All posts by American Indian OIC

A New Era Is Now Here – Part I

By: Joe Hobot, ED.D.
President and CEO, American Indian OIC

2017 is now upon us, and it is so much more than just the beginning of another calendar year . ..

In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that we have collectively entered into the next phase of a suddenly accelerating period of civic evolution. Whether welcomed or not, a major transition within our society is currently underway. In the wake of these changes lies the detritus of an aged, failing system that had become calcified by the tenets of colonialism, false precepts predicated on the fallacy of economic scarcity, and thoroughly polluted by the toxicity of abject racism. Previously marginalized communities have awoken, and now are stepping forward in a quest for personal and communal sovereignty. They now demand their rightful inheritance as American citizens, while remaining openly disdainful of all who would insist upon an adherence to an antiquated way of life that was not inclusive of them. Civic unrest and a willingness to further deconstruct the established order has become the order of the day.

In direct response, the political winds at both state and federal levels continue to shift dramatically, changing direction with each new election cycle, as they have done so yet again very recently. All the while, it appears that a deep uncertainty has begun to permeate the hearts and minds of large numbers of our public officials. Many of our office holders give the impression that, for all intents and purposes, they are paralyzed beyond the act of simplistic public posturing, merely capable of only reacting to forces that they perceive as being beyond their control. It is as though these folks have been stunned by recent events much like a duck smacked on its head, having abdicated their role as “leader” and instead choosing to wait in idle observation for the return of their capacities, as well as to see what exactly this new era will bring forward for them to contend with. Unfortunately the urgency of our people and their needs cannot afford the luxury of such “wait and see” mentalities. Now more than ever is the time for action, for leadership …

To date, the American Indian OIC has not experienced any such stultifying effects. Our organization remains in motion, hard at work, and steadfastly committed to our mission. Not only has the American Indian OIC managed to sustain our focus in the face of the political winds swirling about us, but we have managed to accelerate and strengthen our efforts along the way.

With the ever-growing need to attain relevant skills, sustainable employment, and living wages, the American Indian OIC once again finds itself operating within a unique space during a critical juncture during our society’s evolution. Our organization continues to equip the American Indian community, as well as members from other communities of color, with essential educational and training opportunities that has empowered our clients to liberate themselves from the shackles of poverty and to live as truly independent people. Our community demands no less of us, for so many of our people still live in a perpetual state of crisis to this day. We have no choice but to heed their call and to act, as each new day brings new clients through our front doors desperate to build better lives. This process as championed by the American Indian OIC has laid the foundation for the establishment of an authentic Indigenous Middle Class.

As such, the American Indian OIC will continue to push forward with our efforts to better educate our community – choosing innovative, culturally-contextualized educational methods over the traditional ideology of “one-size fits all” that is so pervasive in today’s classrooms, and that has failed our people. Beginning in 2017, the American Indian OIC will redouble our efforts towards serving our people, assisting more and more to earn high school diplomas, GEDs, and Post-Secondary Career Certificates.

In this new era, the AIOIC will continue to provide the sorely needed stabilization services of immediate employment placement, career counseling, and income development through our robust employment services programming. We will help even more who have been involved in the criminal justice system to reintegrate and become thriving community members capable of making positive contributions to our society. Additionally, we will continue empowering our people to develop through all stages of life by providing ongoing opportunities for those who have occupations to further develop their skill sets, allowing them to advance even farther up their chosen career ladder. On the whole, we will continue to better educate, train, and place our community members as we onboard them in ever increasing numbers into the Minnesota workforce of the 21st Century – beyond what an antiquated, calcified, state-wide structure has thus far failed to achieve.

In this light, and during the onset of this new era, the American Indian OIC will spearhead a coordinated and intensive campaign – engaging all of our key stakeholders and partners – to lift our American Indian community to heights previously unseen for generations. We will move greater numbers off of the seemingly perpetual dependency on government entitlement programs, and instead accelerate their transition into good jobs predicated on sound educational and employable skill development. We will lift more people up off of the “social safety net” and get them standing under their own economic power. Not only will this serve to heal our people, but it will also truly broaden our state’s tax base and fuel its economic engines. Our work will join with the energy generated by the movements occurring in the streets as our organization will continue to provide the solid underpinnings upon which our people can find firm footing and stability as they continue their historic march towards true liberation.

In this new era, the American Indian OIC will lead the way towards building up the Indigenous Middle Class here in the 21st Century. Now is the time to advance our work to new levels . . .

Coming Soon:

What Does an Indigenous Middle Class Look Like? (A New Era Is Now Here – Part II)

Josh’s Success Story

Josh completed the Takoda Institute of Higher Education’s accredited Health Information and Patient Services Specialist occupational training program. Grants and scholarships fully covered his tuition, books, and fees. He was also provided with free job search support as he worked to enter his field of study. Here Josh shares an update on his life since graduation.

Before enrolling at Takoda Institute, I was jumping between food service and retail jobs, rarely earning above minimum wage. I was frustrated at the fact that I could never get ahead and felt stuck. I had heard of Takoda years before and even got to the point of attending the informational session but it took the strong encouragement of a friend to go back and check it out. Attending the classes at Takoda was challenging but what I found was a huge support system from faculty, Takoda employees and my fellow cohorts.

I now work at the Native American Community Clinic as a Front Desk Registration Coordinator as well as a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist, earning my certification at the Mayo Clinic. In May, I will be going to the University of Minnesota to learn Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language).

Since graduating from Takoda Institute, I’ve more than doubled my income with my new job. The experience I gained from Takoda Institute bridged the gap from a volunteer position to a paid position.

I love working with the Community and being at a place where I have so much opportunity for advancement. I never would have gotten where I am today without the encouragement and support I received at Takoda Institute. If there’s anything I can say to current or future Takoda students, it would be to just push through the work and don’t give up! Getting that certificate was so much more than a piece of paper; it was an opportunity to cross the barrier from a job to a fulfilling career.

If you are a past student or participant of an American Indian OIC program and would like to share your success story, please email or call 612.341.3358, x128. 

Takoda Prep Student Amongst 6 Honored with “Beat the Odds” Scholarship

Picture of scholarship recipients courtesy of the Star Tribune
Picture of scholarship recipients courtesy of the Star Tribune

Text Taken from the Star Tribune article “6 Twin Cities students honored with “Beat the Odds” Scholarship” by James Walsh.

It’s telling, really, when young people who have struggled through poverty and hardship for most of their lives look to turn their lives over to helping others. For Shamaria Jordan and Christopher Oquist, two of six Beat the Odds scholarship winners honored Saturday by the Children’s Defense Fund, growing up without stability, safety or even heat in the winter has inspired them to not only excel, but to assist.

“I want to be a social worker, and I just want to help kids in poverty and help them get out of that,” Jordan, 18, said Saturday. “Just because of the way that I grew up, I just want to help kids who are having the same troubles and feel like they don’t have a way out.”

She plans to attend Coppin State University in Baltimore, Md., after graduating from Minneapolis Edison.

Oquist, who survived his parents’ drug-dealing and years in foster care, is aiming for law school after Augsburg College so he can advocate for other young people who have been removed from their families.

“I just try to do what is best,” the soon-to-be Minneapolis Roosevelt graduate said Saturday. “I make no claims on being the standard for how to overcome barriers, but maybe people can learn from the things I do.”

That’s the hope of the folks at the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, which for more than 20 years has recognized extraordinary young people who have overcome adversity to achieve academic excellence and aspire to attend college.

Oquist and Jordan will be joined by Domenic Johnson of Minneapolis North Community High School, Hennessey Carlbom of Takoda Prep in Minneapolis, Sebastien Lannelongue of Minneapolis Southwest High School and Mela Nguyen of Great River School in St. Paul in receiving $5,000 scholarships.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman were scheduled to be on hand during Saturday night’s ceremonies at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis, as were Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark.

Jordan, who has been a regular honor-roll presence, captain of the track team and a volunteer, acknowledged that her life could have taken a very different turn. She grew up in the shadow of family members’ addiction. Her family often lived in homes with no heat and no water. She wants to make her mother proud and give hope to her younger siblings and other struggling children, she said.

“At the time when it’s happening, you try not to think about stuff and how it’s affecting you,” she said. “But when I look back on it, I just feel amazed, like, ‘Wow, I really went through all that.’ ”

Oquist, too, thought about becoming a social worker after a childhood that saw his parents taken away by police who crashed through the back door of their home. Child protection workers took Oquist and his two brothers, leading to years in foster care and, eventually, adoption.

His adoptive father, who is Anishinaabe, taught Oquist about his American Indian culture and community through Sun Dance and powwow ceremonies.

“My only option to succeed is through education,” Oquist said. “I cannot and will not be like others before me who gave up on their dreams.”

Those dreams now have turned him toward a career as a family law attorney after spending the past two summers working at local law firms. “I want to help young people build relationships with someone who knows what they are going through,” he said.

AIOIC’s Takoda Institute plays a key role in bolstering minority IT workers

Excerpts from the Star Tribune Article of the same name by Neal St. Anthony.

Jaquan Sloan worked in retail, home health care and building security for nearly a decade after high school.

Usually part-time and without benefits. Never more than $12 an hour.

Sloan, 28, who grew up in Harlem, the son of a security guard and transit worker, moved to the Twin Cities in 2011.

An aunt who employed him in her home health care agency closed the business and Sloan took a part-time security job in 2013. He was at a Minnesota state employment office on E. Lake Street when he saw a flier for a nine-month training program for computer support careers at the Takoda Institute of the American Indian OIC (AIOIC), the longtime south Minneapolis nonprofit training school.

“I liked computers,” recalled Sloan, the expert with electronics and software growing up in his family’s apartment.

 Sloan enrolled, worked up to 40 hours weekly as a security guard to make rent and tuition, and graduated in late 2014.  Sloan landed a job soon after at Dell Compellent in Eden Prairie. He’s already been promoted to an analyst job, working with data-storage customers.

The job pays $27 an hour, plus “great benefits,” Sloan said. “[AIOIC] was the greatest life decision I’ve ever made. The students ranged from people with four-year degrees to some who didn’t know anything but to turn on the computer.”

Sloan, who now can afford an apartment without roommates, works three 12-hour shifts weekly at Dell, and plans to earn a degree in business.

“I have a savings account and a plan for my future,” Sloan said.

Opportunity gap

Sloan is one success story in the effort to close a troubling opportunity gap between people of color and whites. He’s also an emerging face of tomorrow’s Minnesota tech workforce captured in subtle trends emerging in state jobs data.

For example, minorities accounted for about 9 percent of the 143,000 workers in the “professional, technical and scientific” job category according to 2015 statistics from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Their ranks are growing fast.

Minority employment grew 20 percent to 13,084 jobs from 2014 to 2015. White employment grew 11.9 percent to 129,948. Black employment year-over-year grew by 51 percent to 3,624 jobs last year. Asian employment grew 5.9 percent to 7,206 jobs. People who claimed two or more races grew employment by 31 percent to 1,515 jobs.

In another category, computer systems design jobs in Minnesota, where jobs pay up to $100,000, black employment grew 26 percent to 1,147 jobs between 2013 and 2015. Hispanic employment grew 23 percent to 1,050. Total employment in the sector grew only 9 percent to 34,264 jobs.

The Minnesota economy is growing, the unemployment rate is below 4 percent, considered full employment, and the emerging workforce, which includes proportionately more minorities, is filling job openings, including those of thousands of retiring baby boomers each year.

“Employers are struggling to find qualified applicants,” said Mitzi Hobot, who runs Takoda Group at AIOIC and who works with employers on internships, training and job placement. “Most minority candidates don’t have the technical or professional work experience of four-year college graduation rates of Caucasian counterparts. We try to equalize that.”

Nonprofit

AIOIC, funded through government grants and training contracts, tuition and private donations, is a $4.3 million-revenue school with about 550 students. The curriculum ranges from adult basic education for those who need a high school diploma to computer-related training. Nearly 200 students are trained annually at Takoda Institute, which offers several certification programs.

AIOIC’s typical student is a 43-year-old black or American Indian with a household income of $13,000. About 75 percent of graduates last year were placed in jobs with average salaries of about $34,000. The technology jobs secured by Takoda Institute pay more.

The Takoda Group was started several years ago within AIOIC to train IT students, attract employer attention and investment, and operate a fee-earning placement agency for students from area community colleges. Takoda also operates a small IT services business and creative agency that serves clients and also provides students with critical experience.

“Employers two or three years ago thought they had enough candidates from four-year colleges,” Hobot recalled. “They can use us now. Some of them move up some of their existing workers and backfill with our trainees.”

Takoda has a growing client list of 100 employers, large and small, including St. Jude Medical, Impact Group, Medtronic, U.S. Bank, the Animal Humane Society, Indian Health Board, IT Nation, Target, Toshiba and local governments.

ABE Program Featured on MPR

Excerpts and images from Minnesota Public Radio.
Brandt Williams, Reporting
Caroline Yang, Photographs

High school dropouts try to get back in the game

For many, GED certificates are the ticket into the workforce or higher education that they didn’t punch in high school. …Minnesota ranks near the bottom of states when it comes to the on-time graduation rates for students of color.

Most high school dropouts in the state are white, reflecting the makeup of the state’s student population, but the trends among students of color are especially troubling when compared to their peers throughout the nation. By one measure, they didn’t get much help. MPR News found Minnesota ranks dead last in the portion of education money that schools spend on counselors and other support staff who can intervene in the lives of failing students.

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Young people likely to drop out often show signs of trouble before reaching high school, said researcher Robert Balfanz, a leading scholar on graduation rates at Johns Hopkins University.

They might miss school or get in trouble in class or fail a course, he said. “Initially maybe it’s one course, and soon it’s a couple courses.”

Balfanz said school staff should measure what he calls the ABCs: attendance, behavior and course failure. Schools can improve graduation rates by focusing on freshmen whose middle school records raise red flags in these areas, he said.

And while students of color, who are more likely to be poor, have a weaker record of graduating on time than white students, Balfanz said focusing only on race and poverty is not the answer.

The bottom line, he said, is that all students need to earn enough credits to graduate.

“And to earn credits, you have to pass your classes,” Balfanz said. “And to pass your classes you have to be there. And you have to get your work done. And by focusing on those mechanisms we’re focusing on the mechanisms that most directly impact whether you graduate or not.”

…In 2009, researchers at Northeastern University in Boston dropped this statistical bombshell: 16- to 24-year-old male dropouts were getting locked up at a rate 63 times higher than the rate for young men with college degrees. The study also found that, on any given day, nearly a quarter of all young black male high school dropouts in that same age group are in jails, prisons or juvenile detention facilities. That is more than three times the rate for Asian, Hispanic and white dropouts.

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That’s expensive. A 2013 report from the Council on Black Minnesotans found that state taxpayers spend more than $48,000 per prison inmate per year, just less than a year of tuition at Carleton College, the highest tuition in the state.

Alyssa’s Story

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Alyssa Graves’ path to the GED program at the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center in Minneapolis started at Roosevelt High School and wound through several years of heroin use, school-hopping and homelessness.

The classes at Roosevelt felt too big to Graves. The school had counselors available, but Graves said she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to concentrate on school. She soon fell behind. “It was just too much with the big classrooms,” she said. “Once you missed one class, you fall behind. That’s pretty much where it was. When you miss a day, you have to keep going. That’s where my struggle was.”

During her sophomore year, Graves left Roosevelt and started attending the American Indian OIC’s alternative high school, Takoda Prep. She liked it and was doing well there because the classes were small and she got more individual attention. But Graves’ family moved to another part of the city and she was forced to change schools — twice.

“I wish I would have stayed at OIC,” she said. “I probably would have finished.”

Graves dropped out of that last high school. Her heroin habit turned into a full-fledged addiction. Soon, she was also homeless.

She stopped using drugs three years ago, when she found out she was pregnant. After her son, Aden, was born, Graves decided it was time to go back to school and get her diploma. At 23, she’s taking classes and studying for the GED tests.

Graves’ parents never finished high school. Her mom got pregnant with her at 15. Graves’ father was 18. He dropped out of school in order to find work and support the family; Graves is the oldest of four kids.

“Just like I’d seen my dad struggle with us, I don’t want to have to go through that,” said Graves. “I want to finish school, get a good job, so I can support my son. So he can have a good life.”

After she gets her GED certificate, Graves wants to get a degree and work as a drug counselor. She wants to help young people who are experiencing the same problems she went through as a teenager.

“I want to be able to be a drug counselor because I know how it is. I know how it feels. I know it’s hard,” she said. “The first few times it’s about getting high, but you get to the point where you need it to be normal. That’s what it got to me for. And I’m just thankful I found out I was pregnant. He changed my life.”

Read and listen to the complete MPR story here.

An Open Letter to Decision Makers

Leaders of the State of Minnesota:

The purpose of this message is to call your immediate attention to the ongoing needs of the American Indian community in Minnesota, as well as to the powerful capabilities that we currently possess. It appears to us that our people have once again been forgotten, or relegated to a second-class status by officials in the state.

We, the undersigned, are deeply troubled at the continued lack of attention given to our people by you, the leadership of this state. In recent months there has been much discussion regarding economic and educational disparities that persist for many communities of color. However, consistent with historical precedent, there remains an exclusion of our people in these discussions, despite the impact that these same disparities have on our community. Such omissions have emerged in several critical ways that, if not addressed, will only serve to exacerbate these existing disparities.


First, regarding the various enterprises and plans being put forth by state officials, legislators, and state departments, there has been absolutely zero consultation with the leadership of the American Indian community regarding the creation and development of these initiatives.The only form of engagement, if any, always comes after the fact – once the plan has been created and publicly disseminated. It is only then that our community is finally allowed to participate in the process within generic open forums typically referred to as public comment sessions.

Second, our community has no appetite – at all – for outside, non-American Indian enterprises to intrude into our community with the intent of providing services to help us. We do not need, nor do we seek, outsiders to “save” us -whether they are government, not-for-profit groups, or private sector companies. The American Indian community currently possesses a multitude of qualified and effective·service providers that are American Indian populated and American Indian operated – all of whom are more than capable of providing the needed services and possess a proven track record of success dating back over several decades. Successful services must be provided to our own, for our own, by our own.

Third, our community has no desire to be forced to participate within services or plans that are devoid of our culture, our traditional teachings, and our customs. We insist on the utilization of culturally contextualized programming for our people -which is the most effective, best practice models by which our organizations adhere -whereby our culture is omnipresent. By definition, these culturally contextualized services cannot be provided by non-American Indian entities, which further emphasizes the previous point mentioned above.

Finally, we are frustrated with the abhorrent lack of consistent, long-term, and robust investment of resources directly into our community from the state government – especially in light of several years of immense budget surpluses, and especially given the consistent acknowledgment the state government makes regarding persistent disparities that exist within our community.

This letter is on behalf of the indigenous leadership and the various agencies and corporations whom they represent that work directly with the American Indian community in Minnesota. Owing to the continued pattern of overt exclusion of the American Indian people within state affairs, we are now compelled to advocate in this manner on behalf of our own.

We are still here.

Here now are our recommendations that we believe need immediate implementation:

First, directly engage with our leadership regarding near-term issues currently exacerbating the economic and educational disparities harming the American Indian community.

We have deep concerns that we feel compelled to discuss with you, including but not exclusive to: issues regarding the implementation of federal WIOA legislation, funding inequities regarding Adult Basic Education for American Indian learners, inequitable access to proper health care for our people, prohibitive and exclusionary practices by established post­ secondary institutions such as the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MNSCU) towards our young adults, the deficiency in culturally contextualized chemical dependency treatment services, the ability for our people to procure assets to build their own economic futures (such as home ownership and small business development), and of course, respect and acknowledgment of the treaty rights which remain as supreme law of the land under Article VI of the United States Constitution.

Second; going forward, engage directly with our leadership at the point of inception for all planning and new initiatives regarding how ongoing economic and educational disparities afflicting this state are to be remedied. We insist on being a part of all such initiatives at the start of theprocess so that we may co-create a solution together with you. This is the essence of collaborative practice. Together, our insights will serve to meaningfully inform this work.

We know from experience as to what works best for our own people, and such input will only serve to strengthen future solutions for the state of Minnesota.

Third, we call on you to deepen the relationships and expand existing partnerships with established American Indian organizations in a more meaningful way (many of these organizations are signatories to this letter). Our organizations are reputable and well-respected entities within our community. We have a proven track record of positive outcomes and effective practice. Our people know us, trust us, and seek us out for the provision of services for we are direct reflections of our community -being led, governed, and staffed by our own people.

Fourth, begin making immediate, real, and more robust financial investments directly into the American Indian community. We are both tasked with undoing centuries of systemic failures brought forth by the very same government institutions to which many of you now belong. This work will require a consistent and long-term application of resources.

Such measures have thus far proven inadequate towards meaningfully addressing the economic and educational disparities now present in Minnesota, and have in reality further perpetuated the systemic oppression of these communities.

Finally, immediately include -in overt fashion that is easily recognizable – the American Indian people in all respects to your work regarding economic and educational disparities. Do this in your speeches, in your policies, and during your public appearances and interviews.

Acknowledge the history of the land that this state sits on. Our people need tangible evidence that they are not being ignored once again, or that they continue to remain invisible to the powers-that-be.

In addition, during these times of real economic crises for so many people, there is a tendency for more vocal constituencies to drown out other voices. This then makes your overt incorporation of our people within your actions even more important than ever. We need to believe that you know we exist and that you too share our interests. In this respect we need to see words and actions working in tandem to accomplish this objective.

We look forward not only to your response to this letter, but in your taking action so that we can begin a real collaborative process that is beneficial for all.

Our stated goals are the same, our motivations are fueled by the very same sentiments, so let us now come together and work towards making our actions match the will of our heads and passions of our hearts.

Chi Miigwetch and Pilamaya!

Respectfully,

Joe Hobot, President & CEO, American Indian OIC
Michael Goze, President & CEO, American Indian Community Development Center
Clyde Bellecourt, Executive Director, AIM Interpretive Center
Monica Flores, Executive Director, Bii Gii Wiin Community Development Loan Fund
Deb Foster, Executive Director, Ain Dah Yung Center
Louise Matson, Executive Director, Division of Indian Work
Mary LaGarde, Executive Director, Minneapolis American Indian Center
Patina Park, Executive Director, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center
Tuleah Palmer, Executive Director, Northwest Indian Community Development Center
Robert Lilligren, President & CEO, Little Earth of United Tribes

A non-profit organization with a mission to empower American Indians to pursue career opportunities by providing individualized education, training and employment services in a culturally rich environment.

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