Experiencing Grantee Impact on an Urban Indian Population

October 13, 2016
Mural on the side of a brick building of a circle divided into four with animals and other symbols.

By Colleen Billiot, Communications Specialist, Administration for Native Americans

The ones that matter the most are the children - Lakota Sioux proverb

Mural on the side of a brick building of a circle divided into four with animals and other symbols.Mural decorating the outside of Center School, Inc.. It was painted by students over a 14-month period.The most recent Training and Technical Assistance quarterly meeting for the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) was held in the Twin Cities area. These meetings are a chance for us to discuss past work and look towards new goals. But the most rewarding part was to get to spend time with grantees and hear about how their organizations have been working to combat the lasting effects of policies that pushed Natives into the city.

The Twin Cities became a popular place to relocate during the Termination Era of the 1940s-1960s, when Federal policies revoked sovereign-to-sovereign relations with Native nations, withdrawing Federal funding from civil programs on reservations. The goal of these policies was to encourage American Indian assimilation into mainstream American society, but it failed, and the effects are still felt by the urban American Indian population in Minneapolis. Today, more than 35,000 Natives live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, and many face issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, low academic achievement, and unemployment.

During the meeting I got to visit three incredible programs who are ANA grantees. Each focused on different aspect of the problems facing Native youth: academic success, financial independence, and overcoming trauma.

Center School, Inc. Visit disclaimer page is an alternative school for Native students who previously struggled in the public school system. Their ANA-funded project focuses on increasing the mental health of students through psycho-educational group courses and an after school arts program.

When we visited, we tried a teambuilding art exercise before sitting down to a dinner cooked by the students. Talking over dinner, several of the Native youth shared similar stories of how they had done poorly at previous schools but were now excelling and dreaming of what their future might look like.

Migizi Communications, Inc. Visit disclaimer page offers internships focused on preparing Native youth for post-secondary education and careers. Their ANA Native Asset Building Initiative grant funds a project that focuses on helping students learn to save their internship earnings to prepare them for being financially-independent adults. Students also learn how to find scholarships and alternative funding for college.

During a circle discussion, we heard how their participation in the program has made post-secondary education seem attainable and offered the chance to branch out from typical public school experiences. Summer media interns with Migizi have created numerous public service announcements for the city on topics ranging from school attendance to smoking – the most recent was a “Sugar Rap Visit disclaimer page ” promoting healthy eating habits.

Founded in 1984, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center aims to empower American Indian women and families to exercise their cultural values and integrity, and to achieve sustainable life ways. Their ANA grant is split into two programs focused on breaking the cycle of sexual trafficking in the urban Indian population. The first works with young Native women to build their college and work preparedness skills, and the second works with young American Indian men at high risk of becoming involved in commercial sexual exploitation.

Even though the grantees focus on different issues and different groups, all three programs had one thing in common – food.

All of the programs offered at least one hot meal a day. This was not just to ensure participants were getting fed, but also because eating together connects us to our community and our traditions. Sharing meals is a central part of so many Native traditions.  By sitting together, sharing a meal, the participants could connect to others, creating a “second family” that would motivate and support them.

Our grantees are doing amazing work, empowering individuals to decide their course in life, despite the many unique challenges that Native people face, especially those living in urban areas. I am proud to be able to share their achievements. I am just as proud to be part of an incredible ANA team who are passionately working to better all indigenous communities across the United States and its territories.


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