Division of Indian Work bringing success to the urban Indigenous community


Division of Indian Work (DIW), an organization in south Minneapolis that has been helping strengthen and support the Twin Cities Native communities, celebrates its 70th anniversary.

There have been many successes for the organization, which shows that their programs are having an impact. It will host its annual fundraising Monday at the Metropolitan Ballroom, Golden Valley.

“We need to be asset-based in our communities. Louise Matson, executive director of the organization, stated that often what we see in the media is highlighting the negatives. “But there are many excellent things that are happening in Indian country all around the city, by and for Indians.”

Services offered by the organization include food shelf services as well as anger management classes, doula programs, nutrition guidance, and more. Matson stated that it serves between 2,000 and 3,000 people per year, but this number was difficult to determine during the pandemic.

Wilder Research showed that SMART Nations significantly improved the attendance of Native students. A second program, The Men’s Anger Management, led to fewer men reoffending from previous prisons. Matson stated that only one of the 24 graduates of SMART Nations had reoffended in a six-month follow-up of their graduates.

Matson stated, “We work with young pregnant mothers; we work with youth, and we’re helping people to establish healthy habits.” “We support parents by giving them the skills to stay out the system, stay sober, pursue their dreams, and (gain) the skills to decide their future.”

Ardie Medina (the organization’s development officer) said that the Women of Traditional Birthing program was very successful. It aims to encourage at-risk mothers not to drink or use drugs during pregnancy.

Jasmine Funmaker, eight weeks pregnant, met Shashana Carpenter, a doula who coordinates the Strong Families program at Division of Indian Work.

“Being so far from my family and friends made it difficult for me to start recovery. Funmaker stated that she felt isolated and needed support from others.

She saw the poster and called the number. Craft became her friend and she guided her through the birth of her daughter and into motherhood.

Funmaker stated that Shashika was there to support her during my first pregnancy and throughout my breastfeeding journey.

She said that her first hospital birth was difficult. The doctors made assumptions about her and took medical interventions she didn’t feel were necessary.

According to Serene Eidem, a doula and advocate, Native women are more likely to be treated badly in a medical setting.

Eidem stated, “I don’t think I know of one sister or relative who hasn’t experienced some level trauma during childbirth that required unnecessary medical interventions or was extremely dehumanizing.” “I don’t know one person.”

Eidem stated that having a doula like the one the Division of Indian Work trains people to be can make a huge difference in the outcome of your health.

“It means they have someone to advocate for them. That’s my number one role. Eidem stated that it is about reducing the number of deaths and reducing trauma cases.

Funmaker wanted to offer support to other mothers who are going through the same thing.

“After having a traumatic birth in the hospital, I felt like I needed to help other Native mothers going through this.” Funmaker said that she felt called to help other young mothers who are suffering from unnecessary medical procedures.

Matson reports that the Division of Indian Work didula program helped 20 mothers have healthy babies in 2021.

To help parents of children with FASD, the organization has also created a curriculum for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Success under Pressure

Despite all the success, there is still much more that the community needs. Matson would like to see more funding for Native communities.

We are only a small part of the community and yet have the largest disparities. We don’t see the same funding in our community. She said that we are often defunded and underfunded.

She believes that more funding for successful programs would improve health outcomes.

“We should have more resources, especially if we have successful programs that are working well. Matson stated that just because funding is ended, it doesn’t mean it’s over, but it’s like taking two steps back and one forward.”

The organization is keen to increase its focus on homelessness.

“Problems of addiction, especially opioids, can be devastating for all communities. But it has really affected our community.” Matson stated that chronic homelessness is often a contributing factor. “We have a great opportunity in Minneapolis. All up and down Lake Street, there is vacant land that could be ideal, such as tiny homes supportive communities. I would love to see that the city works on that.”

Matson says that Minneapolis’ Native communities are often overlooked and forgotten, not just because they don’t see their success, but also because of the financial costs.

Matson stated, “That could happen to us because it’s such a small portion of the population; always often we’re an invisible part of Minneapolis even though we have a vibrant and thriving American Indian Community here.”

Live auction and entertainment will be featured at Monday’s event. Reg Chapman, WCCO’s emcee will host the event. There will also be performances from The Sampson Brothers as well as drumming by Nation Wright and Spirit Boy.

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