David Besaw

Indian health has been the major focus for over 30 years of Dave Besaw’s life. This member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community was instrumental in starting up the tribe’s first health care center in the early 1970’s.


Besaw has lived most of his life on the reservation in northeastern Wisconsin, picking up his education and health care expertise piecemeal fashion over the years. He holds a G.E.D. from nearby Bowler High School and has supplemented his education by taking related courses from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and other schools.


He was the first Community Health Representative (CHR) for the Tribe. Besaw then worked for the Indian Health Service in education for two years. Besaw said he "traveled to Minnesota, Michigan and in Wisconsin teaching tribal health care specialties to tribal staff."


"When I came back from training in Tucson, Arizona, one of the first objectives we had was to form a tribal health care committee. We started the volunteering to tribal medicine clinics and doctors came every two weeks," said Besaw. Volunteers to tribal medicine were a group of doctors who approached Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council to volunteer their services to tribes and they were referred to Besaw.


"We did all types of screening in those days. We did a TB screening and noticed high numbers of people who tested positive for TB. The people (who) were testing positive it was learned because they were exposed to it in the mission school," said Besaw.


Besaw became the first health care employee for the Tribe, eventually being hired as the director of the clinic for 19 ½ years. Besaw held that position until his retirement due to health reasons.


He continues his work in the health field even in retirement as the Activities Director for the Ella Besaw Center. Besaw said, "The new clinic was just becoming a reality when I left."

He has also served with numerous tribal organizations, including the Tribal Council; the Tribal Gaming Board, Personnel Review Committee and a board that oversees a community based residential center for the elderly. He is currently on the Wisconsin Epidemiology Committee through Great Lakes Inter-Tribal, Inc., the Wisconsin Arthritis Board, the Land Committee, and has served on the Child Protection Board since 1970.


Besaw enjoys music, reading and is currently pursuing a study and collection of natural medicines, following the footsteps of his mother Ella Besaw, a tribal medicine woman, for whom the Center is named.

Besaw has been teaching on tribal medicine lately. He taught the general public at Indian Summer last year and a group of doctors in Wausau at the Wisconsin Epidemiology Conference dealing with Native American diseases. "Our mother was very committed to this and she was nationally known and nationally awarded for her work in Indian medicine and I am just proud that I can carry it on," said Besaw.