LVD Health Center: “All I can say is, ‘wow!’”

The Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians celebrated the grand opening of its new health center. The center will provide a full range of health services to band members and the surrounding community. The grand opening landed on the anniversary of the band’s federal recognition in 1988. With the anniversary in mind, and having heard from so many LVD community leaders during the ceremony, a quick overview of this project’s history is in order.

In July 2014, the health center staff began a community visioning process to determine the scope of this project. The ensuing two years were a flurry of construction, engineering, financial and political activity as the community and its partners came together. But the history of the health center project actually goes back several decades.

Health Director Sadie Valliere was one of the driving forces behind this project. During the opening remarks, Tribal Chairman Jim Williams Jr. thanked a range of elected officials and staff for their roles in the project. He described in some detail the role each had played. But when it came time to recognize Sadie he was at a loss for words: “All I can say is, ‘wow!’”

It wouldn’t have been possible to summarize Sadie’s work in the few moments the chairman had, just as it wouldn’t be possible to do the whole story justice in this post. But Sadie spoke to the crowd and described a journey toward the grand opening that began several decades ago. As the project was picking up steam in 2015, Sadie said she had doubts about whether this project was “too much too soon.”

Sadie had been working in the old, antiquated health center for years and knew the band needed a change, but the scope of this $13 million New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) project was a large leap forward. She said she consulted her grandmother who told her a story about her childhood.

After contracting tuberculosis as a child, her grandmother had to leave her Native community to reside in a faraway hospital with no connection to family or friends. After a short time, the hospital said they could do nothing for her, and her parents brought her home. Once home, by working together as a community, her friends and family nursed her back to health.

In 2015, when Sadie asked her grandmother if she thought the band should scale back its vision for the health center she said “no.” Sadie’s grandmother said she wanted to guarantee that future generations of the band would receive the highest quality healthcare possible and that the new center was the means to accomplish that vision.

She didn’t want this generation or future generations to struggle the way she had. Her now 92-year-old grandmother was at the ceremony to cut the ribbon on the new facility.

As Sadie told her story, and as others took the microphone to tell their stories, there were a fair amount of tears to go along with the rainy weather. But they were all happy tears. The ceremony was a celebration of all the band had accomplished in its march toward this new community asset.

Drumming, praying, singing and a flag-raising kept the program moving. Speakers took time to thank and honor the many partners who played a role in the project. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Chickasaw Nation Community Development Endeavor, Miron Construction, DSGW Architects, Travois and other firms were recognized.

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(Pictured: Dakota Cole, Chickasaw Nation Community Development Endeavor, and Ken Akini, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa)

After the formal ceremony ended, the fun continued. Staff and medical providers gave tours of the beautiful building. We all ate a great lunch prepared by the community.

The health center is just the latest example of how successful tribes have been in using the NMTC to finance new health infrastructure. If your community is on its own path of visioning to a grand opening, let us know. We can connect you with so many other tribes who can share their stories of success to help light the way.

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