Challenges, Hope as New Era Begins for Division of Indian Work
MINNEAPOLIS - A new era is beginning at what is the oldest direct-service organization for American Indians in the Twin Cities. Today is the first on the job for the new executive director of the Division of Indian Work, Patina Park. Park says DIW began helping Native Americans with basic needs 60 years ago as government programs encouraged them to move off reservations and into urban areas, but there was no support for them in the city.
"So, they were really struggling and struggling with just basic needs - clothing, shelter, food - and DIW met that then. And now - yes, there is a need for physical help - but they also connect with the spiritual and kind of 'emotional feeding' that people also need to be happy and healthy."
Division of Indian Work programs cover everything from help with affordable housing to support for foster kids.
Park says the country's current economic issues, combined with a history of struggling for many in this community, mean that in addition to basic needs, services must focus on developing youth and strengthening families.
"So that the Native population can move out of problems that just permeate with poverty, you know - just having broken spirits essentially - so they can move up and out of it and become leaders for other people in the community. Teach and help one, and they go on and help others, and it just keeps growing."
And while there are still serious challenges ahead, Park remarks that Americans Indians have gone through a great deal over the decades, yet she sees their hope and strength as ever-present.
"They've really hung on under an onslaught of assimilation, the boarding school eras and the child removals. It's only been about one full generation that they haven't been undergoing some kind of almost-federally-directed attack. And yet, they still continue."
The Division of Indian Work was founded in 1952. Its mission is to empower American Indian people through culturally-based education, counseling, advocacy and leadership development.
More information is at diw.gmcc.org.