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Tribal Affairs

New Wellness Center Aims To Provide Rounded Health Care For Fort Peck Tribes

Fort Peck Wellness Center.jpg
JGA Architects
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a photo what the Fort Peck Wellness center will look like once finished by the end of 2021.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fort Peck Tribes finalized plans for a new Wellness Center. They hope to close the health care disparity between non-Natives and tribal members.

News of Fort Peck’s new wellness center comes as tribal governments nationwide reckon with unaddressed health issues from the COVID-19 pandemic. The disproportionate number of hospitalizations and deaths among Indigenous people were driven in part by a historical lack of access to appropriate systems of care, according to a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kenny Smoker is the Director of the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Program for the tribes. He says he hopes the new wellness center addresses many interlocking issues that contribute to a shorter life span for Natives on the Fort Peck reservation.

“If you look at the obituaries on a daily basis, which I do, the numbers are always very low on age,” Smoker says. “And that's what we’re trying to make a difference in and nothing else. Giving people that opportunity to extend life.”

Smoker says that the project started in the early 2000s by interested high schoolers who did a survey about how to better their community.

“Beautification, they wanted skateparks and a movie theater and a wellness center. So that's been an initiative ever since,” Smoker says.

Smoker also says that healthy eating and anti-smoking initiatives are huge parts of keeping tribal members healthy. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services found non-Natives are expected to live almost 20 years more than Natives.

The new wellness center will have medical, dental, mental and cultural services under one roof. Plus dance classes and cultural programming.

Maureen Dionne is with the Economic Development Committee for the Fort Peck Tribes. She says it's significant to have all sorts of resources in one place.

“I think that's something that we could come up you know and being healthy and learn your traditions, your culture,” Dionne says.

The center will be the first tribally run wellness facility. Currently, there are two Indian Health Service clinics on the Fort Peck Reservation, one in Wolf Point and one in Poplar that have contracts with neighboring hospitals for inpatient care.

Both towns also have small wellness centers run by the Fort Peck Community College.

Jackie Weeks is on the Economic Development Committee for the Fort Peck tribes. She says the new $23 million project got a little assistance from the CARES act.

“So that helped a little so about a million dollars in CARES funding, just specifically for those items that contribute to assisting with the pandemic,” she says.

Weeks also says that the wellness center received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make the building more energy-efficient. And the center will employ around 70 full time people.

“Of course, with more energy efficiency comes more technical, with your operation,” Weeks says.

The new wellness center is slated to be complete by the end of 2021.