Concerns surrounding the American Indian Community Housing Organization

I am a community member of the Duluth area and I wanted to voice a couple of things that have been concerning me as well as some things that have been brought to my attention surrounding the American Indian Community Housing Organization.

I know that the community was really excited when AICHO’s Gimaajii Building at 202 W. Second St. opened this past spring.  I had very high hopes as to what this venue could do for the people, especially the urban Native Americans within Duluth. 

As time has passed and the excitement and buzz about what this “could” be has since faded, I have heard from several current and former tenants of the Gimaajii Building that they have felt there is a lack of spiritual understanding from many of the staff members including the current executive director.  They have felt that anything “cultural” that has taken place there has been more for show than for the people it serves.

This is very concerning to me since AICHO is supposed to be a wonderfully unique housing organization because of its supposed understanding and enfaces on cultural needs of the Native population it primarily serves. I have noted the lack of AICHO’s presence in the recent months at Native American community events and the Eagle staff that sits in Gimaajii’s lobby has never been represented at any of these events as well. This shows a clear lack of understanding and effort on the leaders of this organization.  

From what I know, those employees of AICHO (along with a new executive director) who tenants felt were supportive to them in both their cultural and day-to-day needs have since left and I hope that the board of directors of the American Indian Community Housing Organization has taken a serious look into what was the reason these men and women left because to me that could be very telling.

Twenty-two people have either left or have been fired in the past nine months under the current leadership?!?

I write this solely because I was proud to see such a building in our community. I only want to see it succeed as a place where the Native community and Duluth as a whole can grow; where the Native American culture can thrive in a positive light. Although with what I have seen and what I have been told, I fear the way it is currently being run it will only shed negative light on and misrepresent the Native culture and will not be thought of as a place where people feel they are safe, supported, and can live in a culturally accepting and understanding community.

Who holds these leaders and board members accountable?

As community members it is our duty to investigate things like this. When people in need are crying for help and support we cannot turn our heads and look the other way. Otherwise corruption will continue to take place in organizations that were built with the intention of helping our community, not suppressing it.

23 Comments

moosetracks

about 7 years ago

As another community member, this is news to me, and it sounds concerning.  I wonder what you are trying to accomplish?  Are you looking for specific information about how the non-profit's operations? Or more for a city group to investigate and look into it more.  The Duluth American Indian Commission might be a good venue for that.

maria

about 7 years ago

This is a specious post made by a disgruntled former employee. AICHO is doing really great work and Gimaajii is a really amazing place and cultural hub. Keep up the good work, AICHO!

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

I agree with Maria.  "Concerned citizen" should make his or her identity, and connections to the organization known.  This seems like a hit piece.

FTR, I am a relative of somebody currently in the Org. and my real identity is easily searchable online with my handle here.

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

Just leaving this here.

"Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation a negative or inferior image. This can be also any disparaging statement made by one person about another, which is communicated or published, whether true or false, depending on legal state. In common law it is usually a requirement that this claim be false and that the publication is communicated to someone other than the person defamed (the claimant).[1]"

Sam

about 7 years ago

I have only heard good things about AICHO.

BadCat!

about 7 years ago

How is this different than the 50 Below post? The author is obviously concerned about the situations behind the scenes, and doesn't feel comfortable naming themselves. Instead of dismissing them, maybe a representative should be addressing them?

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

Badcat;

It is different in that the 50below poster admits to being a disgruntled employee, while this poster does not.  Intellectual honesty (or honesty of any sort) goes a long way toward goodwill.

BadCat!

about 7 years ago

So only disgruntled employees have the right to address their concerns about an organization?

(For the record, I know nothing about AICHO or the concerns about them, I'm just addressing the poster's right to discussion.)

Jadiaz

about 7 years ago

And since all we have is an online handle, Maria and Lojasmo you know this is a disgruntled former employee how? Lojasmo is your relative an employee or living there? That can go a long way to clearing up the filter through which you get your information. 

If the OP is correct in the grievances listed and the people leaving and/or let go is true or even partly true, shouldn't we as a community be asking questions?

Like Badcat I don't really know anything about the place. For me I don't like 2 people making claims that, at least for me, can't be verified with the information in the screen name alone, and two people saying it has to be a disgruntled employee.

Melissa

about 7 years ago

I think it's very interesting that people are so quick and willing to dismiss the multitude of deep issues raised here and those raised by tenants at the Indian Commission meeting this week and to write them off as simply the rants of a disgruntled employee. A total of 22 workers resigned (including a Native women hired as the new E.D.) and others were fired. Disgruntled ... really!!!??? Surely you jest!

Oppression is not a new issue for people of color and the oppressor doesn't always come in the form of a privileged power hungry white male. It's incredibly disturbing that there's little to no question when 22 workers of color, in under a year, exit from any organization, let alone one that was established by and for people of color! 

Thank you to the courageous residents of Gimaajii for bringing issues before the Indian Commission. Thank you to the author of the original post here for raising these concerns. 

There are 22 workers almost all Native, easily 99% people of color gone from AICHO! On principle that alone should be keeping you up at night people! 22 workers ... what, they are all incompetent? What, they're all operating under a conspiracy to ruin someone (what individual thinks that they are that important for these tenants and workers to jeopardize their future over?! Maybe it's integrity and principle and consciousness and seeing something they love be damaged. Well maybe these workers moved on because there's so much meaningful work for people of color in Duluth ... really! 

These tenants and workers are primarily women and women with children, the very population that AICHO was established to support. They want AICHO to thrive and continue to provide safe affordable housing and culturally relevant services. They are brave individuals who felt strongly enough and were brave enough to bring these issues forward knowing there was a great possibility that their concerns will be met with negativity; knowing they run the chance of being retaliated against; knowing some will labeled them as disgruntled; and even be characterized as deceitful or unworthy or in collusion. 

I suggest rather than slinging accusations and name calling people look into these matters! I for one have always stood with the tenants and workers and will continue to do so because I'm not in the dark anymore on this issue!

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

No, anybody can bitch about anything.  I simply think that misrepresenting oneself while slagging a useful community organization is a shitty thing to do.

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

The indian commission is an appropriate body to work on whatever issues are relative to this situation.

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

Not sure "we as a community asking questions" is particularly helpful.

The indian commission is certainly an appropriate body to ask questions in this situation.

Certainly the statement "as community members it is our duty to investigate situations such as this" implies vigilante policing of nonprofit organizations.

There are several state and tribal bodies who's actual JOBS are to investigate such situations.  

I think leaving it to professionals is probably a better option.

Or anonymous internet innuendo and criticism.

Yeah, that's probably best.

Jadiaz

about 7 years ago

Lojasmo, quit changing your tune. First you're bitching about defamation and this being a hit piece.  You also say the person shouldn't bitch because if they are a disgruntled employee, former or current, they didn't tell us.
Now when individuals call you on it, the community shouldn't get involved by asking questions or knowing what's going on, leave it to the Indian Commission. 

The OP said we should investigate, not anyone else. If I am going to ask questions, which I will be today, I will ask them to the Indian Commission. However, is it not our job as a community to ask others about things like this when they are brought up? To spread the word to get dialog going, so the truth can be uncovered? If no one asks questions of the IC, by ignoring these accusations,  then how will the IC know what is going on?

You blast the OP, Lojasmo, then try to hide behind the thin shell of look away let the professionals handle it. If no one informs them, how will they know there may be a problem?

Your stance to ignore this along with your statement about a relative there tells me this story is more on the up and up and you want it swept under the rug. 

The PDD community has nearly always been about raising questions about good and bad things in our community and getting the word out to make Duluth better. Now you, Lojasmo, want the community silenced. Sad.

Claire

about 7 years ago

22 employees resigning or being fired is a matter of community concern, but this isn't the place to be playing detective. I suggest "Concerned Community Member" contact the DNT, or perhaps, the DNTers who troll the right wing blogs looking for story ideas could instead turn their attention here and look into CCM's allegations. This, to me, is more relevant to us all than that hatchet job on Jim Fetzer and his crazy theories about SandyHook.

memengwaa7189

about 7 years ago

I believe this is not specious, this is exact, and was, I am sure, difficult to share. The writer took great pains to share what has been hidden for too long. The current leadership is imminently unqualified and has undermined the entire mission of AICHO, certainly not intentionally, but nevertheless ... ask any of the 22 who have left. And, for the record, I am not one of them, but I have watched the current leader in action before, and the actions are similar. Boards and commissions are sometimes out of touch, and I say this as a Board member of another housing institution in town. Perhaps it is time for an outside consultant, and time to bring transparency to a 501c3's operations, through the consultant's report/findings.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

If 22 people have left or been fired in nine months, that is certainly startling and something I would like to know more about. Moreover, the immediate characterization of CCM as a "disgruntled employee" makes me wonder (1) if they really are a disgruntled employee and (2) what they're disgruntled about. I am all for people airing concerns about employers on PDD.

Apart from that, however, the concerns expressed in the post and some of the comments are rather vague. Saying that AICHO staff don't attend Native American events doesn't suggest anything nefarious to me, nor does having "a lack of spiritual understanding." There may be strong disagreements among various factions close to these issues, but nothing that has been posted thus far seems serious enough to merit an investigation. What, exactly, would be the investigation's focus?

I have no inside knowledge of any of these issues. I am responding based solely on what I have read on this thread.

curious

about 7 years ago

The Native American community and those who provide financial support to AICHO would be well served to fully investigate the background of its current "interim" executive director and the board of directors.  I am not a member of the Native community, nor do I have any affiliation whatsoever with AICHO. Google, research public records, and 990s of other nonprofits and draw your own conclusions.

B-man

about 7 years ago

@Curious-I skimmed through the 26 pages of the 990.  What is it that is so alarming to you? Is it the amount spent on salaries?  These numbers seem to be reasonable.  What did I miss?

edgeways

about 7 years ago

Piss or get off the pot. Seriously, people have better things things to do than researching your concerns without some evidence of ... something. Spell it out.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Update: Zenith City Weekly published a story on this topic in its June 25 edition.

Visions clash for Gimaajii housing program

joeschmoe

about 6 years ago

I wish I had seen this post back when it first came out. I'm not sure if many of these issues had been addressed as I know last August a community forum was held by AICHO and I assume at least some of the concerned persons or "disgruntled" former employees were able to address these issues with the folks who need to hear it.

To add some context to these concerns, I worked for AICHO before the current people were in charge, with the exception of some (most?) of the board members. I prefer to remain anonymous because my current organization makes referrals to AICHO programs and I work with some of Gimaajii's residents. Obviously as an anonymous internet nobody I don't expect that all of you will take my word as gospel, but whether it means something or not I give you my word that I'm not making any of this up.

AICHO used to be more an organization about hiding its inconsistencies, clientele issues, and employee eff-ups. Now it seems they've taken the direct opposite approach by firing anyone who breathes wrong.

When I worked there, Gimaajii was still coming down the pipe. Many funds from the grants meant to run my programming were illegally funneled into the Gimaajii program as that was AICHO's crown jewel. In the 3+ years I worked there we went through at least 5 financial workers due to the unscrupulous way in which money was being shifted around. Any attempts I made at appropriating funds for "cultural" programming such as beading, language classes, and healing ceremonies were low-balled or denied. We were not paid time and a half on holidays per our union contract and were addressing this at the time I resigned.

It was well known in the area that many people were displaced due to AICHO buying the YWCA which was formerly low income housing. Creating homeless to make housing for homeless seemed contrary to the ideals of Gimaajii, but that's up for debate. I knew people who lived there at the time (circa 2007) and they were not provided with resources, simply given an out-date.

There were many problems involving clients and employees that were either not addressed or covered up so as not to get out and sully AICHO's name. It was routine for the cops to be called to the transitional housing units on 1st ave west and it was well known that a person in one of the upstairs units was selling drugs. It was admitted to me by the director that the drug issue was known, but was not to be addressed for fear of the press getting a hold of it. One of my co-workers attempted to buy pills from me, sell me her food stamps, and routinely brought her children and husband into the women's shelter despite this being obviously inappropriate. I addressed this with the higher-ups and nothing was done. In fact, this employee was not finally fired until she called her direct manager the c-word.

As for the stuff you're least likely to believe...
I was told by one of the higher-ups not to submit a mandated report on the rape of a child in one of our units. I did anyway.

One night one of my former co-workers was forced to miscarry at the women's shelter as no one, co-worker or manager, would come to relieve her.This was after my resignation.

This is the kind of workplace that 22 people left. When they tried to file for unemployment due to a hostile work place AICHO fought it until it came to mediation where they decided they "didn't care anymore." For months people I cared about and worked beside scrimped and scraped because they couldn't get funds that weren't coming out of AICHO's pocket anyway.

For the record, I love Gimaajii. The direct-service workers I've met there are amazing advocates for their clients. It fills a community void in Duluth as a place for Natives to get together and enjoy a good powwow, ceremony, or community forum. The housing program has literally saved the lives of some of my clients.

But AICHO has an ugly past that stems back through several directors, managers, board members, and years. People seem to think this most recent set of "higher-ups" is what's causing the problems, I'm here to tell you the problems have been there for a long time. The problem is lack of accountability.

And please, for the love of God, stop chocking it up to someone being "white." I have seen the Native show-runners act just as immorally and ridiculously so it is something wrong with the organization and not the person's skin color. Racism is racism.

Anyway, it feels good to get some of that off of my chest. I assure you it's only some of it.

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