Cigna Foundation Grant Combines Prenatal Care, Drug Education with Traditions

Cigna Grant Combines Prenatal Care, Drug Education with Traditions

Kassie Runsabove, a community health worker at St. Vincent’s Hospital, reviews Native-themed books for the unique program. 

The Cigna Foundation announced it will provide a $100,000 grant to the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation in Billings, Montana to help improve the health outcomes of Native American women and babies through increased access to early prenatal care, drug education and intervention when needed.

“Addiction is a national crisis, and tribes are experiencing its impact along with the rest of the country. St. Vincent’s is a mission-driven health care facility dedicated to serving the Native American community, and Cigna Foundation is helping us develop a sustainable maternity care delivery model,” said Vicki Birkeland, St. Vincent Healthcare Director of Women’s Services. “This is important work and we look forward to seeing improved health outcomes for the moms and babies we serve.”

Baby moccasins made in classes at the hospital for families with babies. Other traditional activities have included prayer, smudging, signage and building a teepee during Native American Heritage Month.

Previously, the Cigna Foundation provided grant funding to St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation to support an American Indian Health Disparities Coordinator who serves as a community health worker. St. Vincent’s chose Kassie Runsabove for this role to work as an advocate and cultural liaison, and to be responsible for implementing projects to identify and reduce health disparities.

Runsabove (center) with two hospital staffers at a healthcare event. 

Chantielle (center), a midwife from St. Vincent's attending a baby fair at the Northern Cheyenne Lame Deer Reservation.

The new Cigna Foundation grant provides an additional year of funding to help St. Vincent’s further its mission to improve the cultural competency skills of maternal health care providers, and to work with tribal community partners to provide prenatal education on healthy nutrition, stress management, and other healthy lifestyle topics. The program is expected to result in measurable outcomes, including:

  • Earlier access to prenatal care with the goal of improving birth weights
  • Increased participation at designated prenatal clinics, including St. Vincent's Midwifery & Women’s Health Center, the midwifery clinic on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, and at the health care facilities of community partners including Indian Health Services (IHS)
  • Decreased numbers of NICU admissions
  • Decreased numbers of babies born prematurely
  • Increased participation in substance abuse recovery programs

Cigna Foundation's Executive Director, Mary Engvall.

“We are focused on improving health equity and are working with organizations such as St. Vincent’s to eliminate disparities that create barriers to health care,” said Mary Engvall, executive director of the Cigna Foundation. “St. Vincent’s community health worker is integral to effectively coordinating care between the rural reservations and an urban hospital setting in a culturally sensitive manner, while building a safe environment of trust for patients.”

About the Cigna Foundation

The Cigna Foundation, founded in 1962, is a private foundation funded by contributions from Cigna Corporation and its subsidiaries. It supports organizations sharing its commitment to enhancing the health of individuals and families, and the well-being of their communities, with a special focus on those communities where Cigna employees live and work.

For more information on the Foundation’s partnership with St. Vincent’s, see the video:

Lead and article photos courtesy of Cigna Foundation. 

Boys and Girls Club Finds New Site for Rosebud Students

Rapid City Journal

PARMELEE, S.D. (AP) _ Rosebud recently had its tribal election in Rosebud. The DJ on 96.1 KILI Radio had updated listeners on primary vote totals.

``Upper Cut Meat has 13 voters,'' he announced. ``He Dog with 25 voters. Swift Bear has 1 voter.''

In the Community Center in Parmelee, a sign hung from the wall, ``Vote Here.'' Poll workers stood outside. But in a cramped, busy adjacent room, hunched around tablet computers or math worksheets, more than a dozen children in this small town of 562 Census-counted residents busily worked on their studies.

``We don't want them to lose their skills over the summer,'' said Rose Elk Looks Back, the supervisor for the Boys and Girls Club in Parmelee.

This Parmelee site is the newest edition to the Boys and Girls Club's offerings on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the Rapid City Journal reported. A few years ago, due to financial constraints, the Parmelee site closed. In June, however, Director Glen Marshall secured financing to open this small site that operates for four hours a day, four days a week. Now, Parmelee, a small town in Todd County that is 97 percent Native American, has a place for children to go in the summer.

And kids are hungry for it.

``These boys walk in seven or eight miles,'' said Georgia ``Dete'' Guerue, pointing to twin brothers sitting next to each other, completing math exercises. Guerue is Elk Looks Back's sister and also coaches the boys on the baseball team. ``Their mom just got a car, so she's now able to drive them home after the game.''

Across the treaty lands for the Sicangu Lakota, the high school graduation rate hovers around 50 percent. Unemployment is north of 80 percent. For Katelyn Bladel, art director at the club, that's why learning takes precedence.

Staffers and kids during the renovation of the Parmalee Chapter.

``We focus more on academics than other Boys and Girls Clubs,'' she said. ``We want to close the achievement gap.''

The Boys and Girls Club serves mostly elementary and middle school children (though the club opened a teen center in Mission), and space in Parmelee, staff admit, is tight.

In one corner of the room, half a dozen children wearing blue headphones operate tablets running Stride Academy, a learning tool to assess student learning. Elk Looks Back walks among others handing back times tables. In late July, students can get fidgety. The staff incorporates an hour a day of physical activity. And they go on kayaking trips to nearby dams and Eagle Feather Lake. REDCO (the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation) has been coming in to cook through Shawn Sherman (a.k.a. the Sioux Chef's) new cookbook with the kids.

``We've done wild rice sorbet and gone mint harvesting in creek beds,'' Bladel said.

A group of Catholic missionary students from Omaha high schoolers mostly recently engaged with students. Bladel is grateful for the help but is diplomatic about the tensions of accommodating a new group of new faces into a tight space every week ready to help.

``It's best when they come to help out with our programming.''

Art Director and professional photographer, Katelyn Bladel, serves to help close the achievement gap (Photo Credit: Katelyn Bladel)

In June, three women from the East Coast brought photography equipment and loaned each of the students a digital camera and sent them out to take photos. Some photographs shot by students, including humorous images of a boy between archery targets and a girl in a wrap reading ``Miss Antelope'', hang on the wall in the gymnasium at the larger club in Mission.

The Boys and Girls Club arrived on Rosebud in 2004 and, according to its website, is the only ``after school program'' for the just shy of 10,000 people living on the 1,900-square mile reservation (not counting trust lands). According to the recently released Kids Count Data Book, rates of childhood mortality are high on Rosebud. Car crashes and suicide are leading causes. Type-II Diabetes is also a threat.

(Photo Credit: Katelyn Bladel)

But in Mission, in a converted bowling alley, Lisa McKnight makes grilled cheese sandwiches for an early supper and students can connect with Vance Giroux, who is a monitor for the summer in the teen center.

``I'm like an uncle leksi,'' he said, pronouncing the Lakota translation.

Giroux grew up mostly with his mother's tribe on Standing Rock but spent summers on Rosebud, his father's tribe. He moved down to Rosebud to invest more deeply into what he terms the ``old ways'' and just finished his second Sun Dance a few weekends earlier.

``People see a lot of trouble in Parm','' he said, ``But I think there's a lot of good, too.''

Guerue, back in Parmelee, echoes this sentiment.

``The community is excited to have them back open.''

Site Director, Beth Elk Looks Back, poses during a fishing excursion. 

Since June, they've signed up 22 kids for the site. A mat of carpet sits near an activities box. Letters spell out ``Mitakuye Oyasin'' (''all are related'' in Lakota) and ``LOVE.'' Underneath fly paper strips hanging from the wall, Elk Looks Back talks about her work as a paraprofessional at nearby He Dog Elementary School. She drives the bus and grew up in Parmelee.

``I do it for the kids,'' she said.

She acknowledged recent vandalism. At night, the Rosebud site needs to bring in the basketball hoops after-hours.

``I do take the laptops home each night,'' she said.

But she points to the glistening certificate on the wall dated June 25: the official Boys and Girls Club stamp.

``Take a picture of that,'' Elk Looks Back said.

After they switch stations, she exits to show off the Boys and Girls Club's next project. Outside it's a stunning portrait of a sky with rolling clouds. Cars are streaming in to vote. Parmelee is greener this summer, as are many South Dakota towns, with the rainfall. Last week, they finally got someone to mow the overgrown yard, so they can play kickball outside. A girl bikes past, while a young boy walks toward the swings.

``That's the famous boy's brother,'' Elk Looks Back said. Last week, the Todd County Tribune carried the photograph of a little leaguer his ponytail dipping below his helmet mid-swing; he'd hit a home run over the fence, the first time anyone can remember that happening.

``This is our next project,'' said Elk Looks Back, pointing to a turquoise blue building sitting behind a fence and a mask of graffiti. ``We want to buy it and clean it up and have our own space again.''

The building needs some TLC, but momentum is good with the Boys and Girls Club on Rosebud. Walking back to the community center, Elk Looks Back stops to talk to the poll workers, as a woman with her dog comes in to vote.

``Hey Rose,'' a poll worker said.

``Hi Violet,'' said Elk Looks Back.

They stop and chat, the sounds of the children's voices spilling out of the building. Two futures are at work in Parmelee, the immediate and the long-term. But, on a nice sunny day, there's always time to say hello to a neighbor.


Information from: Rapid City Journal,

Cover and Selected Photos: Boys and Girls Club of Rosebud

Navajo Youth Co-Pilot Planes over the Grand Canyon

Cronkite News

PHOENIX (AP) _ Cadet Amaris Tracy climbed into the cockpit of a small plane, her face calm but her hands shaking slightly.

``I'm really excited to get to fly the plane for the first time,'' Tracy said, adjusting her headset. ``At the same time, it's 5,000 feet up in the air and I don't really know what I'm doing.

``I'm really nervous. What if something goes wrong?''

After all, Tracy, 13, is only in the sixth grade. This was her first time in a plane and this day, she'd be the copilot.

The Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol is placing cadets as copilots in a series of orientation flights over the Grand Canyon and the Navajo Reservation near Shonto. The patrol, which was formed as a national defense program in 1941, conducts air search operations and offers an aeronautical education to youngsters 12 to 18 years old. Leaders said this is the first squadron on a Native American reservation.

Just after sunrise on one April day, eight Navajo students lifted off, pushed by the tailwinds of tribal history.

Flying through barriers

None had ever been in a plane until they strapped into the Cessna single-engine plane.

Clad in camouflage and buckled up in the copilot's seat, Tracy marveled at the experience.

``Honestly, it's a crazy that they let us do this. Crazy in a good way, I guess, because this is such a cool opportunity,'' she said.

Second Lt. Frederick Fout, squadron leader and principal of Shonto Preparatory School, said such experiences are elusive for most of his students.

``A lot of the kids based on the Navajo Reservation are from very remote areas,'' said Fout, who also is a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. ``They don't have access to these kinds of opportunities. This represents a historic moment for most of these kids and the community.''

Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, national commander of the Civil Air Patrol, said the orientation flights are exciting and exacting.

``We want to encourage these young cadets to not only push themselves physically but to strive to surpass the barriers that they set for themselves,'' Smith said.

Located in Glendale, the Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol supports America’s communities with emergency response, diverse aviation and ground services, youth development, and promotion of air, space and cyber power. (Photo Credit: Arizona Wing Facebook Page)

The curriculum includes five orientation flights to teach cadets piloting and navigation. The students are paired with FAA-certified civilian auxiliary pilots.

``I think it's really unique what we do here with CAP,'' said Col. Martha Morris, a pilot for JetBlue and wing commander for the patrol. ``I think it's really cool to see these young people experiment with flight for the first time.''

A Navajo legacy

The squadron, the newest in Arizona in almost 20 years, was designated the Code Talker Bahe Ketchum Composite Squadron 211.

Bahe Ketchum, a former Marine, was a Navajo Code Talker, recruited to craft the Navajo language into a military code that confounded Japanese troops in World War II.

``The Code Talkers are individuals of great honor for our tribe,'' said Ferleighshea Yazzie, the mother of cadet Tymicus Yazzie. ``To have my son be a part of that legacy. Wow, it makes my heart want to burst with happiness.''

The eight-decade-old cadet program offers students the chance to advance in a military career, Morris said.

Tymicus Yazzie said he wants to join the Air Force after he graduates.

``I want to serve like those before me,'' he said. ``One day, it will be my turn.''

Flying toward the future

Dakota Ross, who comes from a line of military veterans, said the day held special significance.

``My dad is a veteran, and he served very bravely,'' Ross said. ``So did my brother. I just want to make them proud.''

Fout said pride comes with the program.

``For so many of the kids in this program, being a part of the CAP and getting to wear the uniform, is like a badge of honor,'' he said.

Ferleighshea Yazzie said she was nervous and proud as she watched her son soar over the canyon.

``Watching my son take off. Oh my gosh, it was scary. But at the same time I'm excited for my son,'' she said.

After the plane descended and glided to a stop at Page Airport, Tymicus Yazzie got out and kissed the ground.

His fellow cadets shared his sentiments.

``I definitely want to do it again,'' Ross said, laughing. ``I just don't want to do it right away. I'm not sure my stomach could handle it.''

Introducing Miss Indian World 2018-2019 Taylor Susan

Before a sold-out crowd of 10,000+ attendees, including a record 3,600+ registered dancers, Taylor Susan, age 25, was crowned the 35th Miss Indian World. A member of the White Mountain Apache/Walker River Paiute tribes, Susan was one of 30 contestants vying for the prestigious title. Taylor, who hails from White River, Arizona impressed the judge's panel throughout the competition which spanned four days. Taylor is a student at the University of Arizona and is the daughter of Anize Susan and Lloyd Susan.

The Miss Indian World Pageant takes place annually at the world's largest Native American powwow, Gathering of Nations, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The inaugural Miss Indian World pageant was held in 1984 and since its inception, young Native American women ages 18-25 have traveled from all regions of the continent to represent their tribes and compete for the coveted crown. Its purpose is to give young Native American women an opportunity to showcase their tribes and cultures; while serving as a cultural Ambassador of Native Americans by demonstrating the pride and continuance of the diverse cultures of Native people. This program is about Native American culture and positive imaging for the young ladies who compete for the title.

The Miss Indian World pageant has a reputation for crowning winners who display a profound knowledge of her tribe's traditions, history, ancestors and culture. Throughout the 4-day competition, contestants accumulate points based on strong showings in the areas of public speaking, traditional talent, interview, essay and dance. Qualifying contestants must be of native or indigenous American descent, single, with no kids, and have never been married. In addition to the title, contestants are able to win individual awards based on their scores. The following women were also recognized during the crowning ceremony.

1st Runner Up – Lori Martin Kingbird, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Cass Lake, Minnesota

2nd Runner Up- Dinée Dorame, Diné Nation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Public Speaking Award- Dinée Dorame, Diné Nation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Best Interview Award- Shenise Arthur, Diné Nation, Black House, Mesa, New Mexico

Traditional Talent Award- Piiyuuk Shields, Yupïk, Toksook Bay, Alaska

Best Dancer Award- Tyra Nicole Quetawaki, Zuni Pueblo, Zuni, New Mexico

Best Essay Award- Beedoskah Stonefish, Ottawa/Chippewa/Delaware/Pottawatomi, Peshawbestown, Michigan

Miss Congeniality- Piiyuuk Shields, Yupïk, Toksook Bay, Alaska

The Gathering of Nations Directors advised “The title of Miss Indian World is iconic and shall always be distinctly apart of the Gathering of Nations, Ltd.  We are proud of all 30 contestants and look forward to working with Taylor Susan this year as she travels Indian Country representing all Native women and the Gathering of Nations organization.”