Tag Archives: Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition

Strong Medicine, Community Healing

January 23, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“My grandmother—who was my first mentor, and I idolize her to this day—was a shaman,” says Donna Polk, a licensed mental health practitioner who has a Ph.D. in administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I grew up with her laying hands on people and with people coming to her house for her to pray for them.”

Inspired by her grandmother’s work and fascinated by her Native heritage (Comanche), the young Polk set out to establish a healing legacy of her own, one that continues to this day.

From her counseling work at the Lincoln Indian Center, to her time on the Lincoln-Lancaster County Board of Health, to her directorship at No More Empty Pots, Polk has dedicated her life to serving disenfranchised communities, advocating for marginalized peoples, and fighting for more effective and accessible health care. Her work has earned her numerous accolades, including a lifetime achievement award from Voices for Children in Nebraska.

For the past 26 years, she’s continued her important work as chief executive officer of the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition, where she has spearheaded an initiative to expand services and relocate the NUIHC to a new facility at the former location of the South Omaha Eagles Club.

Conceptual drawing of Eagle Heights, provided by developer Arch Icon.

If all goes according to plan, construction and renovation at the new site will be underway in 2019. The relocation would involve a land swap with Arch Icon Development, which has purchased the South Omaha property and four surrounding lots. Arch Icon already owns the Flats on Howard that surround the health coalition’s current location. But the land swap is not yet a sure deal.

“It all hinges on our ability to raise $7 million to cover the new building’s renovation costs,” Polk says.

Polk—or “Dr. Donna,” as she is known around the office—was born to a military family in Denver, Colorado. She spent her childhood moving from state to state, following her submariner father from assignment to assignment. “I’m from a lot of places that prepared me for living in Omaha,” she says.

In 1964, Polk’s husband was stationed at the Nike Hercules missile site near Louisville, Nebraska. “Colored” people were not allowed to live in Louisville, so the Red Cross set up the family with a home in North Omaha. “We had lived in Maryland, so I was used to segregation,” she explains. “But I loved living in North Omaha. Like South Omaha is today, we had everything we needed.”

“That’s what I’m trying to develop in our project,” Polk says, referring to the coalition’s new initiative. “A little community for the descendants of the original settlers of this land.” Her organization serves members of the five tribes of Nebraska (and other federally recognized tribes) living in the Omaha and Lincoln metro areas. Many NUIHC services are available to the public, regardless of Native ancestry.

The NUIHC is a nonprofit organization that provides “community health care and services targeting the urban American Indian and Alaska Native population.” Services include transitional living, substance abuse treatment, sexually transmitted disease testing, funeral services, diabetes education, and youth and elder community programs, among others. Aside from its Omaha headquarters, the organization manages the Nebraska Urban Indian Medical Center in Lincoln.

Executive directors of regional Indian centers in Lincoln, Omaha, and Sioux City, Iowa, established the coalition in 1986. Polk says it originally formed to “focus on health issues, leaving the Indian centers to focus on socio-economic issues, employment, housing, financial supportive services, education, and things of that nature.”

“Now there is no Indian center in Sioux City and none in Omaha, so we hope our new facility will increase our capacity to do more in the realm of job placement, training, and there is even possible collaboration with Metropolitan Community College in the works,” she says.

Polk says that a “stroke of luck and genius” brought her to the health coalition in 1991. “Genius on the part of my mentor [Syd Beane, the former director of the Lincoln Indian Center], who was leaving Nebraska for a role with the Center for Community Change in San Francisco,” she explains. Polk had been with the Lincoln Indian Center since 1985. “He said, ‘Donna, you need to really think about where you’re going to go when I leave. But I have a place for you to go.’”

That place was the coalition. “When I learned about this organization, and the fact it was health-related, and it was Native—because I knew that we had Native blood in our family—I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” Polk took the job and, before long, she had established a nonprofit clinic in Lincoln. She remembers thinking, “I’m really like Grandma now!”

Omaha resident Robert O’Brien was president of the coalition’s board when Polk was hired as its executive director, and he praises her accomplishments.“I can’t say enough good things about Donna,” O’Brien says (praise that Polk reciprocates for the former board president). “She was exactly what we needed, and you can see how far we were able to go with the clinic in Lincoln and treatment center in Omaha, and I give Donna all the credit. She is a very, very capable executive director.”

Polk emphasizes that the coalition focuses on behavioral health, youth, and families: “Our goal is to elevate the health status of urban Indian people. That encompasses everything, because you have to look at the social determinants of health—that’s housing, that’s food security, that’s a sense of well-being, being proud to be whoever it is that you are.”

In place of their existing headquarters near 24th and Howard streets, the new South Omaha location, at 23rd and N streets (tentatively named “Eagle Heights”), will include apartments and a renovated clubhouse. The expanded facility will offer additional services for the local Native and non-Native community, including housing, accommodations for elders, and additional space for cultural events.

“I want to have a recovery community,” Polk says. “A place where people who are no longer abusing alcohol and drugs can live and have their own little community.”

While they own a clinic in Lincoln, NUIHC refers patients for medical services in Omaha to the Fred Leroy Health and Wellness Clinic, which Polk says offers “Native people a place to go if they want to be served by a tribe.” The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska operates the clinic, located in the South Omaha neighborhood where NUIHC plans to relocate.

Donna Polk is a five-year survivor of breast cancer. She was the 2016 Honorary Komen Race Chair.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

2017 November/December Giving Calendar

October 29, 2017 by
Photography by contributed

Featured Event

Nov. 19-25 (hours vary)
Feztival of Trees
Tangier Shrine Center
View trees decorated by local businesses, organizations, and affiliates of the Tangier Shrine. Purchase raffle tickets for chances to win prizes and a free tree (each tree features prizes valued at $500 or more). Admission is $2 per person; children under 12 enter free with adult.


2017 November/December Giving Calendar

Nov. 1 (starts at 8:30 a.m.)
2017 Nonprofit Summit of the Midlands
Benefiting: Nonprofit Association of the Midlands
Location: La Vista Conference Center

Christmas Caravan

Nov. 2 (10 a.m.-8 p.m.)
Christmas Caravan 2017
Benefiting: Assistance League of Omaha
Location: Various homes in Omaha

Milagro Dinner

Nov. 2 (5:30-9 p.m.)
Milagro Dinner
Benefiting: OneWorld Community Health Centers
Location: Hilton Omaha

Nov. 3 (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Breaking the Cycle Luncheon
Benefiting: Youth Emergency Services
Location: Scott Conference Center

Rally for Kids

Nov. 3 (6-9:30 p.m.)
Rally for Kids
Benefiting: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska Inc.
Location: Hilton Omaha

Let’s Grow Here Gala

Nov. 3 (6-8:30 p.m.)
Let’s Grow Here Gala
Benefiting: Big Muddy Urban Farm
Location: University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Sorrell Center

Nov. 3 (5:30-8 p.m.)
An Evening of Appreciation
Benefiting: American Red Cross
Location: Regency Lodge

Roncalli Catholic High Tea

Nov. 5 (11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.)
Roncalli Catholic High Tea
Benefiting: Roncalli Catholic High School
Location: Roncalli Catholic High School

Nov. 5 (noon-4 p.m.)
Honey Sunday
Benefiting: Ollie Webb Center Inc.
Location: Throughout Omaha

Nurse of the Year Awards

Nov. 9 (5-9 p.m.)
Nurse of the Year Awards
Benefiting: March of Dimes
Location: Hilton Omaha

Nov. 9 (6-9 p.m.)
Toast to Hal Daub
Benefiting: Merrymakers
Location: Omaha Design Center

Historic Homes Tour

Nov. 10-12 (times vary)
Historic Home Tour & Boutique
Benefiting: Joslyn Castle
Location: Various locations

Empowerment 4 Life

Nov. 10 (9 a.m.-2 p.m.)
Empowerment 4 Life Youth Leadership Conference
Benefiting: Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition
Location: NorthStar

Nov. 11 (8 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Hoops 4 Life 3 on 3 Youth Basketball Tournament
Benefiting: Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition
Location: NorthStar

Big Red Block Party

Nov. 11 (time TBD)
Big Red Block Party
Benefiting: Junior League of Omaha
Location: Scott Conference Center

Nov. 11 (3-5 p.m.)
Honors Orchestra Concert
Benefiting: Omaha Area Youth Orchestras
Location: OPS TAC Auditorium

Nov. 11 (6-10 p.m.)
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Gala
Benefiting: Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Foundation
Location: CenturyLink Center

Nov. 11 (7-11:30 p.m.)
Rock to Raise
Benefiting: The John Atkinson Lung Cancer Foundation
Location: St. Nicholas Community Center

Nov. 13-Dec. 11
Empowering Women from Surviving to Thriving
Benefiting: Open Door Mission
Location: Open Door Mission

Nov. 14 (Noon-1 p.m.)
Big Brothers Big Sister of the Midlands Matchmaker Luncheon
Benefiting: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands
Location: UNO Thompson Alumni Center

Project Harmony Annual Meeting and Luncheon

Nov. 15 (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Annual Meeting & Luncheon
Benefiting: Project Harmony
Location: Happy Hollow Club

Nov. 16 (5 a.m.-6 p.m.)
Hope for Hungry Radiothon
Benefiting: Open Door Mission
Location: KFAB 1110 AM

Nov. 16 (5:30-9:30 p.m.)
Stock Market Championship 2017
Benefiting: Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands
Location: Hilton Omaha

Nov. 16 (6-9 p.m.)
Salute to Families
Benefiting: Heartland Family Service
Location: Happy Hollow Club

Sentimental Journey

Nov. 17 (6-9 p.m.)
Sentimental Journey
Benefiting: The Durham Museum
Location: The Durham Museum

Nov. 18 (1-3 p.m.)
Meet & Greet at the Green Spot
Benefiting: Pug Partners of Nebraska
Location: The Green Spot

Nov. 23 (8:45-11 a.m.)
2017 Turkey Trot
Benefiting: Make-a-Wish Nebraska
Location: Lewis & Clark Landing

Joslyn Castle Turkey Trot

Nov. 23 (9 a.m.)
Turkey Trot 5K Run/Walk
Benefiting: Joslyn Castle
Location: Turner Park in Midtown Crossing

Nutcracker Gala

Dec. 1 (6-9 p.m.)
Nutcracker Gala
Benefiting: Ballet Nebraska
Location: Orpheum Theater

Dec. 4-8
Project Elf Holiday Gift Drive
Benefiting: Nebraska Children’s Home Society
Location: Nebraska Children’s Home Society

Reel to Real Sustainability Film Festival

Dec. 6 (5:30-9 p.m.)
Reel To Real Sustainability Film Festival
Benefiting: The Green Omaha Coalition
Location: Aksarben Cinema

Christmas in Our Hearts Concert

Dec. 7 (1:30-3 p.m.)
Christmas in our Hearts Concert
Benefiting: Community 360°
Location: Kroc Center

Nebraska Jingle Bell Run

Dec. 9 (7:30 a.m.-noon)
2017 Nebraska Jingle Bell Run
Benefiting: Arthritis Foundation Nebraska
Location: Strategic Air and Space Museum and Mahoney State Park

Dec. 10 (10 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Ruth Solokof Christmas Party
Benefiting: Nebraska Foundation for Visually Impaired Children
Location: Westroads Mall

Dec. 27 (6-11 p.m.)
Omaha Symphony Debutante Ball
Benefiting: Omaha Symphony
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

This event calendar was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Magazine.

Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.