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The Sioux San Hospital site on Canyon Lake Road in Rapid City.

A local Lakota elder has filed a lawsuit in hopes of stopping the transfer of the administration of Sioux San Hospital from the Indian Health Service to the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board.

On Dec. 4, Charmaine White Face, a Lakota elder, activist, spokesperson for the Sioux Nation Treaty Council and former Oglala Sioux Tribe treasurer, filed a suit in federal court calling for the immediate suspension of IHS and the Great Plains board's pursuit of a 638 contract, also known as the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act. Jerilyn Church, CEO of the health board, and James Driving Hawk, director of the Great Plains area IHS office, are named as defendants.

IHS and the Great Plains board have been working for months to complete the federal processes that would allow the health board to assume control of the administration of Sioux San Hospital. Last month, Church pegged Feb. 17, 2019 as the potential date when the board could take over that responsibility. Church noted the date was based on the assumption of everything going according to plan. White Face hopes the lawsuit — the health board has 20 days to respond and IHS has 60 days — delays those plans.

White Face said she found 54 violations of federal laws, regulations or the U.S. Constitution when reviewing the health board and IHS actions in the 638 process. Only a few of them are noted in the suit. They include the violation of the rights of Rapid City’s Indian community to participate, provide input, and voice their support or disapproval for going forward with the process.

“At no time has the defendants asked or received support for the contract from the Rapid City Indian Community except for a select few,” the suit reads.

The complaint also alleges that health care will suffer if a new health care facility is built in east Rapid City, the preferred site of the health board and the Oglala, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux tribal governments, which passed resolutions in April authorizing the health board to be the managing entity of the facility should it be built. The new facility would be built on a 25-acre plot donated by local developer Hani Shafai, meaning the land would not be federal trust land, which the land at the current Sioux San campus is.

“This will diminish the amount of health care funds available to us as individual Indians as property taxes, insurance and rent will need to be paid…” the complaint reads.

Repeating past criticisms, the complaint also questions the health board’s ability to administer health care given its lack of experience in the field, and notes that for American Indians living off-reservation in Rapid City, they have no representation in the tribal governments making decisions affecting Sioux San hospital and their health care.

In a Journal interview Wednesday, White Face said she filed a similar injunction in the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court that was dismissed because the court has no jurisdiction off the reservation. That decision was expected, White Face said, and only further proved her point.

“If they have no jurisdiction in the court, how can the resolutions [authorizing the health board to take over administration of the off-reservation Sioux San hospital] have any jurisdiction?” she said. “It calls into question the jurisdiction of all of those.”

White Face said she had yet to receive the Oglala Tribal Court’s final order of dismissal, of which the Great Plains board was named as a defendant but IHS was not. She also opined that in the past year, health care at Sioux San had improved markedly.

“It’s better. It’s way better,” she said.

She credited the hospital’s current CEO Joe Amiotte — an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe — for the change. Funding, not personnel, has always been at the crux of the problems for Sioux San and, more broadly, IHS, White Face said.

In Dec. 2017, it seemed like a funding windfall had finally arrived when IHS disclosed that it had banked $72 million for an estimated $117 million project to construct a 200,000-square-foot outpatient facility at Sioux San, along with the demolition of 15 buildings, rehabilitation of two, and mothballing of one. The Great Plains board has since stated that IHS told them they plan to demolish 26 buildings on the Sioux San campus as part of the project.

Since then, the Oglala, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux tribal governments, along with the Great Plains board, have expressed their desire to take over administration of Sioux San, the project funding, and instead construct a new facility at the proposed east Rapid City site.

“Finally, we get $117 million dollars to do that and all of a sudden here comes the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board like a vulture,” White Face said in an interview. “Where were they all these years when we were asking, we need help?”

Church and the Great Plains board did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

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Contact Samuel Blackstone at samuel.blackstone@rapidcityjournal.com and follow him on Twitter or Facebook @SDBlackstone.

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City Reporter

City reporter for the Rapid City Journal.