The Minneapolis American Indian Center is closing early this month for the first major renovation in its 47-year history.
Water dripping from the roof has become a constant stream over the past year. While a leaky roof demands prompt attention, the building’s call for renovation dates back to 2013.
That year, Mary LeGarde was hired as the center’s acting director, a role she now holds permanently.
LeGarde says listening sessions with design, planning and community experts helped staff and the community recognize that the center was underutilized.
“At that time, we didn’t have a cafe open. The art gallery had not had an exhibition for about seven years. The gym was not in use. We had no community or staff outside of our regular youth programs,” LeGarde said.
These sessions helped the centre’s management, staff and board begin to plan for the future of the organization.
“It all came down to the building itself and better access to the building for the community,” LeGarde said.
A historic urban center
When it opened in 1975, the Minneapolis American Indian Center was one of the nation’s first urban Native American community centers.
The non-profit organization served a diverse urban Indigenous community made up of people across the country. Job seekers found help in the form of a pair of work boots for a new job. Grieving families used the gymnasium for funeral wakes. LeGarde estimates that the center serves about 5,000 people a year. The number doubles when counting powwow-goers, sporting events and those who gathered for marches and rallies.
Rodney Ross lives next to the center in Anishinabe Wakiagan. He remembers the center during the first years of its operation. Ross says he was a child when his family moved to Little Earth of United Tribes, half a mile away.
“Boxing matches and powwows were my favorites.” said Ross, who identifies as African American and Native American.
He is looking forward to using the new building: “I hope the center will build something that will serve as a map of opportunities for families.
Architect Sam Olbekson is leading the center’s redesign. Chairman of the board of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, Olbekson is a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. He grew up in the neighborhood and was involved with the center’s programming in his youth.
“I got to see firsthand the important role the Minneapolis American Indian Center plays for the Native community,” said the architect. “From providing support services for my family to offering classes and cultural activities for me as a young person, I have seen the Indian Center serve as the heart of our community and the main venue for the events of community building for as long as I can remember.”
Olbekson said the center’s design was once at the cutting edge of Native American community center facilities. He said the building needs to change in order to continue serving the community.
“We deserve a state-of-the-art facility at the forefront of today’s opportunity that reflects our resilience, pride and strength.”
Renderings of the new building feature a new circular entrance along Franklin Avenue intended to serve as a ceremonial gathering space. The new plans also move the cafe from the center of the interior to the front of the building along Franklin Avenue.
The new building also includes expanded public meeting spaces, a renovated fitness center, an expanded art gallery, and floor plans emphasizing the importance of youth and elders in the center’s programs.
“Culturally informed architecture and design is key to creating a sense of identity and pride for Native American buildings,” says Olbekson, “This will be a facility that feels like home to the Native American community and their physical expression. will reflect the diverse tribal members of the community we serve.
Director Mary LeGarde says she is completing a five-year, $30 million fundraising campaign for the center’s renovation. Funding for the renovation comes from state, county, and city governments, as well as local philanthropies.
The first phase of the center’s renovation is expected to be completed by summer 2025. The center will move much of its programming next to the Many River East building over the next two years.
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