Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trepanier Hall Being Renamed to Honor Dr. Robert Powless at AICHO Fifth Anniversary

I first became aware of the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) at Trepanier Hall when I attended Al Hunter's poetry reading from his book Beautiful Razor in 2013. Since that time I have lost track of the number of events I've attended there. A truly vibrant cultural center has evolved there and many lives touched and spirits lifted.

This week I received notice that there will be a celebration Friday evening in which the hall will be renamed the Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center. Here are details about the event, AICHO and Dr. Powless.


DULUTH, MN -- On Friday, March 24, the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) will be hosting a community event to celebrate Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin’s fifth year of operation. The event is taking place from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. in Trepanier Hall, located at 212 W. 2nd Street in Duluth. Trepanier Hall itself will be renamed the Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center in honor of Dr. Robert Powless, an Oneida elder, activist leader and University of Minnesota - Duluth professor emeritus of American Indian Studies. AICHO is asking that guests RSVP by emailing or calling 218-722-7225; the event will include a feast and is free of charge.

Dr. Robert and Linda Powless
The American Indian Community Housing Organization is one of 27 nationwide facilities that focus on a specific ethnic group. They provide housing services for people suffering from long-term homelessness, transitional housing for survivors of domestic abuse, and they run a 10-bed domestic violence shelter - the only Native American shelter that provides services to battered women and their children in the seven county area surrounding Duluth, Minnesota. Honoring the resiliency of Native American people, AICHO’s vision is to strengthen our community by centering indigenous values in all aspects of their work. The Gimaajii Building opened as AICHO’s headquarters five years and includes 29-units of permanent, supportive housing utilizing the “housing first” model. On-site services include assessment, advocacy, case management, and programming. AICHO’s operating philosophy is that every American Indian man, woman and child deserves to live in a safe, non-threatening environment and should be treated with dignity and respect. Mental health services are provided through a partnership with White Earth Mental Health. Other partners include: Fond du Lac Reservation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Mending the Sacred Hoop, and the Research for Indigenous Community Health Center. Gimaajii also provides a place for people who have a common history and culture to come together, to learn from others, and to share that culture with others. In the traditional manner of respecting elders, life-long learning is encouraged throughout the Gimaajii. Over the years, dozens of organizations have been able to reserve space to hold meetings, have feasts, and to gather at the building and AICHO hopes to continue its tradition of opening its doors to the community.

In conjunction with its supportive services, AICHO has established a thriving arts and cultural program. AICHO works with Native American and emerging artists to help them overcome barriers to their professional careers including unexpected costs, public awareness, and finding their voice in the community. They host hundreds of events year and average over 11,000 visitors annually. Many of these events have taken place in their auditorium / art gallery space, Trepanier Hall. The night of Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin’s 5th Anniversary Celebration, AICHO is planning to officially unveil the new title of this space in honor of Dr. Robert Powless.

Dr. Powless is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Indians in Wisconsin; he earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin - Madison before going to the University of Minnesota’s main campus to obtain his doctorate in educational administration. Dr. Powless was chosen for the honor as a result of his long-term support of Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin. In the beginning, he served as an advisory member of the Duluth Indian Commission on the AICHO development committee and he and his wife donated $50,000 of their retirement funds toward the establishment of its American Indian Center (Gimaajii). By personally advocating on behalf of homeless American Indians at Minnesota Housing, Powless was able to help AICHO secure the funding that has allowed it to become the organization it is today. Dr. Powless still visits Gimaajii every week while his wife runs errands, spending a few hours each time sitting in the lobby and interacting with children, staff and guests alike. He recently celebrated his 84th birthday and the renaming of Trepanier Hall will be a surprise announcement from AICHO during Gimaajii’s celebratory event.

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Much more can be said, and will be said in the days and years ahead. Tomorrow is simply a marker along the way that something good has been happening here.

Photo credit: Ivy Vainio

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