The main entrance to the Sioux San Hospital, an Indian Health Service facility in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Ernestine Chasing Hawk: An appreciation for the Indian Health Service

Appreciating health care at Sioux San
And those who secured services for us
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Today Staff Writer

Sometimes we, as American Indians who utilize Indian Health Services, can become complacent and unappreciative of the services we receive at Sioux San Hospital here in Rapid City.

As tribal people, we are told we have an inherent right to health care via Indian Health Services because our ancestors were insightful enough to guarantee health care for us when they signed the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties.

However it is sometimes this reasoning that can lead to our complacency and our failure to also recognize those brave souls whose insightfulness secured health care services for us at Sioux San Hospital and in turn for other urban Indian Health Centers across the United States.

According to the Indian Health Care Services Website, in the early 1800's health care for Indians began under the War Department. Also under the War Department were Indian Affairs and Indian Education.

It wasn’t until 1849 that Indian programs were transferred to the newly created Department of the Interior. In 1912 with the creation of the Public Health Service, appropriations designated specifically for general health services to Indians first appeared.

Ernestine Chasing Hawk. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Then in 1955 health services for Indians was transferred from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to Public Health Service, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under Public Law 568, 83rd Congress, 2nd session (42 USC 2001) with oversight by the Surgeon General.

Among the authorities transferred to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from the Secretary of Interior, were those outlined in the 1924 Snyder Act. The act provided authority to "expend such moneys as Congress may from time to time appropriate for the benefit, care and assistance of the Indians throughout the United States... for relief of distress and conservation of health." (It was also the 1924 Snyder Act that gave citizenship to American Indians)

According to IHS this is the basic appropriation authorization for Indian Health Service. “Consistent with this statutory language Congress has, in the legislative history of certain annual appropriations, directed the Indian Health Service to expend money on specific activities leading to changes in the scope of the program.”

It was also this language "expend such moneys as Congress may from time to time appropriate for the benefit, care and assistance of the Indians throughout the United States” that a group of insightful American Indian community leaders living in Rapid City saw as the opportunity to advocate for an Urban Indian Health Center located in Rapid City.

For nearly a century Indians living off the reservation in Rapid City, located within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Nation Treaty Territory, were denied access to health care services. Although they could receive health care services from their respective agency IHS facilities, travel was often cumbersome and sometimes even impossible.

According to IHS, in the late 1960s, a group of Rapid City urban Indian community leaders “began advocating at the local, state and federal levels for culturally appropriate health programs addressing the unique social, cultural and health needs of Indians residing in urban settings.”

These community-based grassroots efforts resulted in programs targeting health and outreach services to the Indian community. In response to the efforts of the urban Indian community leaders in the 1960s, Congress appropriated funds in 1966, through the I.H.S. for a” pilot urban Indian clinic in Rapid City.”

The very first Indian Health Center funded under Indian Health Service, located in an urban setting, was located on the Sioux San Campus in Rapid City, South Dakota.


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