Health & Education

Health & Wellness marks milestone anniversary

10.25.2022 Danielle Harrison Health & Wellness
Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy shares how she became interested in medicine through the teachings of her grandmother during the 25th anniversary celebration of the Health & Wellness Center held in the Health & Wellness Center’s atrium on Friday, Oct. 21. (Photo by Kamiah Koch/Smoke Signals)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals assistant editor/staff writer

The Grand Ronde Health & Wellness Center marked its 25th anniversary on Friday, Oct. 21, with a celebration that included food, speeches from various Tribal officials, giveaways and the unveiling of a new community canoe made by Tribal artisan Brian Krehbiel.

The celebration began with a prayer song led by Tribal Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier, Krehbiel, his daughter Kailiyah Krehbiel, Tribal Cultural Education Coordinator Jordan Mercier and Tribal Council member Jon A. George, who also led the invocation afterward.

“What an amazing journey it has been,” Health Services Executive Director Kelly Rowe said. “We’ve persisted through the pandemic, we’ve persisted through wildfires. Despite all of that, we have still been able to do all the things we wanted. We expanded Behavioral Health, we hosted mass vaccination clinics and opened Great Circle Recovery in Salem (medication-assisted treatment clinic), all in the midst of a pandemic and everything else raining down on us.

“At one point it seemed that we would never get out of it, but all of this was possible because of the hard work of so many. We had everybody jumping in to do what was needed to take care of each other. Now, we’re in the midst of planning a new public health building and also opening Great Circle Recovery in Portland.”

Rowe, a Tribal member, called it “an honor and privilege” to serve the Tribe in her current capacity.

“I’ve worked in health care for a long time and being here working for my Tribe, caring for my own people, is so powerful,” she said. “Leading this team has been unreal. … When the Health Services Department first started, it wasn’t what you see today. It was far from what you see today. At the beginning of Restoration, we had three employees – Cheryle Kennedy, Tresa Mercier and Bonnie Tom.”

Tresa Mercier, who is the Tribe’s longest-serving employee with 38 years of service, worked as the health clerk. Tom was the Community Health representative and Kennedy, who has served as Tribal Council chairwoman for more than 15 years, was the first director of the Tribal Health Department, starting shortly after 1983’s Restoration.

Rowe thanked Tribal Council, the executive team and facilities for their support over the years. She also thanked the 25th anniversary event planning committee.

“Today, we celebrate this building and the programs we have, but also celebrate a vision,” Rowe said. “The building was brought to life by a visionary who was dedicated to health care in Indian County. I want to thank Cheryle Kennedy for being a role model for greatness.”

After being gifted a necklace by Rowe, Kennedy thanked the crowd of 125 for attending the event.

“It’s a pleasure to be here today,” she said. “Thank you for being here and coming to celebrate. I want to express my gratitude and thankfulness to you all. Health care is for all of us.”

Kennedy recognized Tribal Council members in attendance, which included George, Lisa Leno and Brenda Tuomi. Former Tribal Council chairwoman and key Restoration figure Kathryn Jones Harrison also attended the event.

Kennedy said that in her mind, she is still the young woman who excitedly climbed atop a tractor to sift the first mound of dirt that would someday become the current Health & Wellness Center.

“Health care takes a lot of vision and planning,” she said. “My interest in health care came from the natural remedies found in plants that my grandmother instilled in me when I was really young. My grandma also taught me that within you, you have the ability to heal yourself. There are also spiritual connotations to healing.

“So today, when I can look around the facility, I remember what a thorough enjoyment it was to be involved even when there was nothing. … The point is that all of us have a purpose in life and nothing is impossible. You can take that little seed of curiosity and push it forward. So, I don’t take credit for building this because I believe that comes from Creator to us, and we act on them.”

Kennedy also recalled that when health services first began in the Depot building, there was only a sheet to separate an exam room from the waiting area.

“But we didn’t give up (on our dream),” she said. “When you have an idea, there’s an element of belief that this can happen. All of us can take that seed today, go out and plant it, and much more will be achieved.”

Afterward, Tresa Mercier was recognized by Rowe for her dedication over the years and George talked about the meaning of the center’s original logo and anniversary logo.

George recalled being a member of the first Health Committee and the long hours and days that went into planning the current Health & Wellness building.

“Cheryle did a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) study to look at the health status of our Tribal members and the first Health Committee that was here, there were many hours we would meet. … We would go out and knock on doors and do hands-on surveys to get the answers to our mental health and physical health needs to get the funding to build this facility,” he said.

George also pointed out various artistic features on the interior, such as the bronze masks created by Northwest sculptor and mixed media artist Lillian Pitt, a member of the Warm Springs Tribe.

George created both the original and 20th anniversary Health & Wellness logos. Spirit Mountain is at the center and the four figures surrounding it with hands intertwined represent Elders, adults, youth and children. The feathers on the figures represent the five main Tribes and the triangles on the outer ring represent the number of programs offered in 1997. Lines on the inner ring represent the number of employees when the clinic opened.

“We wanted the health center to represent the medicine wheel and the healing that would come through this,” he said. “It’s an honor to be part of 25 years of healing, and all of the hard work that has gone into this. Our members and our community are better for it.”

The Health & Wellness Center was originally designed to house the medical and dental staff, support services and wellness, and counseling, which included drug, mental health services and vocational rehabilitation. New services made possible with a larger building were optometry, pharmacy, medical lab and radiology.

Since its opening on Sept. 8, 1997, the Health & Wellness Center has seen planned expansions. In December 2010, a 4,000-square-foot addition was opened that added six more work stations to the Dental Clinic and 2,000 square feet to the Medical Clinic, in addition to Native-themed flooring.

The Tribe also recently received a $500,000 federal grant to help expand the Behavioral Health wing to meet increased demand for services. Construction began in 2018 and was completed in late January 2020. The 4,125-square-foot addition provides staff with eight additional offices that provide increased privacy for patients.

Additionally, The Tribe is building a 10,000-square-foot public health building near the clinic that will include epidemiology services, exercise classes, social activities and vaccination clinics. It also will have a demonstration kitchen and outdoor salmon pit and gathering area. The project is being funded by an Indian Community Development Block Grant and American Rescue Plan Act monies.

During the event, attendees enjoyed a meal provided by Hawaii Five-o-Three as well as cupcakes and commemorative cakes.

The last speaker was motivational Indigenous hip hop artist and dancer Supaman (Apsaalooke Nation). Later in the evening, he performed a free show for Tribal youth in the gym.

“I’m a flute player, hip hop artist, husband and father,” he said. “It’s an honor to be back in this community. As an artist, I use music to spread messages of hope, resiliency, sobriety and suicide prevention. … We all have the ability to choose our reaction to negative situations and to create ripples of good medicine.”

The event ended with Krehbiel and several other people carrying in a nine-person canoe he had been working on to unveil at the 25th anniversary event.

“Ten more days and it will be complete,” he said. “When I was asked about what we could do to help heal our community, I thought about a canoe. Once you get out on the water, it’s always a good day. This is not so much to have on canoe journey as it is to get our community on the canoe. Hopefully, we’ll put a sail on it and get you guys sailing, too.”

The event ended with Rowe inviting attendees to inspect the canoe and take some of the many giveaway items that filled it.

“This is our canoe, so we invite you to come up and experience it,” she said.