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Breaking (and blessing) ground in St. Paul for project that will provide housing for at-risk American Indian youth

Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung, a partnership between the Ain Dah Yung Center and Project For Pride In Living, will provide 42 units of permanent housing.

It was a ground-breaking and a ground-blessing July 11 for Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung (“Good New Home” in Ojibwe), a housing partnership between the Ain Dah Yung Center  and Project For Pride In Living, which starts construction in the fall and will provide 42 units of permanent housing for at-risk American Indian youth.

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In addition to classrooms, a technology center, and seven units for people with disabilities, the center will feature a sweat lodge, a sacred medicine garden and gathering spaces for cultural ceremonies and workshops in bead-working, drum-making, and making traditional clothing.

Funding for the $11.3 million project includes support from the City of St. Paul, the Metropolitan Council, Federal Home Loan Bank, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, as well as low-income housing credits from the State of Minnesota.

Currently a vacant lot at 769 University Avenue W. in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, the $12 million project was conceived seven years ago and is set to open next spring. Last week’s festivities included prayers, a blessing of the sacred ground with tobacco, a burning sage ritual, traditional music, a drum circle, and comments from housing and community leaders:

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“This has been a vision for quite a few years for me,” said Deb Foster, executive director of the Ain Dah Yung Center. “Because what the Ain Dah Yung Center offers now is prevention work, emergency shelter work, family prevention work, and working with families that are risk. And then we also have a transitional living program for youth between the ages of 16 and 21. But that’s time-limited, and one of the things that we have found is that when kids turn 18, they age out of foster care. At the same time, at age 18, they lose all their benefits and have exhausted their transitional living options. So these kids are trying to finish school or start secondary education or work towards getting jobs, then you add to it the market rate that nobody can afford… these kids were falling right back into the streets again. So this building is designed specifically to catch those 18-to-24 year olds and give ‘em that opportunity and space.

“We hope that it will be a model for the state, and other states as well. This is a one-of-a-kind project in terms of working with this age group, with a specific emphasis on building their cultural foundation. One of the things that I think people don’t understand is that they think the [American Indian] historical trauma was decades ago, when the fact of the matter is that the boarding school era lasted into the ‘70s and ‘80s, so the kids we’re seeing today are being raised by parents and grandparents who were raised in boarding schools and stripped of their tradition and their culture.

“So all of these kids are struggling. Two percent of the population in Minnesota is American Indian, but 22 percent of the homeless youth are American Indian. Just devastating, and we know that the big reason for that is this lack of sense of positive identity of who they are as a young Native person. That’s what we do now, and that’s what we’ll do with this new project, is give these kids that cultural sense of identity first and foremost.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Members of the Ain Dah Yung Center break ground for the new Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung housing unit, set to open in spring 2019.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Designed by DSGW Architects and First American Design Studio, construction for Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung begins in the fall by Loeffler Construction.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“At Project For Pride In Living, we believe in the power of place, the power of culture, the power of partnership, and a commitment to doing more than just building things, but to actually engage community in the work,” said Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project For Pride In Living. “My people are from this side of University Avenue, Frogtown, and the other part of my people are from the other side of University Avenue, in Rondo. My people have been guests on this land since the early part of the 1900s, so place for me matters a lot; this place matters a lot.

“When we started this journey, this project was going to be built on Sherburne Avenue, closer to Dale. A good site, it would’ve been a good location. I believe that there’s a reason that we are here, on University Avenue, and in the power of culture and the statement that it makes to the community to be on the Green Line, to be on this very visible place. There’s a reason that we will be here, and the power of place that we will create here I think is very important.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“One of my great privileges in the last seven years as commissioner has been traveling around the state and working with literally every one of the tribes around the state to develop housing for what’s needed in that community,” said Minnesota Housing Finance Agency commissioner Mary Tingerthal. “And with all the amazing developments that the different communities have done, I can’t think of one that is more central to what’s important for the future of our Native American tribes in Minnesota [than Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung]. Because with every community, there are youths, sadly, who find themselves in the Twin Cities and need a time period when they can reconnect with their culture, and I’m so excited that this project, with its architecture, with it’s programming, with its long track record, will allow for the healing of so many young people to come.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“I don’t know how to describe the importance of this project it in words. It’s like a need, a necessity to have it,” said Dennis Gilbert, a tobacco prevention advocate and teacher at the Ain Dah Yung Center. “There’s so many homeless youth out here, and they have nowhere to go and the city doesn’t seem to care about them too much. When the Super Bowl came here, they kicked them off the light rail, they kicked them out of their supportive housing, and it was the middle of winter. They had nowhere to go. More places like this are a necessity in our life. We need more support.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Musician Sean Mino-Niibawi Inaadizi, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, performed at the ceremony.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Ain Dah Yung Center’s Dennis Gilbert passed out sacred tobacco, which was then gathered and used to bless the Mino Oski site in a traditional Native American ceremony.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Representatives from the City of St. Paul, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Project For Pride In Living, the Ain Dah Yung Center, and others broke ground on the Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung project.