Above photo: Pat Lee, Charmaine White Face and Mark Lone Hill are opposing a tribal takeover of the Indian Health Service facility in Rapid City, South Dakota. They are seen here outside of the federal courthouse in Rapid City as part of their lawsuit against the move. Ernestine Chasing Hawk / Native Sun News Today.
Three Native American women, Donna M. Gilbert, Julie Mohney and Charmaine White Face have been fighting in the Courts for the past two years trying to save the Sioux San Hospital. They are now at the United States Supreme Court and need financial assistance to proceed with their case.
Located in Rapid City, SD, the Sioux San provides health care for more than 23,000 patients representing more than 325 Indian tribes and Indigenous peoples from across the United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. Just say across the United States.
More than 60 years ago, the Rapid City Native American community established the largest Indian Health Service (IHS) Health Care facility in the Region, the Sioux San Hospital. Now IHS is shirking their responsibilities and violating federal law and have turned the Hospital over to a state non-profit corporation that is not a health care management organization and is not a tribal organization. Health Care at the Hospital has been drastically declining, and lives and well being are at stake.
Proceeding by themselves without an attorney, the three women have made it to the Supreme Court level. Now the three women are seeking financial help, as they have hired an experienced attorney to increase their chances of winning at the Supreme Court. Winning their case will help restore the hospital and the health care so desperately needed by the community. Defenders of the Black Hills, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, is acting as the fiscal agent.
When Donna Gilbert asked me to be a part of her lawsuit, I immediately said yes. After having survived three other lawsuits, I should have been leery. But when peoples’ lives are at stake, it is not hard to make a hard decision.
Initially it was the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court (OST). It was my son’s idea to go to the Tribal Court because we knew what the outcome would be. The OST court would dismiss our case because the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board (GPTCHB) was under the jurisdiction of the state of South Dakota and was not a Tribal Organization. But we needed this verified by a court. We also knew that the other federal courts would acknowledge the Tribal court ruling, or were supposed to. It would be a win for the OST Court and for the patients who use Sioux San Hospital. As it turned out, the federal District Court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals both ignored and disregarded the OST court ruling.
The second place we went was the state court since GPTCHB was under state jurisdiction. However, the GPTCHB used as their defense the J. L. Ward case in which a federal judge magically gave “tribal sovereign immunity” to the GPTCHB. This happened before the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court had ruled that the GPTCHB was NOT a Tribal Organization. Our case was dismissed at the state level because GPTCHB had “tribal sovereign immunity.” I didn’t know a judge could grant “tribal sovereign immunity” or the IHS decide an organization they established could be a Tribal Organization without being under any Tribe. Learn something new everyday…even if it is illegal.
The next court we went to was the local federal District Court in Rapid City which also dismissed our case despite the OST Court ruling. We had not pushed the Treaty issue as I had been warned by many elders not to muddy the Treaty in the court of the enemy, the U.S. federal courts. The OST court ruling should have been enough in the federal courts besides all the regulations governing the Indian Self- Determination Act. Our case was dismissed without prejudice. So it could be brought up again.
All of these efforts cost money. As an elder, 74 years old, my Social Security check barely covers my living expenses. There was no way to pay for an attorney besides the court costs so I went in Pro Se meaning ‘by myself.’ So when Donna asked me to come in with her on her case, she said they already used our arguments from our previous case. She had consulted an attorney.
In our Oceti Sakowin culture, there is a virtue called ‘Fortitude.” Patience and perseverance are also included. The direction this virtue comes from is the North to help us withstand the cold and snow of winter. Personally, since I was a kid, I have loved winter, and I try my best to practice this virtue.
When Donna asked me to join her, I wanted to cry. This woman had Fortitude. Some people call it ‘stubbornness.’ I call it ‘being strong.’ She could see the harm and hardship that was going to come to the people the same as I did. Eventually, there would be more than 150 people who would sign papers to join us. I knew there were more than 150 people who would join us from the phone calls and letters I already received. So I immediately said yes to Donna’s offer to be a part of her case. She said Julie Mohney was also going to be a part. Julie also saw the harm and hardship that was going to come to the people having lived in Rapid City all her life, and having been a patient at Sioux San all of her forty plus years. We are all Oglala women and that alone should tell people something. We are strong women, not in the physical sense but in the character sense.
When we were dismissed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Julie saw a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Supreme Court Justice who recently passed away. RBG, as she was affectionately called, was a tiny lady just like Julie. Julie has been our researcher. I have more than 200 unopened emails of laws and regulations from her, so you can imagine how many I have already opened. We keep encouraging her to go on to law school. Perhaps someday she could be another RBG. But the quote Julie remembers most is that RBG encouraged everyone that if you believe in something very strongly, very passionately, then keep on trying to get it to the Supreme Court. So that’s what we did with Fortitude plus a lot of prayers.
Whenever people’s lives are at stake, it’s not difficult to make the decision that if there is something you can do you will do it. That’s the decision Donna, Julie and I made. We would keep on fighting in the courts as long as we could. It has not been easy. Through a lot of praying, through a lot of encouragement, and because we know we’re right, we keep on.
Thank you to all who have contributed to this fight. Thank you to all who keep encouraging us to continue. Thank you to all who keep praying for us. We still need your help at this level, this Supreme Court where we’re at now.