Lorraine Shepherd-Davis is the founder and executive director of the Bismarck-Mandan Native American Development Center and is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate Tribe of South Dakota. She has a Master’s of Business of Administration and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Accounting and Financial Management. Previously, Lorraine also has served as a Bush Foundation Native Nations Rebuilder and was a Mandan Public School Board Member. In this article, she highlights the developments and future plans regarding the Bismarck-Mandan Native American Development Center.
Q: We are trying to follow developments regarding the Bismarck-Mandan Native American Development Center. We are very impressed with your work and how you are trying to involve the whole community in this process. Tell us a little bit about the Center and the reason behind it.
The Native American Development Center is going to be a great resource for the Native Americans in the Bismarck-Mandan area. According to the 2010 Census, there are 3,393 Native Americans who live in the Burleigh-Morton County area. In researching that, and knowing from my own personal experience in coming here, there was nothing that was a hub for the Native American community to come to. I am talking about some type of supportive services for the Native American community. If you move here, whether you are from a reservation or not, and are seeking employment, seeking housing, or seeking jobs, you would most likely like a place to go to, to help you get started. Even if you live here, you would most likely want to have a place to go to where you can find out what services are available in the area. What I am learning from talking with the non-profits in the area is that it would also be very beneficial to have a point of contact to reach the Native American population, for various reasons, to get ahold of a tribe or just to get connected to the Native community.
I think that if we have the Native American Development Center, Native Americans will just be naturally drawn to it, to seek services that are already out there in the community, and what we can primarily do, is refer them. Or, vice versa, for the Native Americans that are getting services from the other community agencies, right now, they could refer people to us . . . for things that are culturally connected.
As the state gets more diverse, this kind of a center is becoming an emergent need for the community especially since the Center will not only be for Native Americans. It will be a Native American Center, but it will be open to whoever would seek the same type of services; we are not going to turn anybody away. It will also be beneficial to people who are not Native American and love the culture, and want to learn about the culture. We will provide those opportunities by organizing cultural events and providing educational opportunities.
It’s really a big undertaking, this whole center, and in developing these programs we need the people to buy into this whole process. We want to make sure that we are getting their input, as to what we need. I mean, if I have tons of ideas, I’m sure everyone else has tons of ideas too.
Q: Thank you for sharing some information about the Bismarck-Mandan Native American Development Center and its purpose. Can you tell us more about the process of getting the community involved?
The first thing I did was to incorporate the Center, about two years ago. And I really didn’t start to bring awareness to its existence until late last fall/early winter. I did that through Facebook. In creating the organization, I was working on both, community engagement and organizational development. What I really focused on, was rounding-up people to get their input. I wanted to hear their input and their visions as to what the Center should provide and their thoughts about that. We have organized four focus groups so far, to garner ideas and to mobilize the Native American community in support of the Center. The first focus group was organized to answer the questions: “Why a center in the Bismarck-Mandan area? Why do we want a center? Why do we need a center?” The following focus groups focused on specific topics like transportation; housing; personal development, culture, and spirituality; and higher education. We got a lot of feedback from all the focus groups. So far I have stopped doing community events, engaging the community, and getting their input, because of cost and time commitment. Right now I am in the middle of pursuing three grants, and potentially a fourth. If we get grant money, then we are going to come back, very strong, to the community again.
Q: Are you seeing some hope in getting the community behind this idea? Did you get any feedback from the community?
Yes, I got total excitement and support from the community itself, from mainstream society and our Native American organizations. We are going to collaborate with the United Tribes Technical College. Although, our Center is not going to provide academic education, we are going to provide more of a social learning aspect. That includes mental health, culture, and educational career, everything you need to personally and professionally develop. We can’t personally develop if we don’t know who we are. That always takes knowing your culture and your history, historical background, and spirituality to be all connected, in a roundabout way.
Q: What are your future plans if you can secure funding?
In addition to more community focus groups, we plan to identify people in the Native American community who went from hopelessness and disparity to hopefulness and success. They will inspire other Native Americans who don’t have that belief that they can have a successful career. For example, I am talking about those living on the reservation, not all of them. There are people that want to be there and are doing well. They are culturally related to the homeland and practice their traditions. But there are also people who are struggling in poverty and with addictions and haven’t found their way out of that. It is hard for them to see anything outside of surviving. I just believe that if we create this Center, it is almost like creating a revelation of changing our social future for the Native American population.
The Center will be a place for Native Americans who want to make it, and have a better life. But it will also bring in people who already have a successful career. It will bring in mentors and facilitators, like inspirational speakers, spiritual guides in our communities or reservations, or people who are culturally active and are role models in any way. They will inspire others and will show society that Native Americans and any minorities can fit into mainstream society. That we are just as educated and just as competent and have the abilities to compete with mainstream society or to lead. The bottom line is that we are no different. The Center is providing a safe place to learn about each other and it is also a safe place for us to learn about ourselves.
One of the other things we want to do down the road is to create a membership, and so that they feel some ownership in this Center as we move forward. We can have annual meetings and continually keep them engaged, and make them feel like they are part of something. A lot of times I hear from the mainstream society “Well, where are the Native Americans, where are they?” This will create a place to come to, for anybody, for whatever reasons. For instance, sometimes people may come for the foster care of children, for the Native American children who are seeking Native American foster parents. It is ideal to find parents that are culturally connected, and there are many challenges with the state, the tribes, and social services. There are not enough Native American foster parents, and for example, something that we could provide, is training for Native Americans to become foster parents.
At the same time, we are building a database of residents of the Native community. I am taking names when people show up for any type of event we conduct, or I collect names after a presentation, and to start building this database. I am trying to look at who lives here…who are these 3,393 Native American people who live here?
The other ways that we are reaching out is through the public school systems. We are trying to conduct some forums. One of the questionnaires that we are trying to set up is similar to one that was used on Standing Rock when they incorporated a culture language program into the school. Because the Center is going to be an arm to the schools here in Bismarck and Mandan, we are trying to incorporate Native American culture into the public school system.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts?
We are going to be sending out a press release very soon. We are going to introduce all of our board members and a little bit of their background.
People might also have been wondering where we are at. We had some technical problems with the website and the Facebook page. I would like to let the community know that we still exist; we are just quiet right now. We are waiting on grant money, but as soon as we have a result, we should begin approaching the community again.