United Indian Health Services'

Potawot Health Village:


Integrating Health, Community and the Environment

Arcata, California


Project Description

On the north coast of California, United Indian Health Services (UIHS) is creating a state-of-the-art health facility that will serve nine tribes and more than 13,000 American Indians, consisting mainly of Yurok, Weeot and Tolowa Tribal members. The Potawot Health Village is being built in Arcata to replace a smaller clinic in nearby Trinidad that UIHS has outgrown. The new 42,000-square-foot facility is being developed on a 40-acre site adjacent to the existing Mad River Community Hospital.

 UIHS Potawot Health Village Site Plan

With the opening of the new Potawot Health Village, the access to health care to patients served will dramatically improve, and the new facility's more convenient location will improve its ability to provide urgent care. The clinic will provide comprehensive health care, including medical dental and mental health, nutrition and community services and will be the central feeder site for several remote clinics in the region. UIHS's nationally recognized tobacco awareness and diabetes prevention programs will also be featured in the new Health Village. Traditional healing and cultural facilities, including a sweathouse, dance pit and a wellness garden, will be included as well, and are very important to the spiritual and cultural aspects of the health care that will be provided.


Development of the Potawot Health Village has emphasized an integrated land use planning approach, which is reflected in many aspects of the project. For example, multiple land uses are also integrated by inclusion of a vegetable garden and fruit orchard, which will provide both food and learning opportunities for UIHS clients and staff. The project design team have encouraged communication among architects and engineers working on separate components of the project to ensure that all aspects of the project are well-integrated and mutually support one another.


Once complete, the facility will embody a health care approach that integrates healing the community and the environment with healing the individual. To this end, the project's designers and stakeholders have come up with a set of innovations that will make this facility a showcase for environmentally sustainable site development.


Stormwater Management

Appropriate stormwater management was identified early in the project as a cornerstone of sustainable site design and is a critical element of the Health Village. Features employed in the project design to meet UIHS's stormwater management goals include constructed wetlands, sediment traps and flow control structures, vegetated swales for stormwater detention, infiltration and conveyance, and reduction of impervious surfaces. The flow of stormwater from rooftops and parking surfaces through a treatment wetland to enhancement wetlands makes advantageous use of the site's topography to reduce the developed area's vulnerability to flooding while providing a supplemental water source for the project's wetlands.


Conservation Easement

UIHS worked with the City of Arcata to set aside half of the 40-acre project site in perpetuity as a Conservation Easement. A major feature of the Conservation Easement is the creation and enhancement of freshwater wetlands. Even in the early stages of the restoration the wetlands are serving multiple functions, including wildlife habitat, recreation, production of native plants for cultural uses (e.g. basket weaving, traditional medicine) by the American Indian population served by the Health Village, as well as the management of stormwater flows from on and off the project site.


The Easement has been designed to complement the Health Village and promote sustainable agriculture and permaculture (or "permanent agriculture") practices. Sustainable culture and harvesting is known to be a part of a long-standing American Indian tradition. These practices utilize natural forces - wind, sun, land and water to provide food, shelter, health, and to meet human needs with minimum labor and without depleting resources.


To ensure best possible use of the Conservation Easement, project designers and stakeholders have considered multiple objectives are creating a variety of on-site activities, among them:



A Conservation Easement Management Advisory Committee, consisting mostly of local Tribe members, is overseeing implementation of site restoration and revegetation activities.


Wetland and Wildlife Habitat Restoration

The seasonal wetlands that existed on the Conservation Easement were very degraded due to changes in hydrology and invasive non-native grass populations. Environmental restoration of the Conservation Easement has included deepening, widening and revegetation of existing wetlands and re-establishment of native grass meadows and woodland on the site's upland portions.


Cultural Activities

Essential to the success of the UIHS Health Village concept is the integration of culture and cultural activities on the entire 40-acre site. On the Easement these activities will include the passive cultivation and gathering of native plants that have traditionally been used for food, medicine, ceremonial events, and making baskets and other textiles. In support of this component, over an acre of hazel and bear grass will be planted in the upland areas and will be managed with fire in order to demonstrate traditional American Indian land management techniques. Several medicinal plant species will also be planted throughout the site. Mature stands of these species will be used to demonstrate methods of plant gathering and processing.


Passive and Active Recreation

Passive recreation and fitness activities are another important component of the Health Village. On the Easement this component takes the shape of a network of trails, the placement of benches, and the fostering of natural open spaces that promote activities such as jogging, walking, birdwatching and picnicking, as well as meditation and spiritual reflection. Certain areas of the restored wetlands and uplands will be designated to accommodate these activities and encourage human rest and recovery, an important element of UIHS's integrated approach to health and healing. In addition UIHS's physical therapy program is also in the process of designing a par course for the site, which will integrate traditional American Indian activities and games into its design. The opportunity to not only promote but also to provide an attractive space for these activities will complement the Health Village Nutrition and Health and Wellness programs, as well as the overall mission of UIHS.


Food and Fiber Production

One use of the Conservation Easement will be production of food plants, with the purpose of addressing local American Indian health issues, such as the high incidence of diabetes in this population. A 1.5-acre nutritional food garden has been created in order to demonstrate beneficial vegetables, herbs and flowers that can be grown in a typical back yard setting. this year the garden has been planted with bell beans to enrich the soil and now a crop of squash, popcorn and pumpkins is growing for the fall 2000 harvest. This garden will be encircled by native and edible shrubs and a small fruit orchard, and will provide year round harvest of fruits and vegetables. Sitting areas and interpretive signs in the garden will be developed. Food collected from the garden will be available to UIHS staff and possibly to clients. Again, this component will complement the Health Village Nutrition and Health and Wellness programs, as well as the overall mission of UIHS.


Education and Interpretation

A comprehensive interpretive program is critical to UIHS's objective of increasing cultural and environmentally based health and wellness. Kiosks and informational signs will be used to promote an awareness of valuable wetland functions, including stormwater storage, pollution control and wildlife habitat. Interpretive materials on-site will also address the traditional uses of native plants, importance of recreation, and modern environmental management and permacultural practices. All elements of the Easement have been designed so that they can be incorporated into educational components of existing UIHS programs such as the Nutrition Program and the Health and Wellness Program. During its first winter and spring, the Conservation Easement was enjoyed over 1,300 visitors, students and volunteers!


UIHS is working to ensure that information regarding the innovative, environmentally beneficial aspects of the Health Village Project's site design described in this project summary is freely shared with other organizations planning similar projects. $250,000 in recently received grant funds has been set aside specifically for such information dissemination.


Current Project Status

Planning for the Indian Health Village project began in 1994. The project was approved by the Arcata City Council in summer 1997 and is currently in the early stages of site preparation, with Phase One building construction commencing August 1999 and completion planned for May 2001. In Phase One of the project, construction and landscaping will take place on twelve of the twenty developable acres. Phase Two of the project, scheduled for completion by 2004, will develop the remaining eight acres not included in the project's Conservation Easement. Phase Two facilities will include a day care center, an elder care facility, and a youth recreation and education center. By adding these facilities, the Health Village will meet its goal of providing an environment that integrates professional health care with other basic healing and health-maintaining inter-generational community activities.


Currently, construction of the wetlands on the Conservation Easement portion of the site is complete, and restoration will continue in parallel with construction of the Health Village. Volunteers have done much of the restoration work conducted so far from the community and students enrolled in habitat restoration and sustainable agriculture courses at nearby Humboldt State University. This year, almost 3000 native upland and wetland plants were planted on the easement. Native grass restoration is also in progress.


The following organizations are providing financial, material and/or technical support for the Health Village project's Conservation Easement and wetland restoration activities through their local chapter or office:



For more information regarding the Potawot Health Village project please contact:

Environmental Design - Mike Wilson of HWR at (707) 826-2869 or at water@humboldt1.com

Project Development and Management - Laura Kadlecik of HWR at (707)826-2869 or at lmk@humboldt1.com.