American Indian Center
Purpose of Grant
For issue education, leadership development and capacity building to strengthen movement building efforts of low income Native American families in alignment with the Equal Voice framework.
The American Indian Center of Chicago addresses the needs of a disenfranchised Native American and low-income population of the Uptown and Ravenswood communities, focusing on four vital areas: Education, Social Services, Technology and Cultural Activities.
The Center was organized in 1953 by the Chicago Indian community, with an important assist from the American Friends Service Committee, in response to a flood of the first people of this country from reservations throughout North America. The Indian Relocation Act of the ’50s, operated in concert with a policy of selective termination of tribal status, was a concerted attempt to break up the reservation system. Implementation of the Relocation Program sent thousands of Natives to the city, where they quickly began to find life difficult and challenging in an unfamiliar environment. Chicago was the only one of the five original relocation cities without a large in-state reservation. As a result, Native people from tribes throughout the country, arrived in Chicago. In addition to the Oneida, Ojibwa, Menominee, Sac and Fox, and Potawatomi of the north woods, Lakota, Navajo, Blackfoot, Papago, and many others were represented. The result was (and is) a multi-tribal community (including members of more than 50 tribes) searching for a common social and cultural ground.
From the beginning, the Center has been a brave experiment in community self-determination. Managed by a Board of Directors comprised of Native Americans elected from the Chicago Indian community, the Center has steadfastly refused to distinguish between the service population and the agency managers. Policy is set and administered by the people who receive AIC services.
Throughout its history, AIC has been the principal cultural resource for Indian Chicago. The big building at 1630 W. Wilson (its location since 1966) has been a gathering place for hundreds of natives on a regular basis. The Center has hosted powwows, potlucks, bingo, birthdays, special celebrations, wakes and commemorative dinners, and countless special events. When Chicago’s Indians need to get together, this is where they come. In a similar vein, AIC has been the point of origin for a number of experimental and successful educational programs. Elementary school, high school, Head Start, tutorial, and summer day camp programs take root and flourish here; many of them have become successful independent operations out of the Center’s building.
As the longest-running urban Indian organization in the country, the Center has served as a model for the many urban centers and other social service and educational organizations that have arisen throughout the country. Changing over the years in response to the evolving needs of the Chicago Indian community, AIC has introduced many of the academic, health, and social service programs that have become viable, independent agencies in their own right. Mother to a network of 18 organizations, the Center has provided a beginning space for almost every one of these programs.