A Healthcare Website for the People.
When the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board told us in May 2019 that they would take control of providing Native American healthcare services in the Black Hills by building and running a state-of-the-art outpatient medical center in Rapid City, we said, “how can we help?” They responded, “Build us a website.”
Established in 1986, the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board (GPTLHB) is an organization representing the 18 tribal communities in the four-state region of South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. The Health Board works to improve the health of the American Indian people by providing public health support and health care advocacy.
In 2010, tribal citizens in Rapid City approached their representatives in tribal government to take action on their behalf to improve the quality of care offered at the Sioux San Hospital by the Indian Health Service (IHS). In 2019, after 5 years of negotiations, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe finally took control of the Rapid City Service Unit.
A Grand Opening
In February of 2023, the new Oyate Health Center opened ahead of schedule. This beautiful $120 million, 204,000 square-foot state-of-the-art outpatient medical facility, run by the Health Board, provides critical medical services to tribal members in-house.
Oyate – The People
Native communities need a Native healthcare solution. In the Lakota language, the word Oyate translates to “The People”; thus, the Oyate Health Center was created with self-determination and health sovereignty in mind. Their new website should connect their determination with the past, present, and future of Native healthcare in Western South Dakota.
Our goals for their new website:
- Explain why the Oyate Health Center was created.
- Promote to the Native community the healthcare services being provided in the interim at the Sioux San IHS Hospital and then at the new facility when it opens.
- Promote the construction of the new Oyate Health Center medical facility.
In November 2019, we began developing the Oyate Health Center website. We immediately faced a challenge: How do we visually promote the new health center before it is built or even designed?
A Painful History
In defining the new website’s look, we realized the existing imagery was unusable due to the IHS property’s troubled past with the Native community. The property started in 1898 as an Indian boarding school that forcibly re-educated Native children from the area. In the late 1930s, the facility transitioned to an infamous tuberculosis sanatorium. Then in the late 1960s, it became the IHS Sioux San Hospital, whose reputation became fraught with standards of care violations. The local Native community did not associate positive health outcomes with these 36 acres of land above Canyon Lake Drive in Rapid City.
Connecting Visually to the Community
With no existing property imagery to use and a lack of architectural building drawings of the new facility, we had to approach the web design differently. We decided to go with a more illustrated look by hiring local Lakota artists Michael and Doug Two Bulls to create custom artwork for the website.
The cousins Michael and Doug Two Bulls attended art school at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There they developed their mixed-media style that puts a unique contemporary twist on traditional Native art. tdg contracted Michael and Doug to create a painting for the lead image of the Oyate website. Their painting “Zaniya” is a stunning blend of modern decoupage and traditional Native ledger art. The Lakota word “zaniya” means “being healthy, in good health, healthy.”
The painting is rich in symbolism, as Michael describes, “The two Magpies holding the red sting in their beaks represent long life. The Magpie is an important bird in Lakota legends, including the ancient legend of The Great Race. I included images of a Tinpsila braid and a branch of chokecherries. These have been part of the Lakota diet for many years and still are. Our ancestors’ diets were healthy, and it added to a long healthy life. Of course, the Bison is the Lakota lifeline for food, clothing, shelter, and spiritual practices. At the top of the painting is a pipe. For many Lakotas, the pipe is a central part of life.”
Michael and Doug also created a collection of design symbols, or sprites, for use throughout the website as user interface icons. These sprites are culturally appropriate interpretations of traditional Lakota and Northern Plains designs.
Evolving Content During the Pandemic
Together with the Health Board, we defined messaging and content strategy for the new website that would change as the construction of the new health center progressed. The approach enabled them to create the content as their time allowed. This strategy coincided with the COVID-19 Pandemic, where the Health Board was at the center of historic health efforts to protect the relatives in their community. During that chaotic period, the Health Board prioritized managing the COVID response, so we worked with them to update the website as needed.
Online Event Management
Since its launch in July 2020, the website has seen the following:
- 850% in monthly visitor sessions on the website.
- 68% of those visitor sessions are done via mobile devices.
The Oyate website will evolve again now that the stunning new health center is open and providing state-of-the-art healthcare for tribal members in the Black Hills region.