Today and Yesterday - Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center
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Today and Yesterday

Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center today and over the years


Since 1996, Yellowhawk has been 100 percent owned and governed by the CTUIR.

    • Number of employees: More than 160
    • Number of American Indians and Native Alaskans employed: At least 84
    • Number of annual visits: Just under 50,000
    • Number of annual patients: Just over 3,200

Historical Perspective

In 1855 the United States Government and the heads of the Walla Walla, Cayuse and Umatilla tribes signed a legally binding contract that never expires. In the treaty, the tribes gave the United States more than 6.4 million acres in what is now northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. In exchange, the tribes were promised many things, including ongoing healthcare for their people. However, governmental policies varied significantly over the years and healthcare services were not consistently available to tribal members until the late 1930s.


Chief Carl Sampson of the Walla Walla Tribe tells the following story:

“When I was a child and when I raised my children, we would go to the basement of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) building for healthcare. That building has been torn down.  A doctor and nurse would come in from Pendleton once a month and offer basic shots and treat colds. I became very sick when I was five or six and no one was around to see me. I had to be taken to Pendleton, which was a big deal back then. I had contracted spinal meningitis, and I’m told that I could have died.”  

Since time immemorial, long before the invention of the word “wellness,” CTUIR leaders have been concerned with the health of its people.


Despite political ups and downs, the CTUIR’s philosophy on healthcare remained constant, particularly in three areas:

    • Lifestyle decisions are ultimately the responsibility of the individual,
    • Wellness is a dynamic relationship between the individual and the environment, and
    • The community should participate in determining its own healthcare needs.


It’s also important to note that the CTUIR is a model community in terms of participating in its own healthcare decisions. It was the first tribal group to utilize the Community Health Representative Program (established in 1968), and the first to own their own clinic (construction completed in 1972).


The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (Public Law 93-638) set the wheels in motion for the tribe to manage its own healthcare needs at a future date. Among other things, this law gave tribes the ability to determine how to use healthcare funds provided by the U.S. government. Around this same time, the American Academy of Pediatric Physicians recognized CTUIR as unique within the tribal healthcare system because of its emphasis placed on self-directed wellness and community-designed health initiatives. Case in point, in 1977, Yellowhawk sponsored its first Fun Run, when many people in the country considered the running of road races a trivial fad. Yellowhawk has always been forward thinking and innovative.

In 1996, CTUIR assumed ownership and leadership of its tribal healthcare from Indian Health Services. Today, many tribes (there are more than 550 tribes recognized by the U.S. government) still do not own or govern their healthcare organizations.