Mike Stearns

Special to the Grove Sun

Miami, - On a perfect late summer morning Wednesday, tribal representatives broke the ground that will house a new 50,000-foot, state-of-the-art medical complex for the Northeastern Tribal Health System. The new facility is projected to begin operation sometime in 2012 at the location just south of the industrial park on Highway 69.

The new $10 million health center will be built on land given by the Peoria tribe and is made possible by combined federal grants available to the Peoria, Ottawa, Miami, Quapaw and Modoc tribes. The tribes then got additional funding from Housing and Urban Development to qualify for the new Indian Health Service facility.

Director Sharon Dawes noted that Friday begins Indian week and that a special event honoring individuals is always planned to kick off the celebration.

But this year, the intertribal council honored the efforts of many people in service to the whole Native American community.

“It is a beautiful morning we have been given to celebrate our festivities,” said Dawes. “This year we decided we would honor our new facility with a ground breaking and ground blessing today. This is a momentous event that will mark the progression of this project. It was a dream that now will become a reality.”

The dream to update the old tribal health system clinic now on Cherokee land at the Inter-tribal complex, holds a connection to the past for the lives of most of the people in the Native American community of Ottawa County, according to keynote speaker Rev. Geoff Buffalo.

Buffalo recalled childhood memories of the clinic and explained that his father served on the clinic board and his mother and aunt have worked at the clinic.

“My aunt usually took care of me,” Buffalo noted with a grin. “She gave me those shots at places I can not mention from behind this podium.”

Buffalo continued, “We are all tied to the clinic whether we work there or not. Our tribes, except for the Cherokee, are not as big as the Sioux nation. By us supporting each other we all thrive together. We build each other up. My part of the clinic is always to get treatment for something. The clinic has provided health care for our people, not just the Quapaw, but for all of our people for decades.”

Buffalo described someone at his workplace urging him to get health insurance.

I don’t need it,” he said. “I have Indian heath service and they have taken care of me all of my life. They have taken care of my family. My children have been born there. They have taken care of my wife.”

The spiritual leader then read of the pool of Bethesda in John’s gospel describing the crowd of people waiting for the stirring of the healing waters. He posed Jesus’ question of “Do you want to be made well?”

“It is not water that will be stirred here today, but the earth,” said Buffalo. “It will be a place for healing for all of our people. Something better is coming. The stirring that will happen here will mean something better for tomorrow.”

The ground was blessed for the upcoming construction as Leonard Smith turned the sacred earth with a ceremonial shovel. Inter-tribal ceremonial leader Charles Diebold then blessed the earth by placing special ceremonial tobacco in the ground while praying in the language of his native Seneca-Cayuga tribe. The people then celebrated with a round dance on the grounds where the new health care facility would be built.

“I thanked God for everyone here and for all who came and to bless this ground, the earth. I asked that we would all be well as we come together to build this clinic. I called it ‘medicine house’ since we do not have one specific word for clinic,” said Diebold, describing his prayer.

“I asked Him to bless the earth and to thank Him for the opportunity to have this for all people,” he said.

Of the blessing of the earth, Diebold said, “It was sacred Indian tobacco. It is just as a blessing. We use it in our ceremonies for prayer. As it burns it carries the prayers to heaven. We put it in the ground here to bless this ground.”

NTHS Chief Information Officer Brian Moore noted that there were many people who came together to make the clinic possible.

“We put out tribal flags this morning. Without the tribes and the chairmen and chiefs of those tribes having the vision, this would not have come to fruition,” he said addressing the crowd.

“We want to thank the City of Miami. We have had to sit down with city officials since the very beginning and leaders and they were very open to what we were doing here and very cooperative,” Moore said.

“Our passion for health care for the Native American community is the catalyst which his driving this project.”

Diebold remembered his family leading the dedication of the current clinic some 25 years ago.

“It is humbling and honoring experience for me to be asked to do this on this occasion. I will do the best

I can because it is a privilege to follow in their footsteps. All the tribal leaders come together, working as one. Sometimes, all we have is each other,” Diebold said.

As the people danced to consecrate the earth, the memory of Rev. Buffalo’s words about stirring the earth inspired the drums and song.

Buffalo said, “Today we stir the earth here like the water was stirred in John’s gospel and healing will come. Healing will come.”