HCBF Grantee Spotlight: Division of Indian Work

When the U.S. Government relocated some American Indian families from their reservations in the 1950s to large cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis, they did so promising families that there was housing and jobs to be had. But upon their arrival families found scarce affordable housing and no jobs. Ecumenical church leaders in Minneapolis stepped in to help, establishing the Division of Indian Work (DIW) in 1952.

Since then, DIW has provided services to meet the needs of the Twin Cities metro area’s American Indian community which is comprised of many different tribes. For many years this was a program of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC). In 1995, after a successful capital campaign, DIW moved into its beautiful building on Lake Street and 10th Avenue, which was designed by award winning Arapaho artist, Dennis Sun Rhodes. In 2016, GMCC decided to take their organization in a different direction and DIW realized it was an opportune time to strike out on their own. Subsequently DIW applied for and received its own 501(c)(3) in 2017 and finalized the separation in July 2018. DIW retained its building as well as the Anpa Wasté house which offers affordable transitional housing to young American Indian moms and its Healing Spirit House which provides supportive housing to long-term foster care American Indian boys.

Now its own tax-exempt agency, DIW completed its new five-year strategic plan in December 2019. Its mission is to support and strengthen urban American Indian people through culturally based education, traditional healing approaches, and leadership development. DIW’s services are provided free-of-charge to over 3,000 people annually.

Because culture is vitally important to Indian people, DIW has long incorporated traditional practices into its work with clients who represent many different tribes. “We really try to make sure we are doing right by all tribes,” says development officer Ardie Medina. Since 2015, the Hennepin County Bar Foundation has supported DIW’s American Indian Legal Advocate position which is officed at the Hennepin County Domestic Abuse Service Center (DASC). The Legal Advocate position is part of DIW’s Family Violence Prevention Program (FVPP) which works with individuals to end family violence through culturally sensitive groups and individual counseling in anger management and other areas.

DIW has provided men’s anger management groups for over 27 years and serves those men who are court-ordered to the groups. Once the men complete their 15 or 17-week group, they graduate from the program. While the recidivism rate of men in the program rises and falls during any given year, there was one year not too long ago when the recidivism rate was at 0 percent. “We don’t have many programs in the community that serve American Indian men,” Medina says, “and we are trying to be deliberate, wherever possible, in seeking funding that will help us establish programs that will support their efforts to improve their lives.”

DIW’s programs have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus and they have had to create and implement new ways to serve their clientele while maintaining masking and social distancing rules put in place by the state. For example, FVPP’s educators/counselors began mailing homework to the men in group, many of whom completed it and sent it back either by mail or email. They even had several men graduate on time during the stay-at-home order.

Another example, its Horizons Unlimited food shelf has remained open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12 noon to 3 p.m., but instead of food shelf users coming inside, groceries are prebagged and placed on tables set up in the garage bays so that people can come up, get their food items, and leave. “We’re such social people that having to distance has been especially hard,” says Medina, “but everyone is getting used to it and they follow the rules closely.” In addition, the Youth Leadership Development Program staff set up Zoom meetings to keep in touch with youth and continue to help them with homework.

In August, DIW groups began meeting on-site again, practicing the rules of social distancing, masking, and convening groups of less than 10. Medina believes this is going to affect some grants as the number of people that can be served are much less than the numbers estimated in proposals. Still, DIW continues its work with its community as best it can in these challenging times.

If you would like to support DIW and its programs, the best way for now is to donate by going to their website at www.diw-mn.org or mailing a check. Volunteer opportunities have been put on hold due to COVID-19 but people can check out the website for updates. If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please contact: Ardie Medina, development officer, at amedina@diw-mn.org.