Division of Indian Work bringing success to the urban Indigenous community

Division of Indian Work bringing success to the urban Indigenous community

Division of Indian Work (DIW), a south Minneapolis organization that has helped strengthen and support the Twin Cities’ Native communities, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

The organization has had several successes and signs that its programs are making a difference. On Monday, it will hold its annual fundraiser at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley.

“We should be asset-based in our community. Often what we see in the news is highlighting the negatives,” said Louise Matson, the organization’s executive director. “But there’s also a lot of excellent things happening all around the city in Indian country, by and for Indian people.”

The organization’s services range from food shelf services, anger management classes, doula programs, guidance with nutrition and more. Matson said it serves between 2,000-3,000 people a year, although that number has been hard to pinpoint during the pandemic.

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One program, SMART Nations, was shown to improve the attendance of Native students significantly, Wilder Research found. Another program, The Men’s Anger Management program, resulted in fewer previously incarcerated men reoffending. In a six-month check-in of its graduates, only one out of 24 graduates in 2020 and 2021 had reoffended, Matson said.

“We’re working with young pregnant moms; we’re working with youth, we’re working with folks to establish those healthy habits,” Matson said. “We’re supporting parents and giving them the skills to stay out of the system, to stay sober, to pursue their dreams and (gain) skills to determine their own future.”

Its Women of Traditional Birthing program, which aims to help at-risk mothers to refrain from drinking and using drugs during their pregnancy, was extremely successful, according to Ardie Medina, the organization’s development officer.

Jasmine Funmaker was eight weeks pregnant when she met Shashana Craft, who is a doula and the coordinator for the Strong Families program at the Division of Indian Work.

“Being so far away from family and such and I was newly in recovery. I kind of felt alone and I needed a sense of community around me and people to support me,” Funmaker said.

She saw a poster for the family spirit program and called the number. From there, she became close friends with Craft, who guided her through her birth and the following years of motherhood.

“Shashana was there for me to help me throughout my whole first pregnancy and my breastfeeding journey,” Funmaker said.

Her first hospital birth was traumatic with the doctors making assumptions about her, and taking medical interventions that she felt were unnecessary, she said.

Being treated poorly in a medical setting is common among Native women, according to doula and advocate, Serene Eidem.

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“I don’t think I know one sister or relative that hasn’t had some level of trauma during childbirth on that level with unnecessary medical interventions or people being extremely dehumanizing,” Eidem said. “I don’t know, one person.”

Having a doula, like what the Division of Indian Work trains people for, can make all the difference the health outcomes, Eidem said.

“It means that they have someone in their room to advocate for them. And I think that’s the number one role. And it’s about reducing instances of fatality about reducing instances of trauma,” said Eidem.

Funmaker wanted to provide that support for other mothers going through the same thing.

“After having a traumatic hospital birth, then I was like I need to help out other Native mothers who are going through this. I just felt called to do the work through my experience and knowing that there’s other young moms out there, too, that are going through medical interventions that are unnecessary,” said Funmaker.

The Division of Indian Work doula program served 20 mothers in 2021 and helped facilitate healthy births among all the children born that year, according to Matson.

The organization also put together a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) curriculum to help native parents whose children have been diagnosed with FASD.

 Success under pressure

Despite the successes, there is still a larger need within the community. Matson wants to see more funding put towards the issues that Native communities are facing.

“We are a small percentage of our community, yet we have the greatest disparities. We do not see the equivalent in funding for our community. And we often are defunded, we’re underfunded, just kind of across the board,” she said.

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She thinks more funding, especially for its successful programs, would increase positive health outcomes.

“We should be getting more resources, especially when we have successful programs that we’re seeing work well. When that funding ends, just because it’s over is, is like taking two steps forward and one step back,” Matson said.

Homelessness is something that the organization wants to put more emphasis on.

“Problems with addiction, particularly opioids, are devastating to all communities, but it’s really hit our community very hard. And that is often related to chronic homelessness,” Matson said. “We have an opportunity in Minneapolis where all up and down Lake Street, there are vacant lots that could be perfect, like tiny home supportive communities that, I would love to see the city work on that.”

Minneapolis’ Native communities are often neglected and ignored, not only financially but also because others do not see their successes, according to Matson.

“That can happen to us because we’re such a small percentage of the population; we’re always often an invisible part of Minneapolis, even though we have a really vibrant and thriving American Indian community here,” said Matson.

Monday’s event will feature a live auction and entertainment. WCCO’s Reg Chapman will emcee, and there will be performances by The Sampson Brothers and drumming from Nation Wright and Spirit Boy drum group.