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.”
“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.”
MIWRC also connects its clients with other programs and resources, such as the First Nations Repatriation Institute, an organization that works with Native adoptees. Minneapolis American Indian Center has in the past hosted an adoptee powwow organized by FNRI Executive Director Sandy White Hawk.
“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
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.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified MIWRC as the host of the adoptee powwow.