American Indian Community Center seeks new, permanent home near Spokane River in west Spokane
Sun., March 5, 2023
After more than 55 years and nearly a dozen moves, a community center focused on serving the region’s Indigenous people may have found its permanent home near the ancestral fishing grounds of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.
“There’s ample area for us to do things that need outdoor spaces, to do sweats, and to have a mini powwow ground,” said Linda Lauch, executive director of the American Indian Community Center and a descendant of the Spokane Tribe. “Within our walls, we’ll have a gymnasium that can be used as a multipurpose area, to have funerals and have large meetings.”
Earlier this year, the Spokane Park Board signaled their early support to permit the American Indian Community Center to build a new facility in High Bridge Park, near where Latah Creek flows into the Spokane River. The nonprofit is seeking public and private donations to make the construction a reality within the next few years, after decades of offering job training, housing assistance and mental health services in leased properties.
Since the original ribbon cutting in the late 1960s in a building owned by the Jesuits on, of all streets, Columbus Avenue, the center has had to “make do” with the spaces it leased, Lauch said. That included the original location on Columbus, and buildings on Washington Street; Second, Third and Fourth avenues; East Sprague and, most recently, a floor and a half of office space leased from the Spokane Tribe at their building on Indiana.
Lauch said the center has been grateful for the space, where they operate a food bank that opened its doors to all in the community, not just tribal members or those who met income requirements, during the COVID-19 pandemic. But with each move came a need to shift programming and services based on the space available.
“We’re busting at the seams with our programs,” she said. “I can’t write a grant because I don’t have any office space to put new people.”
Existing services in the building include the food bank, a behavioral health program that includes a clinician on site for mental health and substance abuse counseling, job training and child welfare assistance. The center has also been running an emergency housing program since 2021, designed to help people stay in their homes, with five staff members paid for with pandemic relief grant money administered by the state Department of Commerce.
Nancy White, a board member of the nonprofit since the 1980s, said efforts to find a permanent home for the center had been going on at least that long. A push for a center in the Peaceful Valley area in the 2000s was derailed by the burst of the housing bubble in 2008.
A center at that particular location would place services for tribal members on the grounds where once members of multiple tribes gathered to fish and trade, White said.
“For some, it’s as simple as having a place for mail to be sent, something that basic,” White said.
She hopes the new building will have room for artist studios and offices that can be used by representatives of all the tribes whose members receive services at the community center. That includes the Spokane Tribe, but also tribes in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. The center says it serves more than 3,200 clients each year.
The center approached the Spokane Parks Department with the assistance of City Councilwoman Karen Stratton. Stratton’s mother, Lois Stratton, was an enrolled member of the Spokane Tribe and the first Indigenous woman to serve in the Washington Legislature.
“This is near and dear to me,” Stratton said. She pushed for the consideration of land near the river, and the plot near the corner of Riverside Avenue and A Street made sense, said Garrett Jones, director of Spokane Parks & Recreation.
“It really met all the criteria of a minimum 2-acre site,” Jones said. “It has public transit access, and it’s at the confluence of the Spokane River and Latah Creek. We’re looking at something that has been missing in High Bridge Park, and it is that positive use.”
Lauch stressed that site plans are in their infancy, but the center imagines a building that would be accessible from the Spokane Transit Authority stop off Riverside Avenue, and a two-story structure south of the intersection with a pavilion, public park and parking for both the center and the existing Spokanimal Dog Park at High Bridge.
Jones said there are also opportunities to join the project with planned work on the Fish Lake Trail, which will connect the existing trailhead to People’s Park by means of an eventual pedestrian bridge over Latah Creek.
“Trailhead amenities, and an accessible play area, would be something that would be great in this area,” Jones said.
The Spokane Park Board resolution, passed unanimously in January, allows park officials and the community center to begin talks about a long-term lease on the land and a potential joint-use agreement that would allow the neighborhood to use the center when it’s not hosting activities for the nonprofit.
Lauch, Stratton and other officials traveled to Olympia earlier this year in an attempt to solicit funds from state lawmakers. The Spokane City Council in December named finding “a permanent and expanded home” for the center one of its top-tier legislative priorities for the 2023 Legislative session.
While discussions were started a decade ago to find a new permanent location, Lauch said, finding financial support for a building – expected to cost as much as $12.5 million to build – has been difficult.
“The lawmakers were genuinely caring and wanting us to have a permanent home,” Lauch said. “However, money’s not that easy to come by.”
The nonprofit has started a capital campaign. Donations can be made at the nonprofit’s website, aiccinc.org.
“When the time’s right, the time’s right,” Lauch said. “We’re hoping that this is the right time.”
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