ADY’s Housing For Young Adults
Friday, November 03 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Angela Gauthier, left, the residential and clinical director; and Deb Foster, executive director of Ain Dah Yung Center, show an artist's drawing of the planned housing complex for young adults in St. Paul. The Center's reception room is decorated for Halloween for the 10 children currently housed in ADY's  emergency shelter.  (Photo by Lee Egerstrom.)

St. Paul’s Ain Dah Yung Center has been helping Native children and families since 1983 but is now preparing to provide affordable, transitional housing for young people who normally “fall through the cracks” of social services and foster care programs.
The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency recently announced it is providing $9.4 million in housing tax credits to support a joint Ain Dah Yung and Project for Pride in Living project to build 42 small, apartment-style housing units on University Avenue at Victoria Street, less than a mile west of the Minnesota State Capitol complex.

The total $11.3 million project will provide housing, cultural and healing services, various health and living services for homeless young people ages 18-24 who have moved beyond foster care eligibility, said Deb Foster (St. Croix Ojibwe), the ADY Center executive director.

While these young people fall through the cracks of other social services, she said, they must have safe, culturally sensitive training and counseling services to adjust to life as successful working adults.

Half of the planned development’s units will serve long-term homeless people although they must be in the 18-24 age group for admittance. Seven other units are designated for use by people with disabilities.

Gov. Mark Dayton, state housing officials and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum made the Oct. 19 announcement at ADY Center’s headquarters at 1089 Portland Ave. in St. Paul, which is also the site of Ain Dah Yung’s emergency center.

Minnesota Housing is providing housing infrastructure bonds and state appropriations totaling $126 million in the coming year. This state involvement with federal programs will leverage a projected $346 million in private and local investments on affordable housing.
Some of the projects statewide are for building and rehabbing single family homes. Other projects are for low income apartments or special housing units such as Ain Dah Yung’s. Combined, state officials said the grants, tax credits and private investments will generate 1,823 “affordable housing opportunities” for individuals and families.

For Ain Dah Yung (“Our Home” in Ojibwe), the targeted group that will be served by the new project represents a disproportionate slice of the homeless population in the Twin Cities, Foster said.

“In the state of Minnesota, approximately 2 percent of the population is American Indian. At the same time, an estimated 22 percent of the homeless youth are American Indians. Once you ‘graduate’ from foster care programs, you find yourself put out on the streets,” she said.

Foster spoke about Ain Dah Yung’s plans during an interview at the emergency shelter the day after staff decorated the main floor of the building for a Halloween party.

“The kids get excited seeing this decorated, and yes, it does make them feel at home,” said Angela Gauthier, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who is the residential and clinical director for ADY Center and the shelter.

Currently, as is usually the case year around, there are 10 children from ages 5 to 17 at the shelter, Gauthier said. Being able to care for children as young as 5 gives the shelter the opportunity to keep siblings together even though they may be homeless, in a family crisis or involved with juvenile corrections.

Nearby, the Center also operates the Beverly A. Benjamin Youth Lodge as transitional housing for young people between the ages of 16 and 21. Its goal is to create community and cultural support to help the young people to prepare for independent or inter-dependent living and break away from homelessness and “couch cruising” from one location to another.

Foster said the University Avenue development is for the next step up age group. Young people were key participants in the planning, she said. “They wanted a safe place, they wanted to be on the light rail system so they have access to education and jobs, they wanted access to food and entertainment, and they wanted access to medical and counseling services.”

Mike Laverdure (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), architect and owner of the First American Design Study in Lake Elmo, has developed plans that will have a “healing circle” gathering area on all four floors of the building. Cultural training and supportive gatherings can occur there for residents and their ADY counselors and staff.

There will also be dental services, a clothing store, food store and other amenities on site for both convenient living and for workplace training opportunities.

This won’t solve American Indian urban problems with homelessness and family crisis, but it is another step toward filling a void. The majority of Native Americans from Minnesota’s 11 tribes now live in urban areas and especially in the Twin Cities metro area.

As a result, major foundations, corporations and religious groups have joined with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and an ADY Center’s neighbor, House of Hope Presbyterian Church, in helping fund construction of units in the new housing complex.

Foster said Mille Lacs officials were “shocked” when ADY pointed out that Mille Lacs represented the second and third largest tribal identity for youth needing housing and other family and related services.

Sometimes a safe haven means getting away from abusive situations. In many cases, she added, a safe environment is needed to get away from drug dealers and pimps. Too often with homeless youth, Foster said, undesirable street elements “become substitute families.”

Gauthier said the ADY Center currently has 35 various residential staff, counselors, therapists, legal advocates and others working on programs.

The 2017 ADY Center’s annual reports shows the magnitude of their work which is not exclusive for Native American youth but accounts for more than 90 percent of their residents and clients.

The emergency center provided short-term shelter, crisis intervention, access to medical and dental care and other advocacy and counseling services to 75 youth last year. The Ninijanisag (“Our Children”) program helped 220 young people in prevention and cultural activities that included monthly family nights.

Counselors with the Street Outreach Program helped 2,212 homeless and runaway youths who didn’t want to enter a shelter, including 1,547 new contacts and 665 young people previously known to ADY.

Mental health case managers worked with Ramsey County colleagues to help 57 youth and their families with mental health needs, and ADY’s Family Advocacy Program with family preservation and reunification efforts. There were 41 families with 90 children reached through that program.

ADY legal monitors also worked in collaboration with Southern Minnesota Legal Services in 2016 to monitor 167 court hearings affecting 240 children to enforce local compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

Put all together, Foster said Ain Dah Yung seeks to bolster children and young people’s self-identity and cultural pride. Often, she said, “you need to know who you are to get an idea of what you may become.”

Learn more about Ain Day Yung at.

To ease tribal homelessness, Leech Lake band takes back its land
Friday, November 03 2017
Written by John Enger/MPR News,
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Cabins all along Trader’s Bay on Leech Lake were built on leased tribal land. Now many of them are abandoned. (Photo by John Enger/MPR News.) 

Jim and Gail Hinkemeyer just retired and they had their future all worked out. They'd dodge Minnesota’s cold winters with a cheap apartment in Belize, then spend their summers at their small family cabin on Leech Lake.

After 30 years at the local Potlatch lumber mill, Jim saw it as the perfect place to rest. But while the couple owned the cabin, they did not own the land beneath it. They’d been leasing the waterfront lot from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
Now the tribe wants it back. The Hinkemeyers received a letter a few months ago from the Leech Lake band telling the couple they had to leave the northern Minnesota lake property at the end of the lease, which will happen sometime in October.

“I’m to the point where, do I laugh or do I cry?” Gail Hinkemeyer said. “That’s where you’re left, because you’re not going to change it.”

For decades, the tribe has leased nearly 350 small waterfront lots on Leech Lake, Cass Lake and a few others. Earlier this year, though, a new tribal administration voted not to renew the contracts.

Now, as those leases come up for renewal, the properties are reverting back to the tribe. This fall alone, 75 cabin owners will have to sell or move off the land.

Band leaders say they need to retake those properties as part of their plan to help ease the reservation’s gnawing homelessness problem.

That’s left the Hinkemeyers and scores of other non-tribal cabin owners, many of them retirees, with three options: try to sell the structure to a band member, move the structure off the property, or simply leave it all behind.

Along the shore of Trader’s Bay on Leech Lake, whole strings of small cabins are being emptied out or trucked away.
“We’ve been here 24 years,” said Gerry Heldt. “I loved it here. But things change.”

On a recent afternoon, Heldt packed his stuff into a shipping container. He’ll be out of his cabin by the first of the month. Most of his neighbors are gone already, or will be, soon.

A few lots over, Dave Knowlton was tearing the skirting off his trailer house so the whole thing can be moved.
“It’s a lot of work for a guy that’s 58, and has a bad back from college football,” he said. “I mean, I am just barely getting by, getting all this done.”

Knowlton said many people are worse off. He noted the the cabin to his left that was built by an old friend. It has a sprawling porch and a stone fireplace. There’s no moving it. To the right sits a two-story home with a walkout basement, a place Knowlton said nearly sold last year for more than $100,000. Now the owner is asking $25,000.

Farther down shore, Dave Unruh, a Twin Cities man, said he paid $80,000 for two cabins a few years ago and put thousands more into them. He said he recently sold them both, plus his dock for $5,000.

It’s hard to sell permanent structures, Knowlton said, because the only people allowed to buy are Leech Lake band members. Even then, the tribal government requires them to be converted into year-round homes, with a well and septic system.

Knowlton always figured this might happen, so he never invested beyond a trailer house. “It’s their sovereign nation here. This is their land,” he said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I appreciate the time I’ve had here. I just wish I had more.”

The leased lots will be consolidated and homesteaded by 80 tribal families, said Leech Lake Natural Resources Director Levi Brown.

Phasing out the leases, he added, will cost his department roughly $500,000 a year, about half his budget. He said it’s worth the cost.

Right now, there are 500 homeless tribe members looking for places to live on the reservation, and 100 more applying for tribal land allotments where they can build a home.

Brown added: “You can put a dollar sign on what you have to spend on somebody. Or you can say, ‘You’re Annishinabe. You’re people from the water. We’re going to allow you to live and be who you are, and return some of those cultural values to you.’”

While cabin owners like Knowlton are philosophical, others have not taken it well.

Since the leases started running out, Brown said he has been yelled at, called names and received death threats. He said he’s been nearly forced off the road by angry drivers and had to call the tribal police.

Brown didn’t see any of this coming, but still thinks the tribe made the right decision.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “Tough to know that you’re doing something that is going to really help the future generations and echo some social change but, at the same time, have people tell you that it’s wrong.”

As their lease nears its end, the Hinkemeyers aren’t sure what they’ll do with their cabin. They’re pretty sure it won’t sell. They’re looking at moving it, but even that might fall through. Cabin movers are booked up and in short supply right now.

The couple, though, still have a place in town. Heldt’s permanent residence is in the Florida Keys. Knowlton lives in the Twin Cities.

The former lease holders will be fine, Brown said. Generations of tribal members have been closed off from the shoreline. Most of the property around Leech and Cass lakes was sold and developed long ago. The little that remained in tribal hands was leased to non-tribal members. Now, he said young tribal members will be able to grow up swimming and paddling the lake, as they did generations ago.

Reprinted with permssion from

A Native Homecare Business Booms
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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 circleoflife.jpgPatricia Yager (center), founder of the Circle of Life Home Care companies, meets with two beneficiaries of her service venture at national headquarters in Minneapolis. On the left is Magi Spears, a personal care attendant (PCA) employee, and on the right is Margie LaMorie, a recovering stroke patient assisted by Spears. (Photo by Lee Egerstrom.)

The growing and unmet needs for Native health and home care weren’t going away. Patricia (Pat) Yager, who grew up at Bena on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and bounced back and forth between Cass Lake-Bena and as an urban dweller in the Twin Cities, knew she needed to become an entrepreneur in order to contribute to making life better for elder friends and relatives.

The planning started in 2003. Two years later, Circle of Life Anishinaabe was formed as a licensed home care provider in Minnesota. Within six months it expanded from its base in Minneapolis back to Cass Lake to find and train personal care attendants (PCAs) and nurses for home care clients.

The rapid growth of Circle of Life Home Care, as her company is known away from its Ojibwe roots, is a testament to the enormous need for culturally appropriate home and health care. Circle of Life now has 1,600 employees working out of 20 offices in seven states.

“I don’t know how I did it. It was a matter of just keeping on moving forward,” she said during a recent interview at her national headquarters on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis’ American Indian Cultural Corridor.

Both in the metro area and back home at Leech Lake, changing demographics were making home care more difficult for elders and for people with special health care needs. The cultural norm over decades and generations was for Native family members to be caregivers. That is still the case, Yager said.

But this in-family caring didn’t always produce the historically sought results. Matching talents to home care isn’t always easy for some families, and more and more Native families – like all other Americans – find it necessary to become two-income family households. Taking care of a grandparent or other relative with needs usually didn’t produce much income or position the caregivers with employment records that could lead to securing auto loans, mortgages or even health insurance for their families.

That is especially true on reservations and in rural settings.

Starting the Circle of Life operation “had been on my mind for several years,” she said. “I knew I had to help out and make a difference.”

One of the beneficiaries of Circle of Life services, Margie LaMorie – a retired educator living in Minneapolis – is representative of urban experiences. Originally from the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe in Wisconsin, LaMorie suffered a stroke seven years ago after her husband died. Staying in her home required health care assistance.

Magi Spears (Red Lake), of White Bear Lake, is the licensed caregiver who stops by LaMorie’s home three days a week and checks on her food and medicine supply, meal preparation, schedules and transportation needs.

But more assistance was needed initially. “Magi helped in feeding me, in making me lunch,” LaMorie said. And, she found a financial worker “who helped me budgeting to get through.”

LaMorie is one of three clients Spears visits and provides services for each week, she said.

While recovering from health problems now, LaMorie is typical of home and health care needs of Native people, Yager said.

While data isn’t available on the needs of Native elders, she said, the Native population is seven times more likely to have serious health problems that require care. And, the Native population has a suicide rate three times the national average.

It doesn’t matter if you are Ojibwe, Dakota or from any other tribal group across America. Yager said “It just isn’t in our (shared) Indian culture to ask for help.” This is where trained personal care attendants can become important advocates and problem solvers for people with needs.

Meeting such needs here at home in Minnesota triggered her pursuit of a Native-owned, Native-operated home care service company. By coincidence, Yager was in Gallup, N.M., within a year of expanding from Minneapolis to Cass Lake, and found the same problems to be widespread on the Navajo Reservation.

The Circle of Life group now has three operating companies overseeing 20 offices and their personal care attendants and nurses. The Soaring Eagles group in the Southwest now provides services for Navajo, Apache, Zuni and Hopi tribes from offices in Arizona and New Mexico.

A Billings, Mont., office provides talent and services primarily for people on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. And offices at Fort Yates, N.D., and Oglala, S.D. coordinate services primarily for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in both states and for the Oglala on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Minnesota offices and operations for the Circle of Life Anishinaabe firm are at 1433 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis, Moorhead, Mahnomen, Bemidji, Cass Lake, Deer River and Duluth.

The company is now expanding into a seventh state, beginning operations of Circle of Life Colorado.

The focus is on serving the Indian population in those areas, Yager said, but Circle of Life PCAs also assist non-Native people in those areas. To be culturally sensitive, however, Circle of Life does seek out Native people as employees whenever possible.

“I would say 85 percent, or more likely 90 percent, of our employees are Native people like Magi (Spears),” she said.

State and local governments have different licensing requirements for PCAs and nurses, and some of the companies’ nurses are non-Natives living and serving in Indian Country, she added.

The headquarters staff reflects the commitment to matching appropriate talents with personal and cultural awareness.

Chief executive officer since January, for instance, is Himmat Singh, originally from India with international management experience with manufacturing companies, real estate and software development. He has a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a MBA in Entrepreneurial Management from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Executive director is Samuel (Rocky) Papasadora (Leech Lake Ojibwe), with past experience with tribal and Minnesota law enforcement and with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and national gaming regulatory groups.

Other corporate officials include Arizona regional manager Lorita George (Navajo), corporate PCA coordinator Daniel Long Crow (Lakota), originally from Winner, S.D.; corporate client coordinator Molly Montana (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) originally from Rapid City, S.D.; and Cindi Shubert (Leech Lake Ojibwe) is the payroll director.

More information about Circle of Life Home Care and how to seek services is available at their website: 

A new video on how Pat Yager built the company is available online at .

Sioux Chef picked as restaurant for new Minneapolis riverfront park
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by The Circle,
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The Sioux Chef, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation will  partner to open a riverfront restaurant and food service venue for the future public pavilion at Water Works.

Bottom photo: Concept art for the Water Works plan from a birds eye view looking south. (Images courtesy of Minneapolis Parks Foundation. 

The Sioux Chef is a diverse, Indigenous-led team committed to revitalizing Native American Cuisine and reclaiming an important culinary tradition that has been long buried and often inaccessible.

The Sioux Chef was founded by Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota), who has been cooking for over 27 years. His main focus has been on the revitalizing indigenous foods. Sean has extensive knowledge of Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migrational histories, elemental cooking techniques, and Native culture and history.

In 2014, he opened  his businees, The Sioux Chef, as a caterer and food educator to the Minneapolis and Saint Paul area. In 2015, in partnership with the Little Earth Community of United Tribes in Minneapolis, he and his business partner, Dana Thompson, designed and opened the Tatanka Truck, which features pre-contact foods of the Dakota and Minnesota territories.

Water Works, a park development project overlooking St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge, will bring visitor services and recreational and cultural amenities to one of Minnesota’s most highly visited areas. 

This fall, Sherman and Thompson co-founded a non-profit called (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems) for the purpose of Indigenous focused education and research and food access, which they plan to leverage in order to align with the mission of the Minneapolis Park Board as well as other projects.  

The Water Works design includes a park pavilion with a rooftop patio, outdoor seating plaza, tree-sheltered city steps, playspace for children and families, and an open lawn overlooking the river. The pavilion will include the new restaurant as well as a public lounge, restrooms and support spaces; and a flexible room for small group activities.

The restaurant will be the first year-round, full service food venue within the Minneapolis Park System. In addition to its full-service venue, The Sioux Chef will also provide casual, counter-service food options.

“Our work within the evolution of the Indigenous food systems offers many opportunities for supportive nutritional and spiritual experiences,” says Thompson. “With the removal of colonial ingredients, our plan is to drive economic wealth back into indigenous communities by sourcing food from these growers first. We look forward to sharing and enjoying these diverse and healthy foods with all communities.”

siouxchefrestauant1.jpgWater Works is within the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, one of the most popular public spaces in the region; its estimated 2.5 million annual visits is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

“We are thrilled The Sioux Chef was interested in this location for their restaurant,” says Tom Evers, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. “Water Works will celebrate the complex history of this area, through a layered park design, as well as programming, art, play, and performance. Co-owners Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, along with their team, are sharing powerful stories through food about the intricate relationship between people and land.”

The Sioux Chef has a mission beyond serving food. The team will work with the pavilion’s architects and landscape architects to create places within the park to grow native plants traditionally used for food and medicine. The Sioux Chef plans to create events and educational opportunities to help bring diverse voices into a larger dialogue about Native American cultures, the river, and food.

“We realize that the river corridor is Dakota homeland and the river remains important to many Indigenous cultures,” says Jayne Miller, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. “Our partnership with The Sioux Chef opens up opportunities beyond what the Park Board could achieve on its own. Our goals of providing healthy, locally sourced food and meaningful recreational and economic opportunities are well-aligned with the vision of The Sioux Chef.”

In addition to serving food, The Sioux Chef intends to have their restaurant support training and jobs for people interested in related fields. 

“We are humbled and grateful for the opportunity to help honor the Indigenous history of Owamni Yamni (Place of Whirlpools). This location has been a sacred site of peace and well-being for the Dakota and Anishinaabe people for millennia,” says Thompson. “We plan to leverage this wonderful partnership with the Minneapolis Park Board, through our aligned mission of nutritional, physical, and spiritual health for all, as well as to create food access and education about the rich history of the Native people in this beautiful area.”

The Minneapolis Park Board approved the Water Works concept in June 2017. The design team is continuing with schematic design and construction documents and will share updated plans during community engagement events this fall. Limited archaeological work and selective deconstruction of the Fuji-Ya building have begun and will continue through early 2018. Construction is expected to begin in the late summer of 2018.

Through the Parks Foundation, the majority of Mezzanine Phase funding will be provided by philanthropic investment. In 2015, the Parks Foundation launched the RiverFirst Capital Campaign, which has, to date, raised $12.3M in philanthropic gifts and commitments.

For more info on the Sioux Chef, see:


Olympic-style ski jump plans in works for PIIC
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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skilongview.jpgThe Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) is in negotiations with the Friends of American Ski Jumping organization over plans by the latter group to build an Olympic-style ski jump on the Community’s Mount Frontenac near Red Wing.

Ski jump enthusiasts and Red Wing area boosters have been raising money from private sources for the project. Heading into August, organizers had raised $1.2 million and had another $1 million in pledges for what is estimated to be a $6 million year-around ski jump training and competition facility.

A second phase of development with more recreation venues and concern facilities is also being considered.  

Shelley Buck, president of the PIIC Tribal Council, said the Community and ski jump group are still finalizing business arrangements for the group to build on the Community’s land. But, she added, “We are excited to see the project moving forward and are encouraged by the growing interest and support.”

The idea for the ski jump facility came from the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame that is housed in the St. James Hotel in downtown Red Wing. Norwegian immigrants started American ski jumping at Red Wing in the 1880s on the bluffs above the Mississippi River.

skijumptop.jpgRegardless how business ties between the groups are resolved, the ski jump facility would expand PIIC’s activities in the hospitality industry. The site is connected to the Mount Frontenac Golf Course and its club house and event center, and is convenient to PIIC’s Treasure Island Resort and Casino.

Buck said diversifying the Community’s economy is a top priority.

“Gaming has been a successful economic development tool for our tribe and many other Native communities; it’s helped us become self-sufficient and allowed us to share our success with our neighbors,” she said. “But we don’t want to bet our future on gaming alone.”

Prairie Island’s economy is already one of Minnesota’s most diverse destination and entertainment attractions with gaming, golf, water sports, bowling and concerts, Buck said. “This project would add exciting elements to what we’ve already created and drive even more visits and positive impact to the region, she said. 

Ski jump backers are estimating as many as 100,000 people may be drawn to the site annually. Red Wing and Rochester newspapers have stressed this would economically benefits communities throughout southeastern Minnesota.
The Hall of Fame inducted six new members in early August at ceremonies at the golf club. A special guest at the Red Wing ceremony was Steve Collins, a Canadian Olympian ski jumper who has family ties to the PIIC.
Collins is a member of the Fort William First Nation near Thunder Bay, Ont. Peter Collins, a first cousin of the skier, is the elected chief of the Ojibwe First Nation. ­However, the Hall of Fame notes on its website that a grandfather of the celebrated Canadian Olympian was Charley Collings, a member of PIIC before migrating to Canada.

More information about the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame and Museum is available at: ;
the ski jump project is at, and Prairie Island Indian Community at .  

Indian Land Capital Co. helps tribes reclaim ancestral land
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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businessstoryroy.jpgAn unusual finance company based in the St. Paul suburb of Little Canada is playing a big role in helping tribes repurchase ancestral lands that should never have been sold or taken away.

The Indian Land Capital Co.  (ILCC) is legally a for-profit venture owned by two nonprofit organizations, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation in Little Canada and the Native American Community Development Corp. of Browning, Mont.

There are a variety of legal reasons why the ILCC is incorporated that way, said Rjay Brunkow, chief executive officer. But mostly, it allows ILCC to work with commercial banks and other lenders to allow creative financing packages for tribes that aren’t secured by land collateral.

“This has always been a problem for sovereign nations,” Brunkow said. “Lenders always want collateral supporting the loan. It takes some ‘getting used to’ for banks to recognize the full faith and credit (pledge) of sovereign nations.”

Founded in 2005, ILCC has helped tribes finance 17 land acquisition projects. The purchases have been in a dozen states but California is a major client base for ILCC activity. That comes from California’s large number of small Rancherias (reservations) and California Natives’ peculiar experiences with federal laws that disbanded the tribes and later restored federal recognition. 

Some ILCC loan have been small purchases of a few acres within reservation boundaries or a nearby mountain that has cultural importance but no economic value to a tribe. Others have been large purchases such as the 22,237 acres of timberland in 2011 that doubled the size of the Yurok Tribe at Klamath, Calif.

Land repurchases to date are important both economically and culturally but are a mere pittance of the 90 million acres pulled away legally and illegally from sovereign tribes, Brunkow said.

The most recent ILCC financed land purchase was two months ago when the Pinoleville Pomo Nation at Ukiah, Calif., acquired 9.3 acres of its original Rancheria land with a $2.7 million loan.  

“We couldn’t have done this without Rjay’s and the land company’s help,” said Leona Williams, the tribal chairperson.

The reacquired land was split between 8.8 acres of commercial property and 3.5 acres that Williams described as “cultural heritage land.”

All of the property, however, is significant for the Pinoleville Pomo citizens and for members of 16 other Rancherias in California, she said.

Part of the land formerly belong to Tillie Hardwick, a tribal member who challenged a 1958 federal law that resulted in terminating the California Rancherias in 1966. In winning that 1979 case, tribal status was returned to the Rancherias and their members regained federal recognition as American Indians.

“We really wanted to save this land but we didn’t have the means,” Williams said. “Then, an attorney we knew from Colorado suggested we find out if that group (ILCC) in Minnesota could help. It seemed to be too good to be true, but it was true.”

Small and less economically successful tribal nations like the Pinoleville Pomo make the primary client base for ILCC financing and originated loans with other partners. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community “really don’t need our help,” he said, and they have all the internal expertise they need to work financing and business ventures.

Meanwhile, Brunkow said the capital company is gaining access to participating lenders with each passing land deal. The track record with tribes is what does it.

“We’ve never had a tribal client default on a loan,” he said.

That would impress bankers. Brunkow would know.

Brunkow, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, is a former investment banker specializing in Indian Country business for Wells Fargo. He has a business economics degree from South Dakota State University and a law degree from the University of Minnesota.

Before joining ILCC two years ago, Brunkow had previously served as solicitor general for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and as chief legal counsel for the Turtle Mountain Band.

One reason for the success of ILCC’s loans is that Brunkow and his predecessors serve as the loan originators when bringing other participants in on the loans. “When we know Indian Country, we know what will be done with the land and we know the politics, the culture of a tribe, that tells us the tribe will follow through on obligations,” he said.

That isn’t significantly different from other banking and lending practices. “What we are looking for is stability,” he added.

ILCC is housed at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation office in Little Canada. It also gets staff help from the parent organization.

While the Foundation, with its 76 percent stake in the company, and its Native American Community Development Corp. partner could be taking profits out of the for-profit lending institution, it doesn’t. And it won’t, explains Chris Stainbrook (Oglala Lakota), president of the Foundation and board chair for ILCC.

“ILCC was formed as a for-profit company to demonstrate to outside lenders that tribes are good credit risks and full-faith-in-credit lending to the tribes could work. It was not formed for the two non-profit owners to be supported by ILCC profits,” he said.

“ILTF and NACDC will not take a single nickel out of ILCC until the 90 million acres of lost reservation lands are returned to Indian ownership, management and control,” he added.

That shows the magnitude of the work remaining for the capital company and its parents.

More information about the Indian Land Capital Company can be found at ; Indian Land Tenure Foundation at , and Native American Community Development Corp. at .    

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