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WiiDooKoDaaDiiWag Blog:

Coming Together

After the January feast launched the WiiDooKoDaaDiiWag/They Help Each Other initiative, the first gathering to discuss grassroots solutions to unsheltered homelessness in the Native community was held at the new Minneapolis Navigation Center. The residents of the Center, many of whom have been unsheltered for months, were invited to a round table discussion and lunch. Also invited were the "navigators" who are working with residents to help the seek housing, jobs, and chemical dependency treatment if needed.

The meeting was facilitated by Lesley and Paul Kabotie, of Indigenous Collaboration. Lunch was catered by Ojibwe Enterprises .

The Navigation Center dining hall was slow to fill for the meeting. People trickled in and took their seats, mingling, laughing, and organizing their backpacks and bags. The navigators fanned out to make sure people knew about the gathering and encouraged them to attend.

It was not surprising that the room was slow to fill. Many in the homeless community lack faith that efforts to help them seek housing - and healing - are honest and come from a good place. They are wary, and rightly so. Many of them - especially Native Americans and people of color - have had negative experiences that continue to haunt them: feeling unsafe in shelters, being discriminated against when seeking jobs and housing, and much more. It's important to respect these experiences as valid and real.

Dining hall tables were pushed together to create one large table. Soon every chair was full. Sage was burned and carried person to person to start the gathering in a good way. Everyone at the table was asked to introduce themselves. As each person told their story you could feel the dynamic shift. Everyone's story was laced with both loss and the longing for a better life. Many had lost family to violence, illness or overdose. Many wrestled with mental or physical illness or disability. Through the sharing of personal experiences and recollections a guarded hopefulness began to arise.

Lesley and Paul put large sheets of paper up on the wall. Each posed questions on a certain theme:

"When we say 'good' or desirable' housing, what comes to mind? What does it look like? Who's there?

"When we say 'good health' what comes to mind? What is happening? Who's there?

"When we say 'healing' what comes to mind? What is happening? Where is it happening? Who's there?

"What connections or supports would be helpful to you to be in a good place, on a good path, that you feel good about?"

The larger group of about 35 people broke off into smaller groups. They moved from question to question, discussing their feelings and ideas and writing down responses. At the end the group reconvened to share their thoughts about the process - and the possibilities it represented. The conversation was positive, although a hint wariness remained. It remains difficult for our unsheltered relations to believe that the larger community will really come through. It's up to all of us to show them that we can - and we will.

Below are some photographs from the first WiiDooKoDaaDiiWag gathering at the Navigation Center. What's most striking is how what we want in life - both those of us fortunate enough to have shelter, and those who struggle without it - is, for the most part, the same. There is so much that connects us. Take a look.

A discussion during the first WiiDooKoDaaDiiWag gathering at the Navigation Center.

"When we say 'healing' what comes to mind? What is happening? Where is it happening? Who's there?

Navigation Center residents engage in group discussion and gathering of ideas of ways to address unsheltered homelessness.

"When we say 'good' or desirable' housing, what comes to mind? What does it look like? Who's there?"

"When we say 'good health' what comes to mind? What is happening? Who's there?

"What connections or supports would be helpful to you to be in a good place, on a good path, that you feel good about?"

Post and photos by Camille

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