New victory: Takini receives medical unit


Story by Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

An eight-year-old dream to bring a medical facility to the west side of the reservation was realized this Victory Day as the community of Takini watched a semi-truck and crane drive in and unload a compact medical unit.

The United Church of Christ in Bridger dreamed of providing a medical facility to better serve the west end of the reservation. With the help of Takini School, a Christian humanitarian organization, other churches locally and out-of-state, and numerous individuals, while this victory quietly unfolded for this community, many at the building site on Monday, June 25, said they saw the work of God.

“That’s the biggest thing I wanted to share. When you have that dream, and you allow God to have that, He makes those doors open,” said Toni Buffalo, of Eagle Butte, church leader and wife of Rev. Byron Buffalo of the Bridger UCC.

The medical unit is the most recent project of the Bridger UCC, which has worked with the community to create community resiliency and self-sufficiency using sustainable community building. Over the last few years the church planted a community garden, started and then expanded a community chicken coop, installed a wind generator to offset electric cost and many other economic and community development programs for Bridger and the entire Takini area.

“Its so interdenominational you know, and I guess for me that’s how God’s Spirit works. He doesn’t belong to any one denomination, and he doesn’t belong to any one culture or race of people. He is God and he makes things happen. And he brings things together in a way that when something like this happens, that’s the only time we really get to see his hand and his works and how amazing it is,” said Buffalo.

However amazing, the journey to this victory day was not clean cut nor easy.

The original dream for a medical facility came from the community vision of a now dissolved non-profit group called the Bridger Project in which the Buffalo family were involved.

Out of the community work from that project and in other entrepreneurial work, a building blue-print was done up that would have medical and dental facilities, as well as a retail store and restaurant.

While the various details of some of those initial projects didn’t pan out, the overall vision was carried on by the Bridger UCC for more west end resources, services and community self-sustainability.

After years of patient endurance realizing other parts of their vision, last year the plan for the medical facility began jelling, seemingly at the direction of that unseen hand.

It started with a chance encounter. Brittany Maxwell, a youth ministry director with a team of students from St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, returned from a trip working alongside the Bridger community. While giving a presentation back in Texas about her group’s work in Bridger, she had in her audience Jess Stokely, the founder of the Christian Alliance for Humanitarian Aid.

Christian Alliance’s main project is providing remote areas around the world with retrofitted shipping containers made into medical units that are mini-medical clinics and fitted with small offices, exam space, waiting room, even having a dentist’s chair, sinks and gas-powered electric generator. The units are then shipped to be installed in an under-served community.

Debbie Johnson, Outreach Coordinator for St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, became involved in the process as St. Dunstan’s considered the offer to partner with the Christian Alliance to bring the medical unit to the west end of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

The church agreed to start work on fundraising and supporting the project, though the process over the past year would find many frustrations and equally unexpected answers.

At the first meeting Johnson had with Stokely, she expressed concern about the price tag for a new medical unit. With the $20,000 price tag haunting her and a budget that wouldn’t allow for that type of expenditure, the first of many answers would appear.

“I was going, Jess, this sounds like a wonderful idea, but we don’t have the funds.” And he handed me this piece of paper and said, “I’m donating one for you”, and I said, “Okay. God intervened and said yes, you can,” said Johnson.

The medical unit had been used during a Texas hurricane and while resilient like any other shipping container, it had sustained some wear and tear and needed work, before it could be shipped to Cheyenne River.

Johnson recalls that every time something would need to be replaced or fixed, someone would donate a little money here or a grant for $1000 would come in. Each time covering what needed to be done.

Then Johnson said engineers and other people in the church began to question the logistics of moving a shipping container to such a remote area so far from Texas.

This would bring them to a critical point three weeks ago.

St. Dunstan’s Outreach Ministry had yet to find transportation, being told by many that there was no way to get the medical unit to the reservation in South Dakota thousands of miles from Texas. At a standstill, they even considered alternate communities to give the medical unit to closer to home, but the organization of transport would be the greatest miracle yet.

An overheard conversation during coffee time in a break room would end up sourcing that very need.

Debbie Johnson’s husband, Andy, was discussing the project at work when a lady sitting there said she thought her husband would know how to help. She talked to her husband, Gary Glass, who works for Labrada Nutrition, a company that manufactures and ships food products and health supplements all over the United States.

“The next day he called me, and he said, Okay, this is done. He was able to find a trucker, then he set up a crane to load it in Houston, and set up a crane to unload it here,” said Andy Johnson.

Others, including staff at Takini School and members of Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri, also had a part in bringing the medical unit to the area. While the building belongs to the UCC Church, leaders hope to offer it as a resource for area tribal health representatives.

Area people muse what this unit and the overall work in Bridger means.

“I always think the ancestor’s visions are coming about. Its not noticed. Nobody notices yet, but one of these days people are going to say hey, its coming about,” said Ben Elk Eagle, a tribal council representative from the area.

Most of those who settled the Takini area were the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre, said Buffalo, one of the most tragic pieces in the Lakota history of conflict with the federal government and churches of that time.

Elk Eagle agreed.

“That’s where kini comes from. — they passed on to the other side, but Kini means bringing things back to life. That’s what kini means. They thought everything’s gonna end over there what happened at Wounded Knee. But its coming back this way. Things are coming into place,” said Elk Eagle. “And I’m very honored to witness that, while I’m still here.”

For more information and upcoming events in Bridger, please contact the Bridger UCC Church.

You can reach reporter Tasiyagnunpa Livermont at or leave her a voicemail at (605) 964-4515. Livermont works part-time from her home for the West River Eagle. Her homepage is


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Most recent regular Eagle Butte City Council Meeting on April 9, 2014. Recording records entire meeting excluding a one-hour executive session. Top action taken: approved Tuesday's Ward II election results; rescinded February council action reducing Mayor salary, putting it back to what it was prior to action; appointed Verzella LaPlante Mayor; appointed Tyson LaPlante to fill Ward II seat. Most recent Dupree City Council meeting held on Monday, April 7, 2014. Most recent regular Dupree City Council Meeting held on March 3, 2014. Recording starts shortly after meeting was called to order and runs entire length of meeting. Main discussion points included city streets and the upcoming April election.


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