Indigenous people not only have solutions for ourselves, but for the world at large. ––Vicky Ybañez, American Indian Community Housing Organization founder
A large part of Tribal Organizing at the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (MCH) is centered in building strong relationships with American Indian communities and to learn more deeply about effective and creative solutions.
The American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) is a MCH member in Northeast Minnesota who is leading the way in innovative strategies. AICHO has designed a continuum of housing options, supportive services, and community action that respond to crisis while laying the path forward for long-term stability—for individuals and the community. AICHO has developed exceptional collaborations that leverage greater resources and recognize Tribal Nations as valuable partners in generating solutions (see detailed examples below).
AICHO was established in 1993 to provide shelter, housing and support services that are culturally specific to Native Americans living in the Duluth area. AICHO’s Mission is to honor the resiliency of Native American people by strengthening communities and centering indigenous values in all aspects of our work. AICHO’s philosophy is that every Native American person deserves to live in a non-violent and non-threatening environment and has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. AICHO incorporates Native American culture and traditions in its programs and serves all people in need (see list of programs below).
Within homeless counts, American Indian people are disproportionately represented. The Wilder Survey 2012 indicated:
AICHO has built a continuum of responses that address the intersections of disparities: the impact of violence, domestic violence, housing instability, economic inequity, historical trauma, and racism. AICHO anchors the responses in a strengths-based approach, rooted in cultural traditions and practices.
Our MCH team visited AICHO during the 2015 Greater Minnesota Housing Tour to see the multitude of solutions they offer in action and were greatly impressed by their leadership and work to end homelessness.
The focus on future generations and community wellbeing is strongly evident. The MCH team walked through a children’s space that the children helped design and painted a brightly colored mural incorporating traditional stories and themes. AICHO works with the children and youth in reclaiming traditional food and health systems and grows traditional foods and medicines on a rooftop garden. Healthy, fresh food is offered daily to residents and community members.
Opportunities to connect with each other are built throughout the organization, bringing program participants, staff, and community together. The Gimaajii building has office space with specialized services and partner organizations, interspersed with community spaces like the gymnasium for resident use.
AICHO has a variety of on-site events and had over 11,000 guests in the Gimaajii community space last year. AICHO champions Indigenous culture through the arts, hosting frequent music concerts and shows in the art gallery. Prominent Indigenous artists— Karen Savage, Leah Yellowbird, Rabbett Strickland, Jonathan Thunder, Ivy Vaino and more—- have displayed their work in the gallery, office space, and hallways of AICHO.
AICHO has developed fundraising that also lifts up the community. The Biiboon Bimaadizimin 3rd Annual Art and Craft Sale features over 30 vendors, food, and music that invites the area community to view and purchase the work of local artists.
AICHO has developed an Annual Calendar to raise funds to support programs and reinforces the vibrancy of American Indian community and culture.
AICHO is putting cultural strategies in action as solutions to complex community issues. Miigwech to AICHO for sharing their work and helping write this article!
AICHO’s programs currently include:
- Dabinoo’Igan (“a place where you are safe, comforted and sheltered), a 10-bed domestic violence emergency shelter. Dabinoo’lgan provides temporary shelter, support groups, advocacy and housing assistance to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence. The Shelter houses 170 women and children each year and is forced to turn away over 200 requests for shelter due to lack of space.
- Oshki Odaadiziwini Waaka’lgan (“a place where we dream of new beginnings”), a 5 unit transitional housing program for homeless single mothers. The goal of transitional housing is to help single women with children move from homelessness and poverty towards self-sufficiency and independence. Each year 5 families participate in the program which includes 5 adults and 15 children.
- Giiwe Mobile Team (“he or she comes home”), provides affordable housing and case management for 35 households who have experienced long-term homelessness.
- Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin (“we are, together, beginning a new life”), a 29 unit permanent supportive housing project that targets households who have experienced long term homelessness, poverty and violence. A total of 33 adults and 49 children currently live in Gimaajii. Over 400 people have applied for housing at Gimaajii since it opened.
- American Indian Center – Duluth’s first American Indian Center which is housed in the Gimaajii building provides space for community meetings; cultural events; art openings; feasts, and neighborhood forums.
- Trepanier Hall –this building acquired in 2012, attached to Gimaajii leases space to community and tribal partners including: University Nursery School, a licensed childcare provider – daycare center open to the public; Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe – outreach office; UMD’s Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH); Mending the Sacred Hoop – a tribal technical assistance program, White Earth Nation – providing ARHMS Case Management and a Mental Health Professional to work with residents living at Gimaajii. Trepanier Hall also features a rooftop garden; a large auditorium for community for meetings; art openings; conferences and cultural events; with future plans for a coffee shop.
- Endazhi-Maadaajimon (Place where stories begin) – a newly acquired 10-unit building which houses low-income, homeless individuals and families. The program offers subsidized rents and case management.
- 2301 W Superior Street – the latest project for AICHO was purchased in 2015, the building contains a laundry, hair salon and the second floor is dilapidated housing. AICHO will develop the project over the next two years to include six new units of affordable housing, a coffee shop/art gallery and “eco-laundry”. This project will create jobs, 9 new housing units and reduce blight in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Examples of how AICHO is involved in a number of innovative partnerships:
- Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa – provides subsidies on 5 housing units in Gimaajii for their Band Members and AICHO uses its non-profit status to apply for HUD grants for the tribe.
- White Earth Nation – provides two full time staff, a Mental Health Professional and ARHMS Case Manager, to work with Gimaajii residents. AICHO provides referrals, coordination of services and free office and meeting space for the program.
- Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe – rents an office in Trepanier Hall to provide on-site services for Band Members living in Duluth. AICHO provides meeting space and auditorium space for annual feasts.
AICHO’s additional partnerships:
- Red Lake Urban Office, MN Chippewa Employment Program work in partnership with AICHO to coordinate services for Native Americans living in Duluth.
- Mending the Sacred Hoop – rents office space in Gimaajii and holds monthly trainings for advocates around MN. AICHO provides meeting space and staff to assist with coordination and set up. AICHO and MSH partner on projects around violence against Native women and children and often collaborate on funding projects.
- AICHO is part of the SLC COC, Duluth Affordable Housing Coalition, Coordinated Assessment Project, and works closely with all housing organizations to coordinate services and avoid duplication of services.
- AICHO is part of the Blueprint For Safety Project working with the city of Duluth, Duluth Police Dept. Court system, Safe Haven and DAIP to coordinate legal advocacy services for victims of domestic violence.
- AICHO and Men As Peacemakers work together on a variety of issues including men’s sentencing circles, anti-trafficking and violence against women. MAP staff utilize the gym in Gimaajii to provide positive activities for kids.
- UMD’s Research for Indigenous Community Health rents an office suite in Trepanier Hall and works with AICHO on a variety of projects looking at health disparity amongst Native Americans.
- University Nursery rents space in Trepanier for their downtown daycare, AICHO provides playground and gym space free of charge for the daycare.
- AICHO is a partner in Homeless Connect and hosts the bi-annual Homeless Connect 1-day event at Gimaajii. This event provides homeless and at risk individuals and families with a chance to meet with a wide variety of service providers, get a hot meal, free haircut and medical services in a “one stop shop” forum.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to learn more.
– LeAnn Littlewolf, Tribal Organizer
Thank you to the Northland Foundation and Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation for supporting MCH’s Tribal Organizing Project.