Happy Pi Day!!! – from Bois Forte

Today Tony and Mildred went to the Vermillion Clinic, which is a small clinic about one mile away from the Fortune Bay Hotel and Casino. We shadowed Dr. Charles Helleloid and had the opportunity to see some dental procedures. This facility only has two exam rooms, one of them only used for simple surgical procedures. The staff can also draw blood, but they have to take the samples to Nett Lake in order to analyze them.

Here in Vermillion, we were able to interact and learn from Ojibwe patients that belonged to every age group: children, young adults, adults and elders. It was an excellent experience to be able to observe what a whole day runs like. As stated before, we also saw a couple of dental procedures. Both of them involved anesthesia administration. This was actually pretty interesting, for we got to review the anatomy we learned on winter term (yes, superior and inferior alveolar nerves, long buccal nerve and the mental).

<The Vermillion Clinic>

We had lunch offered by the site, delicious food, which was prepared not only for them, but specifically for the Vermillion elders.

After visiting the clinic with Dr. Helleloid, we went outside to a beautiful 60°F weather. Behind the clinic was the frozen Lake Vermillion with its 365 islands. During the winter, the ice can be 3-4 feet thick, enough for trucks to drive on. Shawn O’Leary’s uncle, Bernard drives 20 miles on conventional roads to get the mail. With the frozen lake, he can take a short cut and drive 6 miles.

<Lake Vermillion>

            After taking a few photos of the lake, we walked a few feet from the clinic towards the Vermillion fitness center where Bernard works at. The facility, built in 2006, includes a gym, a basketball court, a sauna, zumba dance classes, and a recreational center for youths. The facility is free for all native Band members. For $30 a month, 24 hour access to the facility can be obtained. In addition, the Vermillion fitness center awards a pair of Nike running shoes specialized for Native Americans for every 52 miles walked. Bernard has a won a few pairs already.

<The Vermillion Fitness Center>

We then talked to Bernard about life at the reserve. He noted that one of the coldest temperature recorded in American history took place in Tower, MN at -60°F in February 2nd, 1996. He remembered a time where it was so cold, that when he went to spit, it froze in mid air and cracked on the ground. He also mentioned that the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine, the largest open pit iron mine in the world, was nearby in Hibbing, MN, providing a quarter of all the iron ore mined in the United States during World War I and II.

Bernard also spoke about how hunting is a favorite past time of Native Americans. He helped with hunting a 2000 lb moose that was outside the Vermillion clinic in the snow. Bernard’s co-hunter readied his rifle and fired. The moose survived the shot; angrily charging towards Bernard, its head lowered, its antlers readying to impale its attackers. Bernard’s co-hunter fired again, only to discover that he was out of ammo. Bernard threw him a shell and the hunter reloaded faster than he ever had in his life, pulled the trigger, the moose fell, sliding towards them. After that encounter, Bernard and 5 other friends came to prepare and clean the moose. Bernard shared the meat with his friends and family, noting the importance of sharing in the tribal community.

Meanwhile, Sara and Mai went back to the Bois Forte clinic to shadow Dr. Ray Hawk and the maternal care nurse practitioner. Shadowing Dr. Ray Hawk is an excellent example of how rural health works. He knows every one of his patients at a personal level, and remembers the patients’ last visit as if it was yesterday. He knows their family and occupational history as if he was talking to one of his friends that he hasn’t talked to in a few months. The ailments that he sees in the clinic is not necessarily any different from what we see in New Hampshire. He even has patients who call in to say that they “dropped their pain medication in the dish water.” Which are the same exact problem that clinics have in NH as well. The only difference we’ve noticed is that the majority of patients are native, and that diabetes are more likely to be on top of the physician’s minds as they look at patients.

Sara spent the morning shadowing Jill, the maternal health nurse practitioner (NP) and Paula, the medical lab technician. Jill also goes to the Vermillion Clinic once a week to provide care at the satellite location. As the only maternal health NP in the reservation, she provides health care to a wide range of patients – from infants to post-menopausal women. One thing we have seen over and over again at the reservation clinic is that people have more than one hat. They try to cover a lot of ground with the limited amount of employees they have. They only have one lab technician that runs all the tests and if she is not in, then the nurses have to extend themselves. Or when they didn’t have a pharmacist, the physician had two hats. Even with the overload of work and responsibility, they try their best to provide the best care to their patients. The doctor-patient relationship here is truly a dynamic one.

In the afternoon, Sara and Mai met with Marybelle again to listen to a recording of Gene Goodsky telling the story of how the ancestors came to Nett Lake. We sat in Marybelle’s kitchen and listened to the recording on cassette tape. In the beginning of the recording, Gene described how geographic names such a “Mississippi” and “Chicago” came from Ojibwe words. Mississippi means “big river” and Chicago means “skunks.”

The group joined back together in the afternoon to visit the heritage museum.

At the entrance of the museum, there was a collage of Ojibwe people. We were able to identify Loretta in the mural, with whom we had dinner last night.

The museum showed us the history of the Bois Forte band, starting from how the people settled, which was the story that we heard from the recording of Gene Goodsky earlier in the day. The museum also had dioramas of teepees, and the boarding schools that the older generation of Ojibwe were sent to. Seeing the dioramas helped us have a better image of the history that we’ve been listening to throughout the trip.

<People lived in Wigwams in the past>

<Mai and Sara being studious at the boarding school exhibit while Tony daydreams>

Today is actually a very special day for us. It is March 14, 3.14…. Pi day!!! So of course, we had to go find pie. Terri told us earlier in the morning that the Village Inn in Virginia is the place to find over 20 different kinds of pie.

Which we happily devoured.


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