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Fond du Lac Band breaks ground on $13 million resource center project

The $13 million expansion and rebuild of the Center for American Indian Resources in Duluth is the largest single-project investment in native health care made by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

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A power shovel operator moves demolition debris at the Fourth Street site where the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa will build a $13 million expansion to the Center for American Indian Resources on Friday morning prior to a groundbreaking ceremony. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

The $13 million expansion and rebuild of the Center for American Indian Resources in Duluth is the largest single-project investment in native health care made by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Serving Native Americans in the Duluth community in the same way they are served on the Fond du Lac Reservation is the goal, band Chairwoman Karen Diver said Friday during a groundbreaking ceremony for the project, expected to be finished by next August.

The existing 25,000 square feet on the 200 block of Fourth Street - opened in 1988 - will be rebuilt, and 30,000 square feet will be added, along with more parking. The number of employees is expected to grow to 100 from 50, and new services will be added, including "culturally responsive" on-site behavioral health and chemical dependency treatment.

The huge growth of opiate addiction within the area's Native American population means more of those types of services are necessary, Phil Norrgard, the band's director of human services, has said. Patients now travel to the band's Cloquet facilities for such outpatient services, which is expensive and time-consuming.

The center's pharmacy and counseling and case management services also will expand.

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The band has come a long way from the "old Indian hospital" run by the federal government on the Fond du Lac Reservation, closed in the 1970s, Diver said. Tribes were then able to tell the federal government they wanted to deliver their own services, and health care was a first pick, she said.

"We saw the scourge that inadequate health care had upon our community; the average age of death in the 1970s was 56," Diver said, making the age of eligibility for elder services 52. "(Elders) are such a precious, precious gift and a tie to who we are as a people. Investing in their wellness and not just treating illness was something that was incredibly important to the band."

Along with the Duluth center, the band has the extensive Min-No-Aya-Win Human Services Center on the reservation - receiving a smaller expansion - and a pharmacy in the Twin Cities. The Duluth center is open to Native Americans and up to two generations of their descendants.

Medical and pharmacy services will remain open at the Fourth Street site through construction. Social services and public health have been moved to the nearby Arrowhead Place building, 205 W. Second St., while work is underway.

From a staff perspective, "the anticipation of this project has been years in the making," said Nathan Sandman, an associate director of the human services center. "It's a great investment in Duluth."

The band's executive director, Chuck Walt, recalled downtown's first Native American center - built decades ago by several groups. His mother, Mary Ann Walt, was a part of that, he said.

"Today, to see this facility coming to fruition here is just really incredible," he said.

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Fond du Lac Band Chairwoman Karen Diver addresses the crowd at Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

Related Topics: HEALTH
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