GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — Officials say many Native Americans on the Western Slope don’t have the same access to healthcare and other resources that other communities do. But one Mesa County woman is working to change that.
“A lot of people think Native Americans are still in a book with a headdress on. We’re here, you know, they don’t realize we’re still here.” Monique Terpstra Sturgeon is the executive director of the Western Slope Native American Resource Center. “I would like my tribal members and my people to have a chance at something besides just what’s on the reservation. We were here first, and we should be able to go anywhere and have every resource anybody else has a chance at accessing,” she says.
Terpstra tells WesternSlopeNow she founded the center in June 2022 after losing her job during the pandemic and picking up a temporary position with Rocky Mountain Health Plans. “I pick up calls from Native Americans – my tribe, other tribes – and there [were] no resources outside of the tribes.” She says the center is providing every resource it can. “We are actually advocating for different resources like healthcare, Medicaid, SNAP, housing. Housing is a big issue.”
But Terpstra didn’t do this alone – a $200,000 grant from Rocky Mountain Health was a huge help. “It wouldn’t have started without Rocky,” Terpstra emphasized. Patrick Gordon, CEO of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, tells WesternSlopeNow bridging the gap in care for marginalized members of the community is part of the company’s long-standing mission – but they can’t do that without trust. “Trust is really essential. And that means that instead of expecting people to find our services and advocate for themselves, expecting them to simply trust that we can deliver, we need to bring those services to them. And that’s what the West Slope Native American Resource Center is about,” Gordon explained.
Terpstra tells WesternSlopeNow they’ve been meeting clients where they’re at – either traveling to them or conducting virtual meetings – because the center doesn’t have a central location yet, but she hopes to establish one in Grand Junction. “I would like something here that had, you know, temporary housing for people that were experiencing domestic violence, something with daycare, job opportunities, skill training, things like that.”
She also says she hopes to introduce resources like a sweat lodge and culturally sensitive substance abuse programs. Gordon tells WesternSlopeNow Rocky Mountain Health will continue supporting the resource center, but the work to support marginalized communities won’t end there.