MIWRC supports Native American women and their families

A resource for health and healing for the Native community in the Twin Cities

Substance abuse counseling has been one of the key services of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) since its founding in 1984.

Cindy Smith, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor for the center, has spent her career working exclusively with substance abuse in Native people.

“We see addiction as a symptom of the historical trauma members of the Native American community has faced over generations,” Smith said.

She told the story of one woman who graduated from the center’s chemical dependency program, a crack addict and alcoholic who had some major trauma issues dealing with sexual abuse as a child.

“She had been given a name from one of her abusers that was her legal name, so she decided to change it back to her original Native name that was on her birth certificate,” Smith recalled. “It was like she was given a whole new identity.”

‘Focusing on the concerns of Native women and their families’

In 1982, a report by Native American research firm, First Phoenix American Corporation, identified a need for treatment centers that focused on care for Native women in Minnesota.

Two years later, the document led to the creation of MIWRC, which offers support for Native women and their families. The agency, located in the East Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, provides outpatient treatment for women to prevent the need for children to be removed from their home and educates child protection workers on how Native families function.

Up until the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, a high number of Native children were being removed from their homes by government agencies. Among the facts divulged to the U.S. Senate Committee on the ICWA was that between the years 1969 and 1974, 25–35 percent of all Native American children were separated from their families and placed in non–Native American homes or other institutions.

“MIWRC was started to improve the capacity of government workers to do right by Native families,” said Laura Jones, director of programs at the nonprofit. “The founders didn’t feel there were services specifically focusing on the concerns of Native women and their families.”

After MIWRC’s founding, the organization started branching out into other aspects of family services. In 1991, it purchased its current building, a former nurses dormitory for the Lutheran Deaconess Hospital the nonprofit bought for $1 at auction (although a substantial sum went toward rehabbing it, said Jones).
The new building provided the group with opportunity to provide a dozen affordable housing units to families within the local Native American community. While the housing units are paid for by government contracts and federal grants, very little of that will allow for general operating expenses, such as administration, finance and repairs.

“A good round of bedbugs will set us back $5,000,” said Jones.

‘Come back and learn who you are’

A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians with 30 percent Native blood, Smith has experienced her share of the identity issues that often accompany those with partial Native American heritage.

“If you didn’t grow up on the reservation, some will say you’re not Indian enough,” she said. “I have also had my identity issues, having blue eyes and not being recognized as Native. But you can’t let others define you.”

Among the community events MIWRC hosts is a powwow for Native people who have been adopted out of the Native community or raised in foster care. “Identity issues in an urban area are complicated and painful for a lot of people,” said Jones.

Like MIWRC’s similarly warm, open-arms approach, she said the powwow is a big welcoming — “as if to say, ‘We’re sorry we lost you, come back and learn who you are.’”

Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC)

Location: 2300 15th Ave. S. Minneapolis, MN 55404

Contact: 728-2000

Website: miwrc.org

Year Founded: 1984

About the Where We Live project

This project is an ongoing series spearheaded by Journals’ publisher Janis Hall showcasing Minneapolis nonprofits doing important work in the community. The editorial team has selected organizations to spotlight. Jahna Peloquin is the writer for the project. To read previous features, go to southwestjournal.com/section/focus/where-we-live

What you can do

  • Donate online. Financial contributions help with the costs of operations, which aren’t covered by grants or government funds.
  • Donate a gift package, including street outreach kits, healthy snacks for kids, transportation assistance and arts and crafts supplies.
  • Volunteer your time and expertise to help MIWRC put together a capital campaign or development plan.