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Nora Mabie
Great Falls Tribune

More than 100 people gathered in Great Falls to celebrate the opening of the Little Shell Tribal Health Clinic

Located at 425 Smelter Ave. NE, the 10,000-square-foot clinic serves as a one-stop-shop, offering comprehensive medical, dental, vision, radiology, pharmaceutical and behavioral health services. The tribe is also offering free shuttle services to help people access the clinic. 

Indian Health Service, a federal agency that provides medical care to federally recognized tribes, is expected to run the clinic initially, but Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray said he hopes the tribe can assume clinic leadership within three years. This clinic is the newest IHS facility in the region, and its the second IHS facility in Great Falls.

Gray said the clinic will benefit not just Indigenous people but also the state as a whole. When asked who the clinic will serve, he answered, "Anybody. Anybody and everybody."

When the Little Shell Tribe gained federal recognition in 2019, Gray said his first priority was securing a health facility. But when he met with IHS leadership, Gray said he was told the tribe could get a clinic in "probably 40 years."

The Little Shell Tribe held a non-traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new health clinic. The tribe's transportation vehicle broke the ribbon and sound a big honk amid applause.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed that. The tribe received $25 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and used some of that money to launch the health clinic in Great Falls. 

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"This is a really exciting time for the Little Shell people," Gray said at the ceremony on Friday. 

Rep. Matt Rosendale attended the event and spoke of disparate health outcomes among the Native American population. He stressed the importance of improving access to quality health care for Indigenous people. 

Representatives from Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines' offices also offered congratulations to the tribe. 

Mayor Bob Kelly said the clinic's opening marked a "step forward in a long journey towards a healthier community."

Cascade County Commissioner Don Ryan added that he's been impressed with the Little Shell Tribe's initiatives after gaining federal recognition.

The Little Shell Tribe is headquartered in Great Falls and has 6,003 enrolled members. Since gaining federal recognition, the tribe has a number of projects in the works, including programs dedicated to food sovereignty and affordable housing.  

The tribe owns four properties in Great Falls, including the health clinic, event center, programs building (coming soon) and tribal admin building.

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