Monte Fox, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, was one of two Indian health care leaders honored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation honored not one but two Indian health care leaders at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.,
Wehnona St. Cyr, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, and Monte Fox, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, received the foundation's prestigious Community Health Leaders award. The pair were among just 10 winners of the $125,000 prize.
"We are honored to recognize such committed, courageous, and creative people," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the president and CEO of the foundation.
St. Cyr said she was "humbled" by the award. She was selected for her efforts to improve health and wellness on the Omaha Reservation, where she runs the Carl T. Curtis Health Education Center.
"I think they were a little surprised by the amount of services we offer on the reservation," St. Cyr said of foundation officials who visited the tribe to learn more about the health care system.
"We call it a health center but it's so much more than that," she said of the Carl T. Curtis.
The center provides a broad array of services, from traditional medical care to a nursing home to an animal control program. The tribe and the Indian Health Service provide funding for the center.
"Wehnona's work is an example of the many efforts underway in communities throughout the nation to take action to address their own problems by creating new approaches and solutions,
and demanding changes in outdated systems and institutions," said Janice Ford Griffin, the director of the foundation's Community Health Leaders program
Fox, who works for the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians in Minnesota, also said he was humbled by the award. He was chosen for his innovative efforts to combat diabetes and to promote health and wellness.
"It's an honor to be in the room with some of these people," he said before the start of the ceremony.
Through his work for the White Earth Band, Fox has created health initiatives that respect tribal traditions. Games like Diabetes Bingo and Honor the Beat combine cultural messages with health education to combat a disease that affects Native Americans at a high rate.
Fox is currently developing an even bigger project called Native Dancer, a game based loosely on the popular Dance Dance Revolution video game. The game, which is being developed in conjunction with North Dakota State University (http://nativedancer.ndsu.edu
), will teach Indian youth about healthy lifestyles through pow-wow and traditional dance moves.
"It teaches history and culture," Fox said of the project, which he hopes to eventually turn into a competitive Internet gamer.
St. Cyr and Fox haven't decided what to do with the $125,000 award, of which $105,000 must be used to further their health care programs. The remaining $20,000 can be used for personal development.
But both have a lot of ideas. St. Cyr cites a need for more dialysis machines and an electric generator for the nursing home while Fox wants to buy exercise and playground equipment for schools that serve tribal children.
St. Cyr and Fox also emphasize their ongoing efforts to incorporate culture, language and history into their health programs. They say that's the only way to ensure their tribal communities will survive.
"I don't think we're truly sovereign until we can take care of our own without outside help," said St. Cyr, who likened her current role as a health care provider to the historical role that women in the Omaha Tribe's Buffalo Clan played. "That was our job -- to make sure everyone was served and taken care of," she said.
Fox, who grew up on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, holds a similar view.
"I've always thought the glue to who we are is our culture," he said. "If we lose that, you lose a lot of wellness thought. We can't just let that go."
Since 1992, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has distributed 150 Community Health Leaders awards. This year's winners came from eight states and Puerto Rico.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -
Community Health Leaders -