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Bemidji west is site of Oshki Manidoo Center for healing

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe gave second life to the Gilfillan Center when it purchased the facility and renamed it Oshki Manidoo (New Spirit) Center. The new center was dedicated Dec. 11, 2008. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

The Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota established Episcopal Community Services and the Gilfillan Center far from downtown Bemidji in 1963 on West 15th Street.

The center, named for Rev. J.A. Gilfillan, an Episcopal missionary to the Ojibwe during the 1880s, provided services to families, children and youth living in poverty or suffering from emotional, behavioral or addictive disorders. ECS closed the facility May 18, 2007, because changing youth placement made it financially unfeasible. But the White Earth Band of Ojibwe gave second life to the center dedicated to serving troubled youth as Oshki Manidoo - New Spirit.

On Dec. 11, 2008, the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council dedicated the facility, which opened about a month later. The center is licensed by the Minnesota Dept. of Human Services and the Minnesota Dept. of Health as a group residential treatment facility.

Program services for Oshki Manidoo are designed for American Indian youth ages 10-18, but non-Indian youth who may benefit from the program's services also are welcome. Oshki Manidoo Center provides a holistic, culturally specific approach to promote healing from substance abuse, trauma, mental health, family, and identity issues including disconnection from community. Treatment emphasizes culturally sensitive models of treatment and evidence-based interventions for youth to promote healthy living and reconnection with family and community.

White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said the tribe purchased the 40-acre compound because of its centralized location.

"It will be a home for our children and youth," said Vizenor during the dedication, "It will strengthen our families."

Vizenor also pointed out some startling statistics, including that although Indians make only up 2 percent of the population, 47 percent of those in the juvenile court system are Indians.

"Thus the crucial need for a facility like Oshki Manidoo," Vizenor said.

White Earth bought the facility for $5.6 million with money from the state Legislature and matching funds from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and other sources. The grounds feature 10 buildings, a pool, basketball courts, and a sweat lodge and are licensed for 30 beds. The center employs 33 caregivers.

Youth attend classes at Riverside School on the Oshki Manidoo campus, with instruction provided by the Bemidji School District.

Some of the cultural foundations for the Oshki Manidoo treatment include daily prayers and offering asemaa, the sacred tobacco; reminders to youth about how their appearance and behaviors look to unseen elders, grandfathers and grandmothers; sweat and pipe ceremonies; gathering native medicines and traditional foods in season; and the talking circle. Elders and extended family are also encouraged to participate as much as possible.

Oshki Manidoo Executive Director Jill Hewitt said the co-ed 18-bed Giizhik (White Cedar) lodge opened Jan. 29. On April 16, the boys moved to Wigwaasigamig (Birch Bark) lodge. A third lodge, Mitigomizh (Oak), will open in the fall.

"We're just trying to grow slowly," Hewitt said.

Treatment is based on the four phases of wellness represented by the four parts of the Medicine Wheel, which symbolizes natural cycles and the four directions.

The yellow segment of Waabanong, the East, relates to physical wellness.

Zhaawanong, the South, is the red segment of the circle for social wellness, respecting social boundaries and cultural teachings.

The black segment, Ningaabii'anong, the West, is the next phase for mental wellness.

And the fourth phase is symbolized by the white segment, Giiwedinong, the North, with spiritual wellness.

"First, we have to be sure they're physically safe," said Hewitt.

The youth must demonstrate the ability to move on to the next phases, but she said they incorporate aspects of all the phases throughout the program.

Hewitt said the youth respond to the program because they realize the center is not a punishment, but a place for healing. They also understand that healing must come from within themselves, she said.