The article in the May issue of TSINIKSSINI entitled, BLACKWATER RETIRES AS CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER AFTER MANY YEARS OF DEDICATED HEALTH SERVICE, was inadvertently credited to Tom Russell. The author of the story was Jackie Red Crow, Blood Tribe Department of Health – Special Projects. Tom Russell and the staff of the TSINIKSSINI magazine sincerely offer our apologies for this oversight.

Red Crow is a journalist with an extensive background as a writer and research specialist and her articles for tribal publications are truly acknowledged and appreciated.


After 44 years in the health administration field, Cecilia Black Water retired at the helm as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Blood Tribe Department of Health Inc. (BTDH) where she advocated tirelessly for excellence in health care. Black Water officially ended her tenure as BTDH CEO on April 21, 2017 after an exceptional record of leading the Blood Indian Hospital and BTDH during positive growth and turbulent times.

Fresh out of college in 1972, Black Water got her start at the Blood Indian Hospital as an inventory clerk and worked her way up through the ranks. Her strong work ethic played a significant role in Black Water’s journey through the ranks of the Blood Indian Hospital and BTDH. From clerical positions, she steadily advanced to management positions at the hospital. Then, she was promoted as Acting Administrator for the Blood Indian Hospital in 1997 after former administrator, Charles Weasel Head, was appointed as the CEO for BTDH. When the Blood Indian Hospital was shut down, Black Water was appointed Director of Health Services for the newly opened Kainai Continuing Care Centre in 1999. Then, in 2011, Black Water advanced to her current position as CEO and in April retired after many years of dedicated service.

Reflecting on her decision to retire, Black Water said, “Now is a good time for change at BTDH because it is a well-established Health Centre with a strong leadership team in place. I feel good that all the goals I’ve set were met.”

From 2011 through 2017, Black Water’s term as Chief Executive Officer was dominated by challenging times. Shortly after her appointment, Black Water’s first task was to deal with the BTDH $2-million deficit, which was accumulating before her appointment. In order to address the deficit, BTDH was placed under Co-Management and chartered accountant, Randall Spohn was appointed as Co-Manager. With a sound remedial financial plan and a strong management and Board of Directors team, it led BTDH back into the black, much to the surprise of its funders, FNIHB. They conquered their deficit one year ahead of their original goal of eliminating their deficit.

Black Water is quick to credit her staff, advisors and board members in achieving the goals. “When I first became the CEO, I had to rely on staff to assist me – they were instrumental in guiding me and if I had any questions, they were happy to answer my queries.”

Another goal achieved during Black Water’s tenure was accreditation, which is a process a health care institution undergoes to demonstrate compliance with standards developed by Accreditation Canada. With an annual budget of $11-million, the BTDH offers a number of programs and services which must meet standards in health care to comply with Accreditation Canada. The accreditation process was guided by consultant Rita Talosi who assisted the Board and Directors to develop management tools and instruments to provide positive outcomes. “It was a long journey and it really shows the dedication of front line staff,” said Black Water. “The BTDH is fully accredited and have met all the requirements of Accreditation. It’s an on-going process and the next evaluation will be in four years.”

In 2014, BTDH was placed under co-management to address the governance issues of the organization. The 2013 BTDH By-laws were revised including clauses to deal with election and conflict of interest issues. The key change in the new By-laws was the change in the electoral district. The Blood reserve is now one electoral district thus eliminating the three districts – north, central and south. Therefore, any Blood Tribe member, regardless of residence, at least 21 years of age or over can run and vote for the “Class A” BTDH Board of Directors.

Two years later, BTDH Board elections (Class A) were held and the new By-Laws were voted in favor by the membership. Today, a seven-member Board of Directors governs BTDH.

The goal that Black Water was proud to assist was developing the management foundation of the Kainai Continuing Care Centre. When K.C.C.C. was first opened in 1999, it was one of the first long-term facilities located on a reserve. With 25-beds (21 Permanent Beds – 2 Respite Beds and 2 Palliative Beds), Black Water was instrumental in setting up the policies and procedures and implemented programs based on the Basic Continuing Care Service Standards Systems. As well, a cultural component was included in the K.C.C.C. programs. Unfortunately, due to a shortage of registered nurses, KCCC had to downsize and shut down a wing at KCCC.

Employees are the backbone of any organization. Once the deficit was under control, Black Water recognized the importance of “giving back to the employees.” With the assistance of a Human Resource consultant, a salary grid classification system was designed and implemented which resulted in wage increments for BTDH employees.

Black Water’s health administration career was marked by a number of key milestones. From a health care delivery system that was designed and delivered by the Medical Services Branch, to the period when the federal government recognized the importance of First Nations involvement in the provision of health services delivery to their communities, has contributed to better health outcomes for band members.

Black Water saw technology in the office evolve, office staff come and go and finally qualified and trained First Nation health professionals. “When I was at KCCC, It struck me the majority of the people hired were qualified. We have a Recreation Therapist, R.N’s, L.P.N’s, Health Care Aides. I’m so proud of the staff.”

Cecilia attended elementary school at the St. Mary’s Indian Residential School and the Standoff Day School and graduated with her high school diploma from F.P. Walsh in Fort Macleod. Upon graduation, Cecilia attended Henderson School of Business and studied business administration at the Lethbridge Community College while working full-time at the Blood Indian Hospital. She enrolled in hospital administration courses and completed the three-year program in two years.  She was granted credit for courses taken at LCC.

An appreciation honor night was held on April 21, 2017, where staff and board members alluded to Black Water’s accomplishments and dedication. Black Water is looking forward to her retirement to travel and spend time with her husband, Norbert, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Submitted by: Jackie Red Crow