Update from Tribal Organizing: A Direction Forward

LeAnn Littlewolf, MCH Tribal Organizer

LeAnn Littlewolf, MCH Tribal Organizer (Duluth)

Ahneen! LeAnn Littlewolf nindizhinikaaz zhaganaashiimowin. Gaa-Zagaskwaajimekaag nindonjibaa. Ma’iingan nindoodem.  (My name in English is LeAnn Littlewolf. I come from Leech Lake. I belong to the Wolf Clan).  These were some of the first words I learned in my Anishinaabe language.  As a young woman, my language was the core piece to connect and reclaim my culture. I wanted to learn everything I could about our history, our traditional practices, and our language.  Slowly, I started to put together the pieces of what had happened to my family in the process of over several hundred years of loss and the direct impact on my own life.

I am still pulling these pieces together and I find I am not alone.

At the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless annual conference (September 10th & 11th, 2015), I attended two different breakout sessions that focused on cultural strategies to address the profound impact on American Indian people from Historical Trauma.  

Historical Trauma stems from large-scale historic events that cause cumulative harm that spans across individual lifetimes and generations. For American Indian people, these traumas include the mass loss of lives, land, language, and cultural practices.  As a recipient of these accumulated traumas, American Indian people are more susceptible to health-related issues, mental health issues, chemical dependency, and other harmful outcomes.  More about Historical Trauma

Two breakout sessions featured current Minnesota organizations that are implementing strength-based cultural responses to Historical Trauma in their programming.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Equity Project provides Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) participants who are enrolled members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (Grand Portage, Fond du Lac, Bois Forte, Mille Lacs, White Earth, and Leech Lake bands) an opportunity to learn about Historical Trauma, strengthen cultural involvement, and gain peer support to build self-sustainability. Program staff Earlene Buffalo (Cass Lake office) and Malita Spears (Duluth/Virginia office) shared stories of success: families beginning gardens, group outings to gather and learn about Indigenous plants, and Talking Circles for traditional support.  Equity Project participants shared stories of the positive impact on themselves and their children as they learn about community resources, participate in community activities, and make progress on their life goals for education, work, and family life.

Patina Park, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (Minneapolis) and Suzanne Tibbets Young, Program Director of St. Stephen’s Human Services Kateri Residence (Minneapolis), discussed the challenges of Urban American Indian clients who face homelessness and the additional barriers created by Historical Trauma.

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center offers culturally-based and gender-focused services to strengthen American Indian families, including housing, trauma-response services, and anti-trafficking advocacy.  A Resident Elder is on staff to work with clients and to support programming. “Culture is prevention” is a core belief and is built into all services.

The Kateri Residence provides transitional housing for American Indian women in recovery and their children.  Programming and support includes: access to ceremonies, mentorship with elders, daily cultural practices (i.e. smudging), community feasts, and Talking Circles.  These cultural components are essential for healing and health.

I encourage us all to learn more about these innovative partners who are doing ground-breaking work in communities across Minnesota to help American Indian people recover from long-term trauma. The direction forward is to examine the root causes (loss of land, traditional practices, identity) and to respond through cultural strategies.  These solutions can help us re-frame overall housing and community issues as we continue to build effective responses.  Miigwech!  (Thank you!)

—LeAnn Littlewolf, Tribal Organizer

Contact: leann@mnhomelesscoalition.org

Thank you to the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation and theNorthland Foundation for making MCH’s tribal organizing project possible!