Natasha Brennan
Special to Indian Country Today

Claremont Graduate University has announced a landmark $14 million gift from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to establish a health research center.

The center aims to support the Southern California Inland Empire region’s underserved and Native American populations.

“In our role as stewards of our ancestral lands, we support our neighboring communities, in addition to our tribe,” San Manuel Tribal Chairman Ken Ramirez said. “For generations, low-income communities and underserved populations have needed quality healthcare. Our gift is an investment in future healthier communities and one we are happy to make.”

Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, announced earlier this month that the Huntley Bookstore building will become the home of the Yuhaaviatam Center for Health Studies.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chair Ken Ramirez and San Manuel Business Committee Member Johnny Hernandez present the tribe’s $14 million donation to Claremont Graduate University, accepted on the school’s behalf by CGU President Len Jessup. The donation makes way for purchasing the Huntley Building, the university’s bookstore, which will soon be the home of the Yuhaaviatam Center for Health Studies. (Photos courtesy of Claremont Graduate University)

The innovative, multidisciplinary health research center was launched more than a year ago and will now have a home in the building. 

The center’s mission is to respond to the chronic illness crisis plaguing the marginalized and vulnerable populations of the Inland Empire and Indian Country by using an integrated health approach and working with the university’s researchers, scientists and more than 300 partnering health organizations.

The creation of the Yuhaaviatam Center for Health Studies has been in the works since 2019 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A date for its opening has not been finalized; however Claremont Graduate University President Len Jessup is hopeful the renovations will be complete in the upcoming year. The building is still used as a bookstore.

Jessup said the partnership between the school and the tribe will stimulate future research into many of the underlying conditions the world has focused on during the pandemic.

“It’s our hope to eventually produce the kinds of research at this center that will prepare everyone, especially our most vulnerable populations, for the challenges of another global crisis,” Jessup said. “In terms of areas of study we are looking forward to bringing together our faculty and students with other researchers, health care providers, and health policy makers to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations throughout the Inland Empire and beyond.”

The center is in a region where many residents with chronic illness lack sufficient health coverage or awareness of the benefits of preventative care and wellness practices. The university’s students, researchers and divisions are already conducting studies on proactive and behavioral approaches to disease prevention.

The creation of the center will also allow for the center’s focus to extend to the Los Angeles area – home to the country’s largest population of urban Native Americans.

The Huntley Building, at the heart of the seven Claremont Colleges in Southern California, will soon be home to the Yuhaaviatam Center for Health Studies. The center, funded by a $14 million donation by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, does not have a released opening date yet and still is operating as a bookstore. When open, its mission is to respond to the chronic illness crisis plaguing the marginalized and vulnerable populations of the Inland Empire and Indian Country. (Photo by Natasha Brennan)

“The types of health and well-being research that will be tackled by the center are relevant to the needs and situations of so many today. Its benefits will ripple out,” said Deron Marquez, former San Manuel chair, Claremont Graduate University alumnus and a university Board of Trustees member.

A recent Claremont Graduate University study found 30 percent to 40 percent of heart failure patients at the Loma Linda University Health’s heart clinic were readmitted to the hospital after discharge. To respond, researchers and students developed an app to monitor patients’ symptoms, reinforce healthy behaviors and provide motivation after discharge from the hospital. In the six-month trial, not one patient was readmitted.

Similar, interdisciplinary research and partnerships with health organizations – like Loma Linda University, where the tribe sponsors other health care programs – will now be more possible with the creation of the center.

“Real, substantial breakthroughs happen when people from many disciplines come together and collaborate. That’s the hallmark of our transdisciplinary philosophy,” Jessup said.

The partnership between Claremont Graduate University and the tribe has been established for over a decade.

The university’s Tribal Administration Program, which began providing training in tribal governance and administration in 2006, will also be housed in the building. The housing of the program in the center is part of the university and tribe’s joint vision to address the health issues Indian Country faces today.

Claremont Graduate University is made up of seven schools to which the Huntley Building was the central bookstore. It will now bear a name that means “People of the Pines,” referring to the ancestors of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. The university’s School of Community and Global Health will serve as the anchor of the center.

The donation to the university is not the tribe’s only contribution to higher education this year. In February, San Manuel announced a $9 million gift to the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ hospitality and law schools to expand tribal gaming and hospitality studies.

The Southern California tribe also announced this week a $250,000 donation to eight nonprofit organizations in Las Vegas.

"We have so many team members, friends and partners who call, or have called, Las Vegas their home. It’s in this spirit of understanding and solidarity that we were moved to show our support for Las Vegas,” said Ramirez, its chairman. “Nonprofits are struggling with community needs far exceeding their resources – yet they play such a vital role in healing and recovery.”

The tribe, which also sponsors the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team and other Las Vegas venues, is a top-10 private employer in San Bernardino County, with more than 4,500 team members.

The tribe recently announced it is constructing a resort expansion, which will include adding 429 guest rooms, expanded high-limit gaming, new dining amenities and a special events space. It will add more than 2,000 new jobs by the end of 2021.

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Natasha Brennan, Cahuilla, is a journalist and photographer from Southern California covering the surrounding Native communities. Follow her on Twitter, @Natasha_Marie_B, or Instagram, @Natasha_Marie_B.

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The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians has contributed to Indian Country Today LLC.