New Project Launched to Collect Stories of Urban Native Experiences in Grand Rapids

The American Indian population of Grand Rapids is less than one percent, but they still have their stories

The American Indian population of Grand Rapids is less than one percent, but they still have their stories


GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Grand Rapids American Indian community have been invited to participate in open forum tonight to share their thoughts about a project entitled “Gi-gikinomaage-min: Defend Our History, Unlock Your Spirit” at the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Northern Health Center in downtown Grand Rapids from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

GVSU project“Gi-gikinomaage-min: Defend Our History, Unlock Your Spirit” is a project in its planning stage that ultimately will seek to interview American Indians to collect their experiences about living in Grand Rapids during the federal relocation period.

While much emphasis has been placed on the federal relocation program that brought American Indians to urban settings such as Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Grand Rapids was city many American Indians migrated to from tribal lands in Michigan and other states during the mid-1900s.

The project committee wants to hear the stories of those who arrived in Grand Rapids expecting a new way of life.

Born out of conversations started between the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Native American Advisory Board and the Grand Valley State University Kutsche Office of Local History in the Spring of 2014, the goal of the project is to create the first archival collection focusing on urban American Indian experiences in West Michigan.

“It is a group effort leading this project and our intent is to serve the urban Native population and to create something that they can own and have pride in. We have hard working Native individuals all working towards this same goal,” said Belinda Bardwell, a tribal citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, who is serving as project coordinator for project.

Another member of GVSU Native American Advisory Board, Steve Naganashe Perry (Ottawa) and GVSU lecturer commented:

“As a university lecturer of contemporary Native American issues, I find it important to see projects that record history by those who lived it, not those who chose to create it.”

Perry’s statement was echoed by Levi Rickert (Potawatomi), GVSU Native American Advisory Board member and consultant to the project.

“I am a strong believer that it is time for American Indians to tell our own stories,” stated Levi Rickert (Potawatomi), publisher/editor of Native News Online, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Whether our stories are happy or sad, this project will provide a rare opportunity for our Native community to tell our stories of what it was like to live in the urban setting and still maintain our identities as American Indians.”

In addition to tonight’s community forum, the project committee will host a forum on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus in the Mary Idema  Pew Library next week Wednesday, November 19, 2014 to introduce the students, faculty and staff to the project and offer ways that the GVSU community can get involved in the initiative.

This project has received funding from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

WHAT: American Indian Community Forum

WHEN: Thursday, November 13, 2014
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

WHERE: Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Northern Health Center
311 State Street, SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503

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  1. Jo Ann Huffman 5 years ago
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