Charmaine White Face in her home in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News Today

Charmaine White Face: What stereotyping does

If you take out the words “tribal” and “Indian” all you have left are a group of patients fighting a federal government agency for the right to health care. That’s what stereotyping does. It blinds people to getting to the heart of the matter. It puts an extra burden on the people, and lets a government agency get away with violations of federal laws.

This is exactly what is happening to Donna Gilbert, Julie Mohney, and the author as we happen to be Native American Indians fighting the United States Indian Health Service and their illegal contract with an information agency that carries the lofty name “Great Plains Tribal Chairmens’ Health Board.”

No one seems to remember that tribal chairmen have no authority, jurisdiction, or sovereign immunity off of the reservations. A tribal chairman can get a speeding ticket off the reservation just like everyone else. Sioux San Hospital and our health care for which we are fighting is located OFF of the reservations.

Surely the federal agency, the IHS, is aware of that fact. Surely a federal judge should have been aware of that fact. It was brought out many times in the court documents. But no. Stereotyping won out and the federal judge went against the people in the Gilbert v. Weahkee case. Instead Federal Judge Jeffrey Viken said that the information agency, which is under the jurisdiction of the state of South Dakota and the federal Internal Revenue Service, has “tribal sovereign immunity.”

The Sioux San Hospital is an Indian Health Service facility in Rapid City, South Dakota. Part of the facility is managed by the IHS, a federal agency. The rest is being managed by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board, through a self-determination contract, on behalf of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

For those of you who are not sure what this is about: a federal agency, the Indian Health Service, gave a contract to manage and administer a health facility, the Sioux San Hospital (yes it still has hospital designation), to an information agency, the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Healh Board, which is a South Dakota non-profit corporation with no health management credentials. Take out the words “Indian” and “Tribal” and “Sioux” and you have: a federal agency gave an illegal federal contract to manage a hospital to an information agency.

Why is the contract “illegal”? Because under the law, Public Law 93-638, a federal agency can only give an Indian Self Determination contract to a Tribe or Tribal Organization. Even though “Great Plains Tribal Chairmens’ Health Board” has the word “tribal” in there, it is just an information agency to provide information to the 17 area tribes AND was established by the federal agency, the Indian Health Service! It is NOT a Tribal Organization!

So the contract went from the right hand to the left hand of the same federal agency! Who is really getting the hundreds of millions of dollars that are to provide health care for patients who have to be Native American Indian? Shouldn’t the FBI be looking into the bank accounts of all the ‘top dogs’ involved in this hundreds of millions of dollars scam?

The illegal contract went into effect in July, 2019. Since that time, from only the author’s knowledge, there have been three deaths, two maimings, a mentally ill woman incarcerated after taken off her medication and losing it, and a terminally ill man’s disease activated after his refill request was not given to the right pharmacy in time so he was without medication for four days. This is not to mention all of the bills that are being sent to collection agencies against individuals because the information agency doesn’t know how to pay the bills, or the many other patients that have been harmed.

Some of these reports have been given to Senator John Thune’s office as the U.S. Senate is supposed to be the overseers of all federal agencies. Some have been sent to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee asking for an investigation. A report was also sent to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, with a copy of the federal fraud conviction of the federal IHS contract signer, James Driving Hawk. And some of these reports from patients were included as affidavits in the federal case, Gilbert v. Weahkee, which was recently denied by Federal Judge Viken who ruled the information agency had “tribal sovereign immunity”.

What all this stereotyping does is provide a convenient screen to conduct genocide. That’s what this is: genocide. That’s what happens when health care is denied to a certain group of people, and that is what the federal government has been doing to Native American Indians since first contact, trying to impose genocide.

Health care for Native Americans was written as a provision in many of the Treaties our great- great grandparents concluded with the United States. A Treaty is an agreement and the United States agreed to pay for our health care. So by the U. S. government putting health care in the hands of people who don’t know what they are doing is a great way to insure that Native American people will receive no health care at all. It is the same as giving small pox infected blankets to the Tribes. We need to watch out lest they give us the Coronavirus next. This is genocide.

What can you do? First, we need an attorney to help us with an Appeal on the case. I’m sure the U.S. Justice system doesn’t want 150 plus independent cases all appealing the same thing.

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

Second, write a letter to Senator Jon Tester from Montana who is on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Send him a copy of this editorial if you don’t want to write anything with a note that this is affecting all of the Tribes in the U.S. including the ones in Montana. Third, if you are a patient receiving bills, keep a copy then take your bills to the IHS Sioux San CEO as IHS is still responsible.

Finally, pray for all the patients at Sioux San that we will receive adequate health care and have good health, and all Native American people in the U.S. as this case will affect everyone.

Thank you.

Charmaine White Face is an Oglala Tituwan Oceti Sakowin elder, great-grandmother, writer, and scientist. She can be reached at

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