At the heart of urban Indian American community

On Monday, September 28th we had an opportunity of visiting the American Indian Center, a community organization catering for the needs of Indian community in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The centre was established in 1975 and is one of the oldest Indian centers in the US. It provides social, cultural and educational services to Indian community of the Twin Cities, as well as preserves American Indian cultural traditions through arts and intergenerational programs. The Indian Center cares for those who had to, or wanted to leave their reservations to come to Minneapolis and pursue a new life. It is, as its founders put it, a tiny refuge in a big sea of people who don’t share Native Americans’ traditions and values, a home away from home for many American Indians. The general purpose of the Centre is to define the needs of American Indians living in the urban area, and to find ways to best meet those needs in every aspect of life.

The mission of the Centre is realized through a number of programmes. The most important seem to be: Healthy Nations Programme, aimed at promoting wellness and healthy lifestyles in the American Indian communities of the Twin Cities through youth development and leadership; Indian Child Welfare System providing services meeting the needs of Indian families experiencing difficulties within the Social Welfare system; Senior Citizen’s Program improving conditions of senior Indian American citizens by providing assistance in such fields as transportation, medical visits, social services, legal problems, shopping etc. There are also youth programs and services being implemented. Their main objectives are building strong cultural identity by helping Indian youth learn about their heritage and cultural values and enabling to participate in traditional ceremonies.

We were taught a short lesson of American Indian history. In the 20th century the American Indians suffered long-term effects of the treatment suffered in previous generations. They became increasingly impoverished and their numbers fall. The situation improved slightly gradually during the rest of the century, beginning with the Indian Reorganization Act which restores tribal ownership of land in the reservations. Nevertheless they remain the most deprived community in the world’s richest nation. One has to also mention the American Indian Movement, which combined with an increased awareness of past injustices, ensures that the plight of the American Indians is now more important on the political agenda. And the Indians themselves are more condident in pressing their case, with a keen awareness of the emotive potential of their past history.

We were told about the importance of not forgetting about the painful past, but also of remembering the values of Indian American traditions, and of finding identity as Native People through searching and preserving their language, spirituality rooted in their stories, songs, and ceremonies.

We also visited Two Rivers Gallery which feature regional Native-American artists, visitors to this gallery will find exhibits ranging from bead and quit work to contemporary paintings. Juanita Espinosa, who showed us the collections, curates a handful of showings each year that represent the works created in surrounding communities, helping to deepen the minds of visitors, while filling their souls with the spirit of the artists.

Joanna Krawczyk

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