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Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians becomes first tribe in U.S. to add donor registration to tribal IDs

Joan Azure, the driving force behind the effort to put donor registration on Turtle Mountain tribal IDs pursued the change in honor of her grandson Greyson Parisien, who died in 2019.

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Joan Azure, grandmother of Greyson Parisien, holds a sample tribal i.d. card with a donor designation, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at an event on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa reservation in Belcourt, N.D. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is the first tribal nation to offer donor registration on tribal i.d.'s.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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BELCOURT, N.D. – The story of a young boy in need of a new heart 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 country to add donor registration to its tribal IDs.

Joan Azure, the driving force behind the effort to put donor registration on Turtle Mountain tribal IDs pursued the change in honor of her grandson Greyson Parisien, who died in 2019. Now, she encourages tribal members to check the box to become a donor when they renew their IDs.

“That checkmark not only registers you as a donor, but symbolizes a little boy’s legacy of love, strength and unity for this community,” said Joan Azure.

On Monday, Nov. 14, TMBCI and LifeSource, an organization that facilitates the organ, eye and tissue donation process in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, held an event to celebrate the rollout of IDs with donor designation, called the Greyson Initiative. Tribal leaders, Greyson’s family and others affected by organ donations in the community talked about how the initiative will help the Turtle Mountain community and others in need of organ transplants.

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Greyson was born in December 2017 with a congenital heart defect. Though he underwent heart surgery, he ended up needing a heart transplant. He waited for 12 months and received a transplant in April 2019. In September 2019, his health deteriorated and he died of complications from pneumonia.

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Shortly after her grandson’s death, Joan Azure learned that across the United States, reservations are among the areas with the lowest percentages of organ donors.

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Joan Azure is wrapped with a star quilt by Vonica LaPlante as Azure's friend, Dr. Monica Mayer of the Three Affiliated Tribes, left, looks on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at an event on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa reservation in Belcourt, N.D. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is the first tribal nation to offer donor registration on tribal i.d.'s.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

In brainstorming how she could help increase the number of organ donors in her own community, she realized IDs could be a factor. Some in the community do not have drivers licenses or state IDs, but do have tribal IDs, which are a federally recognized form of identification.

“If we got it put on the tribal IDs, maybe we would have more people checking the box because we knew it was supported through the tribal council,” she said.

Working with LifeSource, Joan Azure crafted a resolution and presented it to the tribal council. The council approved the resolution unanimously in June 2022.

Tribal chairman Jamie Azure came up with the name “Greyson Initiative” to honor the boy who inspired the change.

“It just made sense with Greyson’s family being the advocates,” he said.

ReeAnne Parisien, Greyson’s mother, said it was exciting to see donor registration on tribal IDs.

“It makes me proud of him. I think if he was here it still would happen,” said Parisien. “He was a big part of our community. I think he would be happy, also.”

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The work of Greyson’s family has the potential to spark change beyond the Turtle Mountain Tribe, said Dr. Monica Meyer, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation North Segment representative. Meyer is a longtime friend of Joan Azure and has experience with organ donations within her own family.

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The family of Greyson Parisien (L-R) Ridge Parisien, Parker Parisien, Keith Breen, ReeAnne Parisien and Joan Azure talk about The Greyson Initiative, a law to add organ, eye and tissue donor registration to tribal identification at an event on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa reservation in Belcourt, ND, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

To carry on the Joan Azure’s work, she has pledged to work toward getting donor designations on MHA Nation IDs.

“When we do that, the other tribes are going to follow suit,” she said.

Jamie Azure said he planned to check the box to become a donor that afternoon, and expects many others in the tribe will become donors too.

“I know it will be successful,” he said.

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The Thundering Bear Singers drum group perform a welcoming song at Monday's event.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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