Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians becomes the first tribe in the United States to add donor registration to tribal IDs – Grand Forks Herald
BELCOURT, ND – The story of a young boy in need of a new heart has inspired historic change within the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Recently, the Native American tribe in northern North Dakota became the first in the nation to add donor registration to their tribal IDs.
Joan Azure, the driving force behind the effort to put donor registration on Turtle Mountain’s tribal IDs, continued the change in honor of her grandson Greyson Parisien, who died in 2019. Now she encourages Tribe members check the box to become a donor when they renew their credentials.
“This check mark not only registers you as a donor, but symbolizes a little boy’s legacy of love, strength and unity for this community,” Joan Azure said.
On Monday, November 14, TMBCI and LifeSource, an organization that facilitates the process of organ, eye and tissue donation in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, hosted an event to celebrate the deployment of identification with donor designation, called the Greyson Initiative. Tribal leaders, Greyson’s family and others affected by organ donation in the community shared how the initiative will help the community of Turtle Mountain and others in need of organ transplants.
Greyson was born in December 2017 with a congenital heart defect. Although he underwent heart surgery, he ended up needing a heart transplant. He waited 12 months and received a transplant in April 2019. In September 2019 his health deteriorated and he died of complications from pneumonia.
Shortly after the death of her grandson, Joan Azure learned that reservations in the United States are among the regions with the lowest percentages of organ donors.
As she considered how she could help increase the number of organ donors in her own community, she realized that ID could be a factor. Some community members do not have driver’s licenses or national ID cards, but do have tribal ID cards, which are a federally recognized form of identification.
“If we had it put on the tribal IDs, maybe we would have more people ticking the box because we knew it was supported by the tribal council,” she said.
Working with LifeSource, Joan Azure drafted a resolution and presented it to Tribal Council. The board unanimously approved the resolution in June 2022.
Tribal Chairman Jamie Azure came up with the name “Greyson Initiative” to honor the boy who inspired the change.
“It made sense with Greyson’s family as advocates,” he said.
ReeAnne Parisien, Greyson’s mother, said it was exciting to see the registration of donors on tribal ID cards.
“It makes me proud of him. I think if he was there, it would still happen,” Parisien said. “He was a big part of our community. I think he would be happy too.
The work of Greyson’s family has the potential to spark change beyond the Turtle Mountain Tribe, said Dr. Monica Meyer, representative for the northern segment of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. Meyer is a longtime friend of Joan Azure and has experience with organ donation within her own family.
To continue the work of Joan Azure, she is committed to working to obtain donor designations on MHA Nation IDs.
“When we do this, the other tribes will follow,” she said.
Jamie Azure said he plans to check the box to become a donor this afternoon and expects many other tribe members to become donors as well.
“I know it will be a hit,” he said.