'My passion is empowering people'

Christina Woods is still getting to know the building. "There's so much going on here all the time," she said. "I'm learning about some things offered here I didn't even know about." As the new executive director of the American Indian Community ...

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New AICHO executive director Christina Woods by a mural in the Gimaajii building. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)

Christina Woods is still getting to know the building.

"There's so much going on here all the time," she said. "I'm learning about some things offered here I didn't even know about."

As the new executive director of the American Indian Community Housing Organization, she just moved into her office at the Gimaajii building on First Street. The organization houses five programs that serve a culturally specific set of people. Woods has many new responsibilities to take on.

"AICHO is a very complex organization and has a lot of programs with quite a few staff. It's all about making sure the funding is in place, the personnel is working well and reports are being done," said Michelle LeBeau, the interim executive director who served before Woods.

"I'm excited to be here. My passion is empowering people, making this job the perfect fit," Woods said.


For those unfamiliar with AICHO, it is a multi-service nonprofit which serves the American Indian community by provide permanent and transitional housing, a domestic violence shelter, commercial office space, meeting rooms and a daycare center.

"American Indians are often underrepresented in agencies that provide help mainly because of the context of the importance of culture is missing within our public agencies. So our specific organization responds to social issues impacting Indians by centering indigenous values in all aspects of our work," Woods said.

Woods is originally from Virginia, Minn. and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. She attended many schools before graduating from Virginia High School in 1988. After high school she attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

"I'd always wanted to go to college. I didn't know what that was going to look like," Woods said. "I knew that if I was going to help my family and help my community, having a college degree was the most effective route. That was my motivation."

Later Woods went back to receive her Masters of Education in Leadership. She was a teacher in the Stillwater school district for several years before moving to Duluth seven years ago.

"I did a lot of training with teachers there, teaching them how to to incorporate diversity into their classrooms. I do quite a bit of instruction around the construct of race and the systems of white privilege," Woods said.

She is also an instructor in American Indian Studies at the College of St. Scholastica.

Woods has two daughters, Mallory Towle, a pre-med sophomore at Dartmouth College and Camryn Towle, a junior at Marshall.


Since moving to Duluth, Woods has become very involved in the community. She serves on the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault board and served on the YWCA board. Woods was the interim executive director of the YWCA for six months in 2014.

"It's all about serving my community. Not only my American Indian community, but also the community of Duluth," Woods said.

Woods may be familiar to avid viewers of the PBS program "Native Report." She has been a field producer for the program since 2009.

"I'm the education consultant for 'Native Report.' Sometimes I go out and interview people. You can catch me there. I think they asked me because I articulate well and don't appear nervous on camera," Woods said.

When she isn't working or volunteering, Woods can be found spending time with her daughters and friends, reading, training for a marathon and relaxing at her cabin on Lake Vermilion.

Michelle LeBeau is happy to be training Woods in her new position.

"The director of AICHO needs to have a diverse set of experiences to be able to manage fundraising, make sure the public is aware of the organization, strive to make sure the organization lives up to its mission," LeBeau said. "I think Christina brings those skills to the job and more. I'm excited to see where AICHO goes in the future."

What is AICHO?


The American Indian Community Housing Organization is broken into five parts which are named for their translations in Ojibwe:

Dabinoo 'lgan: Means "a place where you are safe, comforted and sheltered" in Ojibwe. This is a 10-bed domestic violence emergency shelter.

Oshki Odaadiziwini Wakaa'Igan: Means "a place where we dream of new beginnings." This is a five-unit transitional housing center for homeless single mothers and their children.

Giiwe Mobile Team: "He or She comes home" provides affordable housing and case management for 29 households who have experienced long-term homelessness.

Gimaajii Mino Bimaadizimin: 29-unit permanent supportive housing in the Gimaajii building that targets households that have experienced long term homelessness, poverty and violence.

Gimaajii Gathering Place: An Urban Indian Center for community meetings, cultural events, art openings, feats and community services.

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