A local Native American organization that’s already preparing the ground for an indigenous foods market has announced it now will also hire a full-time advocate for “food sovereignty.”

The American Indian Community Housing Organization announced on Monday that it had been awarded a $78,122 grant from the Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute.

LeAnn Littlewolf, the agency’s economic development director, said in an interview the food sovereignty coordinator would be responsible for building a network of indigenous food producers. That will include leading two gatherings, or “convenings,” of people with involvement in the subject.

“We want to bring people together to have a chance to talk through what are some of the issues that they’re encountering,” Littlewolf said. “What are some improvements that could be made? How could the network be strengthened?”

Excitement clearly was present in September, she said, when an Indigenous Foods Expo took place in AICHO’s Gimaajii Building on Second Street and at the former 4th Street Market. The latter is in the process of being transformed into what will be the Niiwin Indigenous Foods Market. A capital campaign to support that transformation will be launched soon, Littlewolf said. Asked if she remains hopeful the market will open sometime in 2020, she said, “I always am hopeful.”

What’s more certain to open this year, she said, is the long-anticipated AICHO-owned coffee shop at 23rd Avenue West and Superior Street in Lincoln Park. AICHO purchased the property in 2015 and in 2017 announced plans for an art gallery and coffee shop there.

Michelle LeBeau, AICHO’s executive director, has been working with the architect on the design and the permitting process, Littlewolf said.

Founded in 1980, First Nations Development Institute seeks to improve economic conditions for Native Americans, according to its website. It has provided more than 1,600 grants at a total value of $35 million.

Littlewolf said the grant AICHO received also will support continued marketing for indigenous foods, such as on social media and on billboards.