Residents in and around Browning have long contended with a lack of access to qualified health care professionals and services on the Blackfeet Reservation.
However, the recently opened $7.5 million Health Science and Education Building at the Blackfeet Community College (BCC) offers a long-term solution to help address these challenges. The new facility will advance training opportunities for Native American nursing and education students to meet increasing health care and education needs locally and throughout Montana.
On Nov. 5, which Gov. Steve Bullock proclaimed in 2015 as Elouise Cobell Day, in honor of the late Blackfeet tribal elder, banker and rancher who was the lead plaintiff in the groundbreaking class-action lawsuit that challenged the U.S. government’s mismanagement of Native American Trust funds, the community college held a special ceremony to name the new building in her honor. Also known as Yellow Bird Woman, Cobell was a posthumous awardee of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“We believe that investing in quality health science education addresses the root cause of so many of the health disparities we see on the Blackfeet Reservation,” BCC Interim President Carol Murray stated in a press release. “The new Health Science and Education Building replaces overcrowded and outdated facilities, creates capacity for more students, and attracts the faculty we need to train the next generation of health care professionals. It also brings us one step closer to expanding from a two-year to a four-year degree program in Education and Nursing.”
BCC will name the new building Oahtkwii Piiksakii Iikohkon-Yellow Bird Woman Lodge in honor of Cobell.
Dignitaries who spoke at the naming ceremony included Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person, Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Tim Davis, BCC Board of Trustees Chairman James McNeely, BCC Interim President Carol Murray, Elouise Cobell’s son Turk Cobell, Blackfoot speaker and former POW Marvin Weatherwax Sr., and others.
With the support of BCC partners, the college secured financing for the new $7.5 million Health Science and Education Building with the help of First Interstate Bank and an innovative federal program, New Markets Tax Credits, through the community-based nonprofit lender, MoFi. The New Markets Tax Credit programs help incentivize economic development projects in low-income communities around the country. MoFi works with investors to turn tax credits into cash, and then uses that cash to fund catalytic development projects.
“The opening of the Yellow Bird Woman Lodge represents the best of this community,” Dave Glaser, President of MoFi, said. “We are thrilled to help finance a project that will create jobs, new facilities and, more importantly, pave the way for a brighter, healthier future for the people of Browning.”