 for defending their lands against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline, completed in June of 2017, transports shale oil from North Dakota through tribal lands sites sacred to regional Tribes while endangering freshwater aquifers and threatening public health and safety. But the Lakota’s story of resistance and self-determination is far from over. Now, they may become known for transforming the way healthcare is approached on reservations around the country. In November 2016, they partnered with the University of California in San Francisco, MASS Design Group, National Nurses United, the Changing Woman Initiative, and the Global Healthcare Alternative Project, to respond to an imminent need for medical support during the Standing Rock protests. This partnership is now raising funds to build a free community health clinic called Mni Wiconi (Water is Life), envisioned as a space where indigenous practitioners can explore self-determination in healthcare.

What does this look like? In anticipation of the current Administration’s plans to cut funding to Native healthcare programs, tribes have the opportunity to develop new models for sustainable, culturally appropriate healthcare without federal intendance. This means facilitating the training and retention of indigenous doctors and nurses within tribal communities; emphasizing prevention programs to target the worst epidemics: suicide, obesity, alcoholism, and sexual violence; prioritizing low-cost traditional medicine over big pharma; and developing a broader network of healthcare employment opportunities and access across the rural swaths of the Standing Rock Reservation.

The question of financial scaling, particularly with a project that is being funded through crowd sourcing, is paramount. Linda Black Elk and Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle of Standing Rock, Dr. Rupa Marya of UCSF, and Sierra Bainbridge of MASS Design are leading the current funding effort to raise $6 million over the next year. Most of this will likely come from private donations, which, according to the project’s crowdfunding platform, seems achievable. The diverse background and networks of the project’s partners enables them to engage larger pools of potential donors. Of course health facilities like Mni Wiconi should not have to be funded by individuals. Presently though, in a political climate where healthcare is systematically neglected, this work must be carried forth by the will of the people.

RELATED: Indigenous​ ​Rights:​ ​Organizing​ ​and​ ​Resilience​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Frontlines​ ​of​ ​Native​ ​America 

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