Cheyenne River determined to build elderly village

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EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - With or without state or federal assistance, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Gregg Bourland said his tribe plans to build and totally fund a nursing home on the reservation.

"We're essentially saying to hell with the federal government," Bourland said. "If the federal government does not want to spend any of their money to take care of our elderly on the reservation, the way it should be, then we're going to raise our own money and take care of it."

The chairman said there is an issue with the state of South Dakota as well. "South Dakota has a moratorium on nursing home licenses. Without a state license, unfortunately, you cannot get federal funding on Medicare and Medicaid to take care of our elders. The three-term tribal chairman said this is a bureaucratic logjam the state intentionally maintains.

"The state Legislature continually reauthorizes the law to keep the moratorium in place. So, simply put, Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock and other reservations cannot get a state license for a nursing home."

The tribe plans more than just a nursing home for its elderly.

"What we're going to do is let a bond for both the expenses and the (nursing home) facility, and we're building what's known as an elderly village." It would include housing, an apartment complex, assisted living facilities and the nursing home.

The plan is fairly detailed and calls for staff housing for doctors, nurses and other support personnel. Bourland said the bond would call for three years up-front funding while negotiations take place with Washington for its eventual support. "If the federal government fails to assume their responsibility, then we'll find other sources to fund the long-term operation and maintenance."

"What we're saying is, ?You don't want to help us take care of our elders, then we, as Lakotas, have a moral, physical, and spiritual obligation to take care of them.' We're sick and tired of waiting for a handout from the federal government and we're going to do it ourselves."

Another option the tribe is considering to raise money for the complex is through its community development corporation. The advantage in using the Cheyenne River Economic Development Corp., said the chairman, is no bond issue would be necessary.

Bourland said he fully expects his tribe's initiative will be viewed with strong interest by other tribes. "It will be very controversial and very unique. I'm sure a lot of other reservations are going to take a long, hard look at what we're doing up here.

"Moreover," he said, "it's going to put an incredible amount of pressure on Congress and the state. It's going to embarrass some people - probably because of the fact that it's going to show that many state officials have basically failed in their responsibility to work with the tribes to allow Native American people to come home.

"We have many tribal elders who are veterans of foreign wars, who have served their country faithfully, and yet they're stashed away in a nursing home in the Black Hills," the chairman said. "They can't come and live and enjoy their own home. I think we have an obligation to bring them home."