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Boston Indian center begins fund-raising campaign with gala event

BOSTON - In 2004, the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the Division of Capital Asset Management to enter into a 99-year lease with the North American Indian Center of Boston. The lease was signed in April.

With a permanent home assured for the center, NAICOB's Executive Director Joanne Dunn, Micmac, and its board of directors can now move forward with a capital fund-raising campaign to raise between $25 million and 30 million to realize the dream of creating a new building that will reflect American Indian values and cultural traditions, while meeting the needs of a center that provides an array of social services to more than 6,000 urban Indians in the Boston area.

''It can happen. It is truly our vision, and it would be a landmark in Massachusetts,'' Dunn said.

To that end, NAICOB is holding the inagural Fundraising Gala Event at the Seaport Hotel and Convention Center May 12.

The event will include a silent auction, and the evening's entertainment will feature GRAMMY- and NAMMY-award-winning flutist Joseph Fire Crow, Northern Cheyenne.

''It's our first fund-raiser and we're very excited about it. We expect it to be a wonderful night. The purpose is really to put ourselves out there. We've always been an invisible people, not just here, but everywhere and partly [because] we've isolated ourselves; but we're out there now and we realize how many friends we have,'' Dunn said.

Some of those friends came through for the center last winter after the building's ancient furnace died ''for the last time,'' she said.

The nonprofit community center has delivered social services to and provided a gathering place for the local American Indian community for more than 30 years in a late 19th-century brick building that once housed a detention facility for girls in the city's Jamaica Plains neighborhood. The center operates on a shoestring budget of around $1 million in federal funds, which covers all programs and salaries for its 20-plus employees.

The recently deceased furnace had a tag on it that said ''converted to gas in 1906.''

''That was our worst fear being realized, that the furnace would die. We'd already been told time and again that it would cost between $100,000 and $120,000 to replace it, so clearly if we couldn't get that it would be problematic because we wouldn't be able to run our programs. But we were blessed, the Creator stayed with us,'' Dunn said.

With a ''mini'' grant and help from KeySpan, a private energy company; the Mississippi Choctaws; and others, a brand new energy-efficient furnace was installed in January.

''I have to say I am so proud of my people - I am so proud to be an Indian because when this stuff happened and we had no heat, no water and no facilities, everybody insisted that we carry on until we could get it together, so we started taking shifts so there was always somebody here. You would not find that in corporate America,'' she said.

Dunn had particular words of praise for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Democratic state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, and David B. Perini, commissioner of the Division of Capital Asset Management, who was the first commissioner to ever visit the center.

If the center is not able to raise the money for a new building, it will still need millions of dollars to renovate the old detention facility. The building was deemed unfit for state employees in the early 1970s, but NAICOB was glad to get it. They have paid for all building maintenance costs since then.

But the renovation plan is a fall-back option. The goal is to pursue the vision of a new building and NAICOB is full of hope.

''It's a wonderful time for us. We're so excited now that we have a permanent home and we're able to pursue our dream. So this gala is a celebration. We want to honor the people that have helped us get to where we are today,'' Dunn said.

To make reservations for the gala event, contact Dunn at (617) 232-0343, ext. 21, or Joanne.Dunn@ihs.gov.