Sunday, March 26, 2017

Special Evening Marks Fifth Anniversary of Duluth's AICHO

Well-wishers greet Dr. Powless before the celebration.
Friday evening was a special moment in time for the friends of AICHO, the American Indian Community Housing Organization that resides in Downtown Duluth. The ceremony included drums, Native songs, a pipe ritual, numerous speaks and a feast. When all was said and done, a great man was honored, a building had been renamed and a message of inspiration had been shared.

Trepanier Hall, which once housed the local YWCA here, has been renamed the Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center. The event provided the opportunity for an outpouring of thanks and appreciation to be expressed to the man who helped give birth to center by means of a personal intervention and a large donation.

The meeting took place in a large room deep in the heart of the building. After a brief introduction announcing why we we here room resounded with Native drums and what was called The Pipe Song. Rick DeFoe gave a Native invocation in the Ojibwe tongue. Dr. Powless replied, "I'm humbled to be here... a veteran with a grand heart for his people."

Drummers perform as everyone stands. Powless family in foreground.
After more drums and song, the pipe was lit and the Pipe Ceremony conducted.

AICHO is a complex organization with complex funding requirements and many programs. It's most significant focus is on helping the vulnerable in our community.

Rick Smith of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency then told how Dr. Powless stepped in after the dream of creating a culturally appropriate housing project for the homeless had gotten stalled. "We can do this," he said. He stepped forward and offered to go to St. Paul on behalf of the people here.

He went and met with those who had the power, and told a story. The story was effective in part because of the credibility of the man who told it. Dr. Powless has spent a lifetime of intervention and quietly helping students at UMD and people in the community. When he said, "Let me go talk to the people in St. Paul," it carried the mark of authority.

Rick Smith then introduced the nam who was being honored, whose first words were, "It's hard to speak when one is so deeply moved." He then joked that he never has trouble speaking, and he proceeded to share how much he appreciates the hard-working people in this community. "You are special people & this community deserves every one of you. You make life worth living. I trust that you will be the kind of folks who make the lives of others the kind of lives they feel are worth living."

More gratitude expressed.
He went on to say, "This community has meant so much to me. When I visit I'm amazed at how hard the people work. Not only the leadership but the everyday worker.... This facility has the cleanest lobby in the state. This place is so wonderful it has to continue."

After making an appeal for Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin ("Gimaajii is worth every nickel we can donate.") Dr. Powless told the story of his mother moving him off the reservation when he was five years old. She encouraged him to approach the owner of a local store near Green Bay to ask for a job. The man said he would get paid if he came every day and picked up the papers at four o'clock. "I had a job every year of my life from that time on." He shared another anecdote that was also insightful. "Mother never allowed me to drink alcohol or smoke cigarets." Now in his eighties, he's never touched a drop of alcohol or smoked a cigaret.

He concluded by reiterating, "You are the people that make my living worthwhile."

The ceremony closed with the drum team leader making a few brief remarks as well. They then closed with the drum/song, When You Can No Longer Walk I Will Carry You.

Afterwards we were dismissed to go upstairs and share a feast with friends of the community.

* * * *
You can read Lisa Kaczke's account at the Duluth News Tribune website.

Much more can be said, but the story is still being writ. Thank you Bob & Linda. 

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