Building From Within

“We’ve been here in Colorado for… thousands and thousands of years, but I think we were here from the beginning.”

On the Western Slope of Colorado, many members of native tribes are critically underserved. Not only is there a lack of resources but the resources that are available aren’t sensitive to the cultural needs of the people they’re meant to serve. 

Monique Sturgeon is working to change that inequity. Born in Mesa, Arizona, and raised in Cortez, Colorado, Monique is part of the Weeminuche Band of the Ute Mountain Tribe. Her mom is a full Ute Mountain Ute and her dad is white. Growing up with such a unique perspective, Monique had a front-row seat to the challenges tribal members face in accessing resources, which contrasts with the access people not living on tribal lands are often afforded. She saw a canyon of disparity that would stick with her.

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An advocate for change within the Tribal community.

During COVID, Monique began working for Rocky Mountain Health Plans. She was managing post-ER calls for people on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, and what she found would change the course of her life. She saw stark gaps in healthcare for Native American patients, especially the tribal elders and their caretakers. They lacked access to theresources needed to navigate cumbersome healthcare and government programs. Knowing how to sign up for Medicaid or understanding who is eligible for SNAP benefits, for example, is complicated under the best of circumstances. When an individual lives on a tribal reservation without simple access to many of the programs offered, the process of applying for a program can be overwhelming.

Remnants of the past near Ute tribal lands.

Monique began to understand just how complicated it can be to get the assistance needed. On her own time, Monique began to wade through each person’s case, helping people fill out forms, getting them groceries, and bringing them medical supplies. She was a tireless advocate for the underserved people of her community. 

Eventually, the work became overwhelming. The effort she was putting forth on the side was taking over her day job, and it felt untenable. At the same time, she started hearing the same suggestion over and over: ‘“Why don’t you open a resource center and do this full time?.”’ So that’s exactly what she did. 

Through a $200,000 investment from Rocky Mountain Health Plans and support by the Colorado Health Foundation, the Western Slope Native American Resource Center (WSNARC) was born. WSNARC helps American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) families living on the Western Slope get access to the resources they deserve. Focusing on the underserved, WSNARC is a one-stop central resource for a wide range of needs. Monique began with a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground approach, going house to house on the reservation, asking who needed help. What she found was that most people didn’t even know what was available. They didn’t realize they were being underserved.

The growing team of the Western Slope Native American Resource Center (WSNARC).

A major focus for Monique is tribal members with disabilities. They often qualify for waiver programs and assistance but don’t know these resources are available. In the past few months, Monique and her team have helped tribal members with disabilities enroll in the Consumer Direct Attendant Support Program, allowing them to remain in their homes, versus going into a nursing home, and have their family get paid for taking care of them. WIthout Monique, the existence of these programs would remain unknown in the tribal community. 

In addition to this disability program, WSNARC has a peer navigation program to help people fill out paperwork. Additionally, it works with a transportation partner that picks up patients, takes them to their appointments, and waits for them to give them a ride home. No matter where they need to go, or where they need to stop along the way, WSNARC will work to make sure they can get there safely.

“Rocky Mountain Health Plans and UnitedHealthcare have been amazing. … The outreach that they do, and the way they do things is unreal. … They reach out to people. They help them.”

All of this is done with the cultural sensitivity the community has been lacking. Understanding the tribal system of the elders, knowing the beliefs that dictate living arrangements, and empathizing with the generational trauma of living on a reservation are all part of the fabric of WSNARC. Its mission is to strengthen vulnerable AI/AN children and their families through collaborative and culturally responsive services. The center provides services and community programs to families on the Western Slope and serves as a single point of entry for comprehensive, intensive, and collaborative community-based services for vulnerable families..

Monique Terpstra Sturgeon, Founder/Director, Western Slope Native American Resource Center (WSNARC).
A walk near the Ute Mountains in Southwest Colorado.

And Monique and her team are just getting started. WSNARC is staffed by qualified individuals who personally know and understand the needs of the community and how best to serve it.

Monique is working to register WSNARC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, in addition to getting access to healthcare coverage for her team and finding a location for offices. The future of care for the Native American tribal members on the Western Slope has never looked more promising. “We’re not just in Towaoc [and] Cortez; we’re in Grand Junction, Montrose, Delta. The more we grow, we’ll be all over. We’ll be for everybody, all across the Western Slope.”

Breaking down trauma while strengthening bonds is helping to lift up members of the tribal community, showing them a brighter future from within.

The team from WSNARC helps many Native Americans in the area to navigate complex government and healthcare programs.


  • WSNARC exists to help every Native American find resources for all the social determinants of health, such as food, education, housing, behavioral health and substance use care, employment, and more. 
  • It helps disabled Native Americans enroll in programs that are available but not so easy to access. Disability advocates and peer navigators help people understand what resources are available, walk them through each step of applying to and getting approval for programs, and provide assistance while they are enrolled in the programs. 
  • WSNARC provides transportation to medical appointments all over Colorado and even in neighboring states Utah and New Mexico.
  • Children are the future. As such, WSNARC works to ensure children are engaged. It offers a program that gets kids outdoors, fishing, hiking, bike riding, and experiencing things they might not otherwise have access to. 
  • WSNARC provides Native American cultural presentations for schools and businesses to educate people about who Native Americans were and who they are today.
The Ute Mountains in Southwestern Colorado are among many sacred Indegenous Lands on the Western Slope. 

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