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Latoya Lonelodge
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune

On Oct. 18 the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Indian Health Center held a grand opening ceremony, officially marking a day of recognition for many to celebrate.

Gathering on a windy and cold morning, the grand opening ceremony along with a mural blessing was held at the long awaited and newly built Indian Health Center in El Reno, Okla.

Beginning the ceremony with traditional drum songs and the presentation of flags by the Cheyenne and Arapaho American Legion Post 401, invocation was offered by Fred Mosqueda and Allen Sutton.

Taking to the podium for introductions was Kateri Fletcher-Sahmaunt who welcomed all Indian Health Service (IHS) representatives, tribal leaders, business partners, staff and community members to the grand opening.

“Today marks an historic event and one that was a long time in the making, from the many individuals that were involved over the years to the countless hours that were spent creating and designing a clinic that was not only meant to meet the health care needs of our patients but also to be reflective of the rich and cultural traditions of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes,” Sahmaunt said.

Sahmaunt said each step of the process was made with thoughtfulness and intent as the colors of the walls were chosen because they are similar to the colors of the traditional medicines known to the Cheyenne and Arapaho people. The medical teams were named after animals that could be found in creation stories, the names of the door signs were translated to the language for elders to recognize their Native tongue and for youth to be encouraged to learn their languages and the layout of the lobby was similar to the inside of a tipi, a place where Native people have felt comfort for many years.

“So many details about this clinic that make it a place for our patients, who can find healing physically, mentally, socially and spiritually,” Sahmaunt said.

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Indian health center celebrates opening. (Photo by Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune)

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Gov. Reggie Wassana took to the podium next thanking the legislators as the key people who were instrumental in getting the new IHS center built.

“The tribe needed the monies to build this so we could get it staffed through IHS and offer these services. I don’t believe everybody understood when I was running for office I said the key thing to success was to work and get along with the legislators because years passed we didn’t and when they appropriated this money to get the building built, I think that was substantial in this building coming to fruition,” Wassana said.

With the grand opening of the El Reno Indian Health Center, Wassana said the work is not done as they are always looking out for the health care needs of tribal citizens.

“We are going to have an addition as well that we had planned whenever we built this, this is only going to expand, it helps take all the pressure off the Clinton Service Unit whenever everybody was driving from around this area back towards Clinton,” Wassana said.

Wassana said what makes the El Reno location unique is how the tribes built it and IHS staffed it compared to previous years of lobbying for IHS in congress for new facilities.

“Those were 10 to 20 year projects out so when we were able to get money secured and the legislators appropriated, it made this a lot faster and a lot better so people locally and those people that’s within driving distance can be here, I just want to say that I appreciate everybody’s support and everybody’s dedication, the commitment, the compassion to actually get this facility underway and these services offered,” Wassana said.

Rear Adm. Chris Buchanan, deputy director of field operations at IHS Headquarters, said the IHS strategic plan is to ensure a comprehensive, culturally appropriate personnel of public health services are available and accessible to American Indians and Alaska natives.

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“Increasing access to quality health care services is critical to improving the health of native people, reducing the risk factors that contribute to the leading causes of death, the health care facility is aligned with this goal as it will provide high quality medical services for routine, preventative care to care for more complicated and chronic conditions,” Buchanan said.

As Rear Adm. Travis Watts, area director from Oklahoma City Area Office, reminisced on the past, he thanked the community and patients for staying with the health center since 2013 when a tornado had taken out their old facility.

“Whoever thought from that day that that would lead to today, that’s really what would’ve happened, if that tornado wouldn’t have hit us that day we probably would still be over there in an undermanned, understaffed and inappropriate clinic, we got through that challenge,” Watts said.

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Indian health center celebrates opening. (Photo by Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune)

Watts said the IHS has a vision.

“The vision is for us to have quality health systems that lead to healthy communities, we do that through partnerships and culturally responsive practices, that’s the vision and today I see that vision really coming to life here because it’s that partnership that got us this clinic and is going to provide the care and the next step now in that vision is for this to be what we call a patient center medical home,” Watts said.

Following the ceremony held outside of the new facility, the public was invited inside to unveil the mural that was created by Cheyenne Chief and Artist Gordon Yellowman. The mural, which took Yellowman 72 hours to paint, is showcased on the wall of the lobby are and can be seen as patients enter the building.

“This was a project that was asked in a good way, they saw one of my previous murals at the George Hawkins Memorial Treatment Center and they were impressed with that mural, so they wanted that kind of design concept to come here,” Yellowman said.

Yellowman said it gave him the opportunity to not only express his art but also bring culture into the mural.

On the mural were paintings of animals that represented each of the medical teams at the El Reno Indian Health Center.

“All the animals are the units of these doctors, like the otter is Dr. Renshaw and the eagle is another doctor, the bear is another doctor unit, so all these animals I incorporated into the mural design to represent them because we’re coming here for help,” Yellowman said.

Also incorporated on the mural is the IHS logo along with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Dept. of Health logo.

“The IHS logo is incorporated in there because that’s this facility, but the concept itself is the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and then the Department of Health logo on each corner and that’s the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Department of Health logo,” Yellowman said.

Yellowman said the medicine wheel on the mural represents the way of life.

“It brings us everything spiritually, protects us physically and emotionally and mentally and that’s what we’re coming here for, sometimes we’re feeling down, we’re feeling sick we feel no energy and you see this, it’s going to bring that energy back and make you feel better, like receiving a blessing from it,” Yellowman said.

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This article was republished with permission.