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Native Student Services director recognized for outstanding counseling work, commitment to health disparities reduction

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Gene D. Thin Elk, director of Native Student Services at the University of South Dakota, was named a recipient of the Dr. George Blue Spruce Jr. Award presented by Pathways Into Health at the 2012 Achieving Excellence, Harmony, and Balance Conference at Rapid City, S.D. this fall.

The Dr. George Blue Spruce Jr. Award recognizes an individual that has demonstrated a genuine commitment to the reduction of health disparities; is an advocate of increasing AI/ANs into the health professions; is a strong mentor and serves as a positive role model for AI/AN youth and health professionals. George Blue Spruce Jr., DDS, MPH, is an enrolled member of the Pueblo Tribe (Laguna/Ohkay-Owingeh), is the first recognized American Indian dentist and the first American Indian dentist to hold the title of Assistant Surgeon General.

Thin Elk, a Sic’angu, C’okan-Towela Band, Lakota from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, is the originator of the Red Road Approach – a culturally-based, therapeutic recovery and wellness model based upon Lakota, Dakota and Nakota indigenous cultural life ways and teachings. During the past three decades, Thin Elk has utilized the Red Road Approach in his services consultations, healing and cultural training work with numerous Native Tribal Nations, Corporations, Rancherias and Pueblos, and has advised and consulted with major universities, banks, hospitals, and corporations as well as with the United States Army Psychiatric Hospital and Sanford Health’s Health Disparities Research Center.

As director of Native Student Services at USD, Thin Elk has been recognized nationally and internationally for his exceptional leadership in the field of Native American drug and alcohol rehabilitation, wellness and cross-cultural training. He has been featured in several publications, including Time Magazine’s Top 100 People of the Year, Newsweek’s New American Heroes and as a Who’s Who in Business World Wide.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

This material is available in an alternate format upon request. Please contact University Relations at 605-677-5759. If you are a person with a disability and need a special accommodation to fully participate in any university activity or event, please contact Disability Services at 605-677-6389 as soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours before the event, so that appropriate arrangements may be made.


Hanna DeLange
USD News