Skip to main content

Oglala Sioux Tribe Revives Native Health Program After Fire, Wins Award for Aberdeen Area

  • Author:
  • Updated:

The Oglala Sioux Tribe's alcohol and drug treatment program rebuilt itself after a devastating electrical fire destroyed its Rapid City, South Dakota-based facility in April 2010.

“Although the building was old and in disrepair, as far as providing alcohol treatment services, it was all we had. The loss was heartfelt," said Gloria One Feather, program director, of the more than 100-year-old facility. "NHP staff as well as community members were saddened at the loss of the facility.”

Now the Native Healing Program (NHP), which serves members of the Oglala, Cheyenne River Sioux, and Rosebud Sioux tribes, is being recognized as Program of the Year among all 30 alcohol and drug treatment programs within the Indian Health Service's Aberdeen Area, which includes reservations located in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

"We did it as a team, always having the perseverance and dedication," One Feather said. "At the end of the day, we are working for our people, and that’s what makes it all worth it. This really came at a good time for the staff to be recognized, for staff morale," One Feather said. "We came out of that fire a stronger program."

After the facility was damaged, the tribe and program directors fought to overcome obstacles to providing treatment. NHP, formerly called Hope Lodge, temporarily relocated to a facility owned by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in Bear Butte, South Dakota, 40 miles north of its former Rapid City facility. "We had 10 clients going through in-patient treatment," One Feather said. "We relocated there, and finished the treatment cycle involved."

Recently, NHP returned to campus, operating in tight quarters out of the Oglala Sioux Tribe's (OST) administration office. There NHP offers an intensive out-patient treatment, a six-week program, running four times a week, three hours a day. The in-patient cycle lasts 30 days. Currently, the NHP refers in-patient clients to other Aberdeen-area centers, although it anticipates purchasing a temporary in-patient treatment center within the next six weeks, One Feather said.

In its tireless mission to rebuild its Rapid City-located facility, OST embarked on a strategic plan, which led to successful negotiations with IHS, securing funds for its new, up-to-date modular facility. NHP qualifies under the Indian Self Determination Contract (P.L. 93-638) with tribal-run Indian health programs. Such contracts are delegated to tribal entities to provide for their people. NHP fits this description, as it uses traditional Lakota teachings to treat alcohol and drug abuse.

"That is the piece that makes our program unique," One Feather said. "We utilize all of our teachings, our way of life, in helping to restore some of the things lost in families, relationships, in a person—to help them heal and keep that balance," One Feather said, explaining that over the years, the Lakota people have lost parts of their culture "that helped us walk in balance."

After NHP’s outdated facility was destroyed, the tribe and counselors worked to revive more than the building. The NHP solicited the help of Smith, Shelton & Ragona LCC, the Westminster, Colorado-based law firm, to assist its compliance with federal laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and another law geared specifically toward alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs, said Molly Barnett, attorney at Smith, Shelton & Ragona.

The attorneys advised the NHP on personnel policies and procedures for counselors, "who have a certain set of ethical rules they need to follow and be aware of," Barnett said. They also wrote revised policies to ensure confidentiality of client records.

While the loss of their treatment facility was a difficult blow to the Lakota tribes and the NHP team, One Feather applauds their determination to recreate out of adversity. "Emotionally, we all went through some trying times; it was a process," One Feather said. "We came back stronger. We didn’t realize this award was out there, and getting recognized at the end of it all, it was really an honor for us."

Janelle Janis, a NHP counselor, was also recognized with the Fire Stomper award for her ability as Peace Keeper and mediator. "Janelle has this really gentle, easy-going spirit about her," One Feather said. "In a sense, it brings harmony to our environment and workplace. It’s really an award that is commendable. She is really level-headed, and I can always count on her. She thinks before she acts. You need that in an organization to make good decisions. For a future leader, I think she has all the [right] qualities."

Janis, 30, counts seven years of counseling experience, two with NHP. "The most rewarding part is knowing that I'm helping a client get into treatment," Janis said. "I enjoy working in this field and being a role model toward the younger ones."