Thursday, July 31, 2008

Community and economic development are preservation tools

The American Indian community is experiencing demographic shifts.  Population aging, population growth, and population diversity,  are creating fresh challenges for organizations and service providers.  In addition, American Indian population dispersion throughout the city and into the suburbs/exurbs is also creating interesting challenges.  These shifts will require thoughtful solutions to the question, "How does the American Indian community preserve and maintain a cultural and geographic sense of community and identity?" or can it?

I believe one area to pay particular attention to is how and where we as a community choose to invest our resources and energy.  Critical to our future sense of community and our ability to preserve it rests in our future capacity. One area that we tend not to think about is business, development and finance.  Local American Indian community investment in business, development and financial activities is, by and large, miniscule.  Instead, the primary employers/players in the American Indian community are social service non-profits and government.  Indian jobs, income and quality of life are connected to focusing on deficits and poverty within the community.  The result is a weak economy based on providing services to fill gaps, creating long-term dependency on those services--both for those who provide the services and those who receive them.

At the same time, significant numbers of American Indian people wish to remain(live and/or work) within their historic/recognized community area. There remains a strong desire to preserve and strengthen community and place for American Indians, and yet two challenges persist: A lack of strategic alignment and investment among American Indian non-profits and their leaders to work on projects that leverage their collective assets to truly produce poverty reduction outcomes; and a lack of community and economic development capacity to create the new prosperity envisioned by many Indian residents, businesses and organizations. 

Nationally, the Minneapolis American Indian community is a respected and known model of urban American Indian development and activity-- a place where American Indian people have created a sense of community identity and place(despite broken relocation promises).  Much of that work has been done through non-profit organizations including the Indian Health Board, Little Earth of United Tribes, American Indian OIC, MIGIZI Communications, Minneapolis American Indian Center, Heart of the Earth School, Upper Midwest American Indian Center, American Indian CDC , American Indian Business Development Corporation(no longer around) and many, many more.

Today, as South Minneapolis, particularly the neighborhoods of Phillips, Ventura Village, Powderhorn, and Seward undergo significant growth as a result of the light rail and downtown development, the American Indian community is, for the most part, not a viable or respected player at the development table.  This must change.  An organized effort is required to develop and bring Indian economic power into the ongoing stream of development opportunities.

Further, the metro area offers less land and and housing development opportunities at an affordable price that will benefit the American Indian population in the future.  The positioning of new enterprises within the American Indian community needs to occur soon to generate gain on investment for existing and new opportunities. Significant benefit to the Minneapolis American Indian population will be realized only if an asset building strategy is part of the changes that are currently on there way.  Failure to act will result in exacerbated poverty and lack of opportunity with no change in the current conditions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It is time for a new school and expectations

Last week there was a community meeting to discuss the future of the Oh Day Aki Charter School.  Discussion at the meeting included the financial and leadership challenges currently facing Oh Day Aki Charter School(formerly Heart of the Earth Survival School).  Currently, the Minneapolis Public School is the charter sponsor and holds the contract with Oh Day Aki Charter School.  In a recent audit conducted by the State of Minnesota,  it was found that not all finances could be accounted for(approx. $160,000) and that other requested information could not be provided.  As a result(among other issues), the Minneapolis Public Schools will not continue to be the charter sponsor or renew its contract with Oh Day Aki Charter School under its current administration and governance.  MPS is, however, willing to explore charter sponsorship and support of an alternative American Indian charter school, but under entirely different leadership and governance.  

Other issues discussed included the poor and possible unhealthy facilities that the school currently occupies and leases from Heart of the Earth, Inc.  In addition, questions regarding financial accountability and use of funds by both parties were raised.

Overall, the situation is not good and does not appear to have a quick and effective resolution. Unfortunately, those with the most to lose are the children and families who desire and deserve a high quality, indigenous-centered education.

Now, we could view this as a terrible problem and attempt to band-aid  it with a temporary fix resulting in more of the same or we could view this as an opportunity to unite a community around a common desire to have a state-of-the-art school and community facility that houses 21st century innovative learning opportunities rooted in language and culture.  We can come up with a short term attempt or a long term solution.  Collectively, we possess the ability and knowledge....but do we possess the desire?  

It is time for a new community school facility--a new school to match a new and revived community expectation of excellence.  The community "expectation  bar" has slipped to a dangerous low. Let us stand together and raise up our own bar and then help each other to cross-over the bar. (I must be watching to many olympic commercials of the high jump and pole vault)  
I challenge the Bush Foundation to help fund a new American Indian school in the urban area...thats nation building.

Monday, July 28, 2008

NEW NACDI blog-Defining the Indian 21st Century

The Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) Blog was created as a open community venue for communication, discussion and exploration around our organizational tag line, "Defining the Indian 21st Century."  This catchy phrase implies a sense of future, place and ownership in Indian Country. However, it also leaves one with a myriad of questions and thoughts as to what is the "future" .  This blog is interested in provoking and hearing your thoughts and ideas about "Defining the Indian 21st Century". For example,  What forces are defining the American Indian 21st Century?  Who is defining the Indian 21st Century?  What do Indian people want to see in the next 100 years?  What type of communities do Indian people want to live in over the next 100 years?  What is the Indian Community?  Who is the Indian Community?  What should we be investing in and doing to ensure strong and viable tribal communities and nations- urban and reservation?  And the questions go on and on.  

This forum is also open to other related topics and interests that you would like to write about. Please feel free to post your commentary anytime.  

We live in a very interesting time that is going to require indigenous people to be very thoughtful, reflective and deliberative with their decisions, investments and actions.  The rate of today's global change hoists immense pressure on our Tribal Nations and urban American Indian communities and members.  This requires us to be effective and innovative communicators and solution makers (not just problem solvers).  We need to strengthen our communication efforts and to discuss important issues more openly and on a more regular basis.  While we may be more tech-connected then ever, many of us(particularly our young people) have become increasingly disconnected from their tribes, communities, families, customs, etc.  Such disunity allows alternative and often opposing forces and ownership to define and control our future.  While there will always be disagreements, alternative views and opposing ideas in Indian Country, we must remain committed to our collective indigenous preservation and sense of place and future in this world.  We have much to offer!

I look forward to all blog comments and contributors.  We will use this diary of thought to help inform NACDI's community development projects and investments.