Stilwell wellness center on track for 2025 completion | Services

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STILWELL – Rising from a tract of farmland in Stilwell is a wellness center the Cherokee Nation hopes to complete next year.

“This is going to be a fully-functioning wellness center that’s going to, of course, have dedicated space that’ll go towards workouts, lifting weights, things of that nature,” CN Deputy Secretary of State Canaan Duncan said at the construction site April 3. “But it’s also going to be a wellness community space, as well. We’re going to have teaching opportunities here. We’re going to have classroom space to learn about different wellness trainings, different wellness goals. It’s really filling a gap that Stilwell and other parts of rural America have never seen by having access to facilities of this magnitude.”

Construction of the 50,000-square-foot facility – located on five acres next to the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center – began in May 2023. It is expected to be completed in spring 2025.

“This facility will be operated just like our Male Seminary Recreation Center or Markoma,” said Duncan, a former Adair County representative on the Tribal Council. “It’ll be free to Cherokee citizens, and then non-Cherokee citizens will have access to it, as well, for a small fee.”

The facility will boast a demonstration kitchen along with food preparation and nutrition classes for the public. Other features will include a cafe that offers healthy eating options, a full-court basketball gymnasium, indoor track on the upper floor of the two-story building, classrooms and child care.

“We’re also going to have space dedicated for congregation for elders – for people of any age groups – just to come and hang out with maybe some pool tables and around our cafe,” Duncan said. “Something that I had noticed from being from and still living in Stilwell is our elders in particular go to convenience stores to drink coffee, to visit and eat breakfast, which is a great thing. That’s wellness. But we would rather them do that at our wellness center, so that’s why we wanted to make a space dedicated for that.”

Outdoor areas will provide “a vast amount” of space for educational efforts and traditional games, Duncan said.

“COVID really shed light on the need and importance of wellness spaces outside,” he added. “Something I’m particularly excited about is we’re going to have a filtrated water system. People will have access to that to come and ‘go to water’ in the traditional sense if they feel like they need to, and a dedicated outdoor space for meditation.”

The center’s amenities are based on a community feedback.

“Many of the things that you’re going to see in here are things that come directly from community members,” Duncan said.

Cost of the project will near $20 million, Duncan said.

“We’re thinking that it’s going to be around $18.5 million at completion,” he said, “which is a substantial amount and something that I myself am proud of that we’re investing that in any area of the reservation, particularly my home area of Adair County.”

He added that the center is part of a broader goal for “access to facilities like this throughout the entire 14-county reservation.”

“Recently we announced that Salina will be getting a wellness center on their health-care campus,” Duncan said. “Then we are also in the planning phases of completely replacing our Male Seminary Recreation Center. We are going to keep our foot on the gas and keep putting these across the reservation wherever they need to be.”

Another benefit will be the addition of up to 150 new jobs, “which is huge in any area, but in this area in particular,” Duncan said.

“We’re looking at personal trainers, nutritionists. We’re going to have food workers. We want this to be a holistic view of wellness where people are comfortable coming in for any type of services at the Cherokee Nation,” he said.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed the Public Health and Wellness Fund Act in fall 2021. At the time, he said that many Cherokees are “struggling with health conditions that we could improve if we give them access to ways to exercise and to eat better and get physically fit.” Also created in 2021, the Cherokee Nation Task Force on Physical Wellness identified Adair County as a priority for increased access to physical activity within the reservation.

“I was lucky enough to be on council at that time and was a sponsor of that bill,” Duncan said. “What that did was it took a portion of our revenue that we get at Health Services and earmarked and dedicated that specifically for wellness activities. From there, Chief Hoskin put a team of experts together to analyze what resources are available in terms of wellness on the reservation, what areas in the reservation had the least access and we started from there. And Stilwell was our No. 1 priority.”

The Stilwell center was the first major project announced under the Wellness Fund Act.

“Being from Stilwell, there’s not a lot of access to quick, healthy food here locally,” Duncan said. “So, we want to make sure that citizens in rural America have the same opportunities as any citizen living in a metropolitan area, for example.”

Named after Mary L. (Holland) Carson, an original enrollee, the center is being constructed on property donated by Jim and Drew Carson.

“We acquired this property through a partnership with the Carson family, a local family here in Adair County that invests their resources into the community,” Duncan said. “We looked at a gap that needed to be filled in emergency health care, and the Carsons wanted to help us with that. So, we made a partnership for some land and helped their cause, as well.”

It’s been noted that other past Tribal Councilors from Adair County like Shawn Crittenden, the late Frankie Hargis and S. Joe Crittenden have lobbied for health initiatives in their area.

“We’ve all talked about this,” Crittenden said when the project was announced in 2021. “I’m just so grateful to see what working together can do. Health and wellness, that’s the foundation of everything good for our people. It’s been said before, if you don’t have your health, you know, what do you have?”

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