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Community blesses Albuquerque Indian Center

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Dreams, plans and the vision of a single lodging offering Native people in the city refuge, education, a chance to heal, celebrate culture and construct a better life is coming to fruition.

Leaders from various Native organizations and community members commemorated acquisition of a $365,000 grant at the Albuquerque Indian Center (AIC), May 9, with a traditional "Staking Ceremony."

Prayer, speeches, a flute blessing by Andrew Thomas, story telling and Red Road Crossing drum were also part of the day-long social event ending with a sweat lodge led by Lenny Foster, Navajo Nation's corrections project director.

Organized by AIC employee, Emerson Joe, the ceremony was performed to garner commitment from Native leaders wishing to fulfill a common goal of future growth for the center.

"The center needed it," said Joe who has worked for the AIC for a year, assisting in maintenance, construction and also as a part-time counselor. "I've not seen a ceremony since I've been here. I have not seen medicine people."

Raised in a traditional Navajo lifestyle, Joe felt the people the center serves, volunteers and employees would benefit from a spiritual blessing of the building. He chose the Staking Ceremony as a way to reach out toward, and involve, as many people as possible.

"I felt like I could bring in some part of a ceremony and I didn't want it to be all of my doing, so I brought in Chico, in the inter-tribal way," he said.

"My role was to facilitate," explained Chico Gallegos, founder of Native American Alliance Foundation. He said the ceremony, although originally from Mandan and Lakota traditions, was shared with him by elders Doug and Amy Modig and is a large part of the sobriety movement in Alaska.

The ceremony symbolizes securing a foundation for the growth of a community.

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Although the AIC already offers employment counseling, job training, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, GED preparation classes, sweat lodges and talking circles, the new grant will help improve and expand facilities and programs.

Part of a Community Development Block Grant under the auspices of the Albuquerque Housing and Urban Development program, the AIC funds are earmarked for building renovation, constructing a commercial kitchen and implementing an economic development agenda.

"We have stains in the ceiling and there's a pigeon nesting in the exhaust fan," said Raquel Mull, pensively looking upward. "We're going to use (the grant) to refurbish this building and the buildings across the street," she continued, referring to a residence the center purchased. Mull is a member of the AIC board of directors.

"We're converting that into the counseling area. That's part of this grant. Once we complete that renovation, we'll have our counseling staff back there. That'll give us more space," said Mary Garcia, interim executive director for AIC.

Garcia explained that the commercial kitchen will be used as a business model so clients can get entrepreneurial experience. "We're going to have training for them on business plans and on keeping financial records," she said.

"If somebody can get a catering job, then they can use the kitchen. We think it's an excellent opportunity for the women. They can start a home business that will help them go in a new direction; give them a place to exercise their skills," said Mull.

Business training is only part of the plan. Long-term goals include purchasing a neighboring Motel 6 for use as transitional housing, building ceremonial grounds and a health care center, plus establishing a Native business incubator.

"It's very positive. I want to see the 'Indian man on the street' get services," said Ki Tecumseh, a Department of Energy employee who volunteers with AIC. "An Indian center is where they want to be and this helps the little people, it helps the big people, the old people. It helps everyone."

Paul Bradley, guest speaker, was very happy about the grant as well. "I've seen more good come out of this Indian center than all of the subsidized programs in the state."

"There are lots of areas we need to grow and we need to find a voice. I believe that the Albuquerque Indian Center is where urban Native Americans can have a voice," said Mull.