New Wellness Center can finally be built

By Louis Montclair

Tribal Times

After waiting for over a decade, the Tribal Wellness Center Facility can start construction.

The council approved of the final overall design of the Wellness Center and authorizes the Wellness Center Committee to send the project out to bid. 

But before the final vote was taken, there were a few other things. The board took a recess until 1 p.m., to attend the funeral of former Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent Howard Bemer. When they returned, there was a small group of high school students there to visit with the council. 

After the meeting started, Chairman Floyd Azure asked the council if they were going to recognize the visitors. Nobody said anything and the group was recognized.

The group was there on behalf of high school students who signed a petition to open the new wellness center. At least 260 young people signed it, hoping to be heard by the Tribal Council.

In addition to the wellness aspect, there is going to be a coffee shop inside for studying after hours, it will provide jobs, and it can open doors for all people.

The idea of being able to see the doctor on the weekend for small injuries at the Wellness Center Clinic is a great step up from being forced to go to the emergency room.

More importantly, the center is providing services Indian Health Service doesn’t offer: preventative medicine.

“Stand behind us and create a space for the youth,” Sandra Burnell said.

After a brief applause, councilman Jestin Dupree thanked them for bringing their viewpoints.

Councilwoman Patt Runs Through also thanked them, saying she was aware of their points viewpoints as well and creating the right environment for all reservation youth.

The council resumed the meeting while the group waited in the audience for the motion to come up. 

When it did come up, Chairman Azure said this is overdue and should have been completed years ago. But with new administrations come new council members who vote to undo and redo work that has already been put into the project. 

Councilman Frank Gourneau, who owns his own local construction company, said even though he is behind this project, he thinks it should be fair as to how it is bid out. There was a time when a certain tribal program director in charge consistently outsourced work to one single company for years. While he wouldn’t name the director, Gourneau said that has happened before and it shouldn’t happen again. 

Councilwoman Carolyn Brugh said she understands the good intentions of the wellness center but the other outer communities must be taken care of as well because they are calling and asking what is being done for them. 

Councilwoman Kaci Wallette said she will be voting no for this as well, because the other outer communities are left out.

Runs Through said the pool facilities in the new center will benefit the needs of the diabetic community, but more importantly this place will help make the reservation a healthier place.

Even though the center is being built in Poplar, it is not solely a “Poplar project.” It’s for the entire population, and nobody is being left out, Chairman Azure said. 

Gourneau said when he first heard of this, he was told this money was being used for the youth. Then the Salazar money the Tribes put aside is being held hostage because this should have been taken care of and built years ago. 

The original idea he remembered was a pool, no large facility being mention. Just a pool, not a medical center either. 

Chairman Azure said the Wellness Center has been the goal since day one. The original proposal was for a wellness center based on what Indian Health Service does not cover. 

The money for this project has been there the whole time, and if they don’t use it they lose it. That could have negative consequences for the Tribes reputation in seeking grants and other future funding.

As for the outer communities needs brought up. 

During his time in office as Chairman, Azure presided over many meetings and seen other councils come and go. Not once in all that time did any council member ever raise their hand and bring any action forward to help smaller communities. If that is something the council want’s to do, then there are other sources of funding.

“This is the farthest we got,” Azure said.

The new center will be able to generate money for the Tribes through third party billing.\

But most importantly, it’s a fully equipped center with a medical clinic inside offering preventative medicine. 

Brugh said no work was done at the Brockton Cultural Center. They need repairs on the structure, and currently they have a stove that can’t fit in the center and they also ordered a fridge. 

Gourneau said it takes 20 years to generate the money spent on the new wellness center, but not all of the revenue will get to all of the people in the reservation outer communities. 

Chairman Azure reminded the council to first raise their hands and make a resolution for action on smaller communities. But the matter at hand, the wellness center, needs to be taken care of today.

The vote was called for in roll call, and the resolution passed seven for and four (Gourneau, Wallette, Brugh, Gray Hawk) with one councilman (Tom Escarcega) absent. 

The following are the highlights from the January 27, 2020 full TEB meeting.

Travel Reports 

When the Tribal Travel was brought up for approval, several council members gave reports on their journeys.

Councilman Emerson Young, along with representatives from four other Montana Indian tribes, went to Billings and met with federal highway officials on budget formulation. 

The majority of federal highway money for Indian tribes goes to tribes in Oklahoma and Alaska, Young said. 

Councilman Terry Rattling Thunder said that is partially due to some of the richer Indian trbes using the power of money and lobby on their side. 

Young said the feds want to change their budget formulation so Fort Peck could get some of that federal assistance. The new formula will eventually impact housing, roads, and other programs of the Tribes. 

Currently, Connie Thompson of the Tribes Road Department is in Arizona going over different models of formulas, he said. 

Councilman Dana Buckles said this formula is going to be followed by housing and to get any money they would need numbers from the 2020 US Census. Accurate numbers would be needed, and it would bring in more funding for roads and other federal funding opportunities. 

But this is a problem here because people are afraid of the Census. (See Separate Story On Census Truth)

Chairman Azure asked if the feds ran any of these numbers yet, Young said they are training to find a formula that works,

Councilwoman Runs Through said she saw this when they went to advocate for money. Alaska had their representatives ready and at the negotiation table. Fort Peck needs to have representation to be at table arguing for the Tribes.

When the Little Shell Tribe in Great Falls gained federal recognition, Vice Chairman Charles Headdress and councilwoman Runs Through attended the ceremony celebrating official federal recognition. 

Runs Through said it was a huge event, everyone in the region was there including important government officials. It was standing room only when they arrived, and then they went to the reception area and saw no available seating at the tables. But they eventually managed to secure a spot inside the room at the start of the event.

When the Little Shell came in, they sang a beautiful honor song, But other than the long wait to be served, she was very thankful for being sent there on behalf of the Tribes. It was a beautiful and historical event, she said. 

Vice Chairman Headdress said when they arrived, it was packed. They barely got into the door, and they had to stand in the hall and watch for a seat. None were available, but then they spotted some available seating at the Little Shell Tribe table. 

All of the big wigs were there. Sen. Jon Tester sent a video of his remarks because he was in the President’s Impeachment Trial. But with everyone else there, Headdress said it reminded him of a sold out rock concert with all of the people in line and the huge amount of people outside. 

Councilman Dupree also went there, and he said Fort Peck presented Little Shell a special star quilt and tribal flag. 

Next Dupree gave a report on his trip to South Dakota for the Inagural Sioux Nation Address.

All of the Sioux Indian tribes get together for this every year and share the state of affairs. 

While meeting with other tribal leaders there, Dupree said nearly all have the same problems that Fort Peck has with meth, poverty, missing people, 

One of the great words of advice he got was “modern day battlefields are court rooms.”

Council members Wallette and Buckles also reported their budget formulation meeting in Billings.

For the 2022 prep session, five of us picked about 12 to 14 representatives to lobby Congress for more funding in Indian Health Service. 

The national average for a doctor visit is $9,000, she said. 

Planning

The Tribal Council voted to accept the Economic Development/Planning Office’s recommendation and authorize the establishment of a Tribal Development Committee. 

Secretary Accountant Jackie Weeks, who is on the committee, said it’s in place to make sure everything is done right for future projects. There are many things that need to be done before something can be built, including cultural and historical preservation, scientific research, soil, etc. Their going to be there to make sure all tribal projects don’t forget important requirements 

The committee is seated by Maureen Dionne, Rodney Miller, Jackie Weeks, Connie Thompson, Wilfred Lambert, Dyan Youpee, Barry Bighorn, Deb Madison, Samantha Azure, Kenneth Smoker Jr., Paul Azure, and Kaci Wallette.

Daycare

The committee approved of a recommendation to assign the 477 Program’s Poplar Daycare Center Project to the Tribal Development Committee to assist the 477 Director in her efforts to construct the proposed Poplar Daycare Facility. 

The newly formed Tribal Development Committee will work with 477 Director in her efforts in building the new daycare center. 

Cigarettes & Chew

Mitzi Razinie of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council visited with the council about getting support from the Tribes.

In 2017, people went around and conducted a tobacco use survey on the reservation. They are working on a grant for the next five yeas to get data together, and they are asking for a letter of support from the Tribal Executive Board. 

The approved letter of support will got to the RMTLC Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country Program to get accurate data on commercial and traditional uses of tobacco. 

Games

A letter of support will be drafted and given to the Wolf Point and Poplar Schools in their efforts to bring state tournaments locally. 

According to information taken before the vote, both schools are working toward convincing the Montana High School Association to bring regional and state games to the area. Majority of the games are held in Western or Central Montana. 

No Classification

The council voted to have no job re-classifications or pay increases until budget submissions per program directors by June 26, 2020 for FY 2021.

Committee minutes state councilman Crowbelt was wondering about the many classifications of jobs that’s been going through. Some of these re-classifications are not covered in their approved budgets, and Crowbelt would like to see all of the directors reclassify all jobs. 

Councilman Escarcega asked why the re-classification requests are coming forward now. He wants these to come through next fiscal year so the programs can figure it into their operating budgets. 

At the meeting, councilwoman Wallette said this is needed and it won’t go into affect until the new fiscal year 2020. 

Crowbelt was opposed to this, saying it was stopping the employees from being able to have raises. There are good people working here and why would the council want to restrain them, he said. 

Good directors should be able to go in and adjust their own budgets to cover raises from re-classifications, he said. 

“I fell like we threw our people under the bus,” Crowbelt said.

Chairman Azure asked what would happen if the programs had no money.

Councilman Rattling Thunder said this is the directors responsibility. When they do their budgets it is up to the program directors to figure job reclassifications and the accompanying wage increase. 

“A good director would take care of this,” Rattling Thunder said. “Instead of bringing it in here for us to fix.”

Councilwoman Runs Through agreed, saying this is important for making sure directors are held accountable. 

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