Naqantughedul! ‘The Tide is coming back in’ Dena’ina Wellness Center breaks ground…

Kenaitze Tribal Elders join local, state, and federal officials in the ceremonial groundbreaking of the new Dena’ina Wellness Center.

Traditionally ceremonial groundbreakings are the manifestation of a collective dream and untold hours of planning, labor and fund raising. The ground breaking for the new Dena’ina Wellness Center at the original village site in Old Town Kenai certainly was all of that with an added spirit of inspiration from our historical host culture as well as a model partnership for the future. Kenaitze Indian Tribe (KIT) executive director Jaylene Peterson-Nyren described it with the Dena’ina word Naqantughedul, translated as meaning “The tide has turned and we are truly coming back to ourselves, our culture, and who we are. Today we celebrated with everyone in the community who shared in this vision,” she said. 

The Center which had been 40 years in the making eventually came to the desk of Alaska Commissioner of Health and Social Services Bill Streur, who was present at the groundbreaking, “It almost brings tears to my eyes,” Commissioner Bill told the Dispatch in an interview, “When you see the dedication and the wonderful, caring way this event was put together, it’s beautiful to be part of and this will be a great facility and tremendous resource for the people of the Kenai,” said Streur. “We are establishing a new model here and across the state for the quality and uniqueness of services provided to meet all the challenges that Alaska has. This has been a great effort on the part of the Alaskan Native Tribal Health Consortium, South Central Foundation, Kenaitze Tribe and all the other Alaskan leadership have brought this together as a model for wellness not just medical treatments,” he added. 

According to a news release the 52,000 square-foot facility will provide integrated person centered care to include medical, dental, behavioral health, optometry, chemical dependency, physical therapy, lab and X-ray, pharmacy and traditional healing services. “This facility will allow us to return to a system of care that creates a partnership between provider and individuals seeking care with a goal of optimum wellness. The design theme centers on the river and its abundance of salmon and includes many elements of the natural environment important to traditional Dena’ina culture,” said Peterson-Nyren. As part of the ceremony soil that had been gathered from traditional Dena’ina sites at various Kenai Peninsula locations were mixed together to represent the tribe returning to their historical grounds at the mouth of the Kenai River.

Kenai City Mayor Pat Porter congratulating the KIT noted that the benefit to the larger Kenai Community would be significant with the Center expected to create 50 jobs in its first year of operation bringing over $200 million dollars in federal funding to the community over the next 20 years. Under the agreement, KIT will design and construct the new facility and Indian Health Service will provide funding for its operation and maintenance for a minimum of 20 years. Several local, state, and federal officials spoke at the ceremony, “We deeply appreciate the overwhelming support from residents, organizations and officials in the Kenai area and beyond. We offer a special thank you to Sen. Tom Wagoner and the State of Alaska for securing funds needed to move forward with this project,” added Peterson-Nyren. The aggressive timeline calls for a grand opening ribbon cutting in the early winter of 2014. More information is available at the Kenaitze Indian Tribe or by calling 335-7200.