Public Health


Sacred Pipe Resource Center

The Medicine Stone Health in Bismarck, North Dakota

The Medicine Stone Health in Bismarck, North Dakota
Photo Credit - Sacred Pipe Resource Center

USD 25.000 grant
to address the public health weaknesses
of the Native American Urban Tribal population
and prepare for future public health threats
through reclaiming traditional health views
and Medicine Wheel teachings

On this page, you can learn about the community served by this project and the particular challenges they face. We also offer insights into The Sacred Pipe Resource Center, the Indigenous-led organization we proudly support, and a thorough account of the project they developed. We invite you to delve further, consider becoming an ally, and discover ways to offer direct support to The Sacred Pipe Resource Center, all detailed on this page. 

The Community

The Indigenous peoples living in the urban Bismarck-Mandan area

North Dakota is home to five federally recognized Tribes: the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes), the Spirit Lake Nation, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation. The largest urban Native American population of North Dakota lives in the Bismarck metropolitan area. 

Though widely diverse, with different beliefs, languages, and rich cultures, one of the common traits of American Indigenous Peoples is that collectivism is an essential aspect of identity. 

Settler Colonialism

Before the first contact with European settlers, the Indigenous Population of the Americas was around 60 million, according to estimates.

A century later, the period of the Great Dying took about 90% of those lives to genocide by warfare, infectious diseases, forced removal, enslavement, imprisonment and boarding schools. Many of these traumatic events resonated and changed guise in the following centuries.

Though the 60s and 70s of the 20th century saw the rise of Native American activism, today, the Indigenous Peoples of North America are still very disproportionately disadvantaged. 


European Colonization of North America

European colonization of North America expanded through Spanish colonists in the 1500s and English colonists in the 1600s. North America’s Indigenous peoples preserved their cultures and dignity through this period, despite facing violent dispossession by the colonists.

Historical Trauma & Contentious Relationship

Scientists from the field of epigenetics have uncovered how our genes carry memories of trauma experienced by our ancestors and how that impacts our mode of being. The effects of historically traumatic events are transmitted intergenerationally, meaning youth continue to identify emotionally with their elders' suffering.

This cumulative emotional and psychological harm from consecutive traumatic events perpetrated on a community over generations takes a tremendous toll. Compounded with other factors, this has meant the rates of mental health problems, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and attachment disorders are disproportionately higher for Native Americans than for the rest of the US population. 

Moreover, differences in worldviews and concepts of development still make for very contentious relationships between Natives and non-Natives. Land and natural resource issues are only two of the many factors of contention between Indigenous peoples and settlers.


Standing Rock withdraws from ongoing environmental assessment of Dakota Access Pipeline

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has withdrawn as a cooperating agency from the U.S Federal government's ongoing environmental assessment of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) operations.

Economic Disadvantage

"Across metrics of economic well-being, Native Americans are disproportionately underserved, economically vulnerable and limited in their access pathways to building wealth," according to this report by the Joint Economic Committee. 

"These long-standing inequities have left Native communities much more vulnerable than their counterparts to the negative impact of economic shocks and public health crises." 

The Indigenous population living in metropolitan areas faces many barriers to accessing services and achieving housing stability. Not only very few housing services are intended for Indigenous peoples in urban areas, but because of a lack of cultural competence by social services staff who often fail to deliver effective and culturally respectful work, Indigenous peoples living in urban areas generally feel a significant distrust of these agencies.

The National Council on Aging

AI/AN people rank at, or near the bottom of, nearly every social, health, and economic indicator. Lower life expectancy and disproportionate disease burden are a result of inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences.

The Need

Multiple Impacts on Health and Deficient Care Services

Settler colonialism, historical trauma and economic and social disadvantage have had extensive ramifications on the health of North American Indigenous Peoples, such as, for example, the loss of the right to define their own food according to custom and production through traditional methods; poverty and the consequent lack of access to nutritionally relevant foods; the cultural changes that dictated new sedentary lifestyles.

All of these factors have meant a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, arthritis, and heart disease for Native Americans. 

Additionally, although the Indian Health Service fulfills treaty responsibilities to provide health care for members of recognized Tribes, Congress has consistently underfunded the IHS, forcing severe limitations on the services offered. Indigenous Peoples living in urban areas share the same health problems as their communities living in reservations.

However, their health problems are further exacerbated by mental and physical hardships stemming from a lack of family and traditional cultural environments and the fact that many Indian Health Services are limited to those living on reservation and in adjoining counties.

In North Dakota, the Tribes had a history of being physically fit and healthy. Diets consisted of buffalo and venison meat, other wild game, and berries and plants such as wild turnips and onions.

However, years of unhealthy government rations, food deserts, poverty relationships with food, and lack of access to adequate and preventative health care have led to a perfect storm of vulnerability to a public health threat. 

The Urban Tribal population does have physical access to healthy alternatives in cooking, but the ideological barriers, however, are the more significant issue, especially when the palate is used to high-carb, high-sugar, poverty or comfort foods.


American Indian Health Disparities

American Indian and Alaska Native elders have long experienced disparities in health and healthcare. A health disparity is a preventable burden of disease, injury, or violence experienced by populations who have been subjected to disadvantages like discrimination in society.

The Grantee

Sacred Pipe Resource Center

The Sacred Pipe Resource Center (SPRC) is a North Dakota- and Native-based non-profit 501(c)3 organization. SPRC's mission is to address and support the sociocultural, emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical needs of Native people of all Tribes living in the Bismarck-Mandan and surrounding area to foster strong, self-sufficient individuals and families and to provide liaison services between Native and non-Native people for a cohesive community. 

It was founded in 2007 by a group of long-term residents of the area committed to SPRC's mission of maintaining a home-away-from-home for the off-reservation Indian population in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

The Sacred Pipe Resource Center is embedded in the community through mechanisms designed to raise the voices of Native people themselves.

SPRC conductS annual visioning sessions and monthly Community Council meetings and hostS regular events that inform and engage the Native community.

Through the use of data (both quantitative and qualitative), SPRC seeks to help the Native community enhance existing services, address service gaps (which may be met by partnering with organizations already providing similar services), or seek funding to fulfill gaps in services.

This "Voices from the Ground" introduces Sacred Pipe Resource Center's frontlines work with the Native American Urban Tribal population in the Bismarck-Mandan area of North Dakota. 

Cheryl Kary tells us about starting an organization focused on community engagement, Sacred Pipe's innovative model based on community councils, and the importance of funding opportunities that allow Indigenous organizations to design and implement creative and pioneering solutions:

The Project 

The Medicine Stone Health in Bismarck, North Dakota

With the funds we were able to fundraise and Azimuth's grant, SPRC is going to implement an innovative project in which the collectivist approach is one of the essential aspects for bringing on behavior change.

The project is named in honor of Diane Medicine Stone, a community member who succumbed to cancer but was an integral part of the Health & Wellness Community Council until her passing. We honor her memory and her wish for improved health for all Native people living in this urban Tribal area.

This project will engage the Native population to:

  1. Recruit approximately 100 American Indian participants to make substantive lifestyle transformations through progressive changes in practice and awareness. The project will provide materials (e.g., food diaries, pedometers) and data (e.g., measurements) to track progressive changes each month for each participant.

  2. Provide a trained Health Equity Coach to conduct monthly training to American Indian participants recruited into the program.

  3. Facilitate progressive behavioral change opportunities by providing food alternatives, traditional food gathering events, and cooking practices unfamiliar to participants.

The Sacred Pipe Resource Center is doing meaningful work that will change the lives of many. Your generosity of time, ideas, skills, or resources is welcomed!

Closing Insights and Project Journey Highlights

Embarking on a transformative health journey within the Native American Urban Tribal Community of Bismarck-Mandan, this 12-month project set out to inspire meaningful lifestyle changes. 

Cheryl Kary, the Executive Director of SPRC, shared the importance of the ongoing project. It serves as a vital pilot that can be used as a foundation for future projects with a larger scope.

The project has also revealed an essential discovery - the group model of meetings was found to be very helpful. Participants felt more comfortable and at ease as they familiarized themselves with each other throughout the project.

Photo Credit - Sacred Pipe Resource Center

At the beginning of the program, each participant was given a personalized binder to document their journey. Monthly gatherings were communal experiences that blended education with shared meals, creating a sense of togetherness and shared purpose.

Guiding participants through the complexities of decolonizing diets and exploring health histories, this project was about fostering a deeper connection to health and well-being within the community. Hands-on activities were integral to the project's success. From cultivating indoor gardens to introducing a variety of herbs and foraging for traditional teas, participants experienced a reconnection with nature and tradition. 

Photo Credit - Sacred Pipe Resource Center

SPRC conducted various activities to promote indoor gardening and healthy eating habits. They began by providing seedlings of different plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, pumpkins, and zucchini, along with information on how to keep an indoor garden.

Participants were allowed to choose the plants they wished to grow and incorporate into their diets. They also introduced fresh herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, and sage and provided education on how to use them in cooking.

Photo Credit - Sacred Pipe Resource Center

They invited a cultural teacher to discuss how Indigenous People foraged for traditional and medicinal teas and used them as basic medicines and provided samples and other items to give to participants.

For every activity, they provided tools to help participants monitor their health, such as an informational card on hydration and water bottles to encourage overall health. During the workshop on diabetes prevention through exercise, they provided pedometers, walking logs, and glucometers.

Laminated informational charts on low glycemic index foods, nutrient values of foods, and information on carbohydrates, cholesterol, and healthy fats were also provided. Each activity had accompanying information on how to track all health data. 

Photo Credit - Sacred Pipe Resource Center

To promote stress management, they invited a Native American massage therapist to discuss techniques like aromatherapy and self-massage. A blood pressure cuff and a log for monitoring blood pressure were provided as tools, and one lucky participant received a massage out of a door prize.

During project meetings, they made sure all the participants were provided with a healthy meal and healthy ingredient alternatives. They shared recipes and ingredients so the participants could reproduce them in their homes. 

Fostering Change through Collaboration: Empowering the Community's Voice in Food Choices

One collaboration that will certainly bring about long-term positive change was with the Great Plains Food Bank. 

SPRC conducted a listening session with the members of the community to get their input on what types of food they would like to see added to the food bank's offerings. This partnership was important because the GPFB had not been able to reach out to the Native population before, so SPRC's support was key.

Empowerment Through Knowledge Exchange

The program provided attendees with a wealth of knowledge on various important topics. One particular session on diabetes prevention led by a nurse educator was highly attended. This session included a pre-diabetes risk test, discussion on prevention methods, and the distribution of charts on low glycemic index foods. 

Another popular session was conducted by a Native American nutrition educator on shopping for healthy food on a budget. The attendees learned about the significance of meal planning and preparation, and how to identify hidden unhealthy ingredients through reading labels.

Nurturing Community Support

The Medicine Stone project served as a motivation and opportunity for SPRC to gather funds for their homeless outreach program. They organized a fundraising event that offered a traditional, "decolonized" supper for everyone. 

Some of the attendees of the fundraiser also participated in the event, which helped raise $4,000 for the Heart of Our Nation program. 

Photo Credit - Sacred Pipe Resource Center

Navigating Challenges in Implementing Medicine Stone: Learning, Adapting, Improving

The team faced several challenges while implementing the Medicine Stone project. They initially aimed to recruit 100 participants, but location and space limitations posed significant hurdles. However, 30 individuals showed unwavering dedication throughout the project's entire lifecycle.

Originally planning for an individual-centric program, a transition to a group model proved more effective given the limited number of resources.

Transportation was a persistent obstacle for the Native population and accessing far-west Mandan offices was particularly challenging.

Weather posed additional challenges during the entire project. Some sessions had to be canceled due to weather-related issues, and certain participants faced difficulties staying engaged due to inconsistent transportation access. Unfortunately, this issue is a recurrent challenge for all SPRC projects. 

Despite these hurdles, the dedicated group stayed involved, demonstrating the power of community and shared commitment to well-being.

Nourishing Traditions, a Flavorful Journey

One story SPRC wanted to share is about how they introduced venison into the meals. 

Venison is a traditional meat that was commonly used in many Tribal communities in North Dakota, and like bison, is leaner and healthier than beef.

When they started the project, a local Native college student, Hunter Parisien, who is an avid hunter got in touch. He had read about SPRC's project and had a lot of venison that he wanted to provide to local elders and thought they could use it for the project. 

Hunter donated several packages of venison that he had processed and packaged through a butcher shop, which SPRC then gave to participants.

However, before they told the participants it was venison, they first made a chili meal for the goup as their healthy meal.

Once they finished and all of them raved about it, they revealed that it was made with venison. 

The participants were amazed, and some of them, who had previously expressed that they didn't like venison, even took the donation of venison from the young college student! 

Cheryl Kary

Many of the participants had never tried many of the ingredients that they used in cooking but found that they liked the taste. Some even asked for additional recipes where they could use the foods. This helped SPRC reinforce the idea that decolonizing diets doesn't mean drastic taste changes.

In the end,

this project was more than just a health initiative; it was a testament to the transformative power of community, education, and cultural connection in pursuing holistic well-being. 

The true legacy lies in the enduring bonds forged during this community journey.

The Sacred Pipe Resource Center is doing meaningful work that will change the lives of many. Your generosity of time, ideas, skills, or resources is welcomed!

We are an ally to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities dealing with matters of access to Health and Water and the protection of the right to maintain traditional ways of living in harmony with Nature.

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to