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Northwest Indian Opportunity Industrialization Center restructures

Robert D. Goggleye, a Minnesota state boiler engineer license instructor, recently taught a class at the Northwest Indian Opportunity Industrialization Center. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – It’s about more than just finding someone a job.

The Northwest Indian Opportunity Industrialization Center aims to provide training and education for those seeking to improve their employability, but it also strives to foster an atmosphere where community members feel comfortable coming together and seeking support in one another.

“We’re shifting from the idea that we’re here to rescue people … to becoming that we’re here to support them in wherever they want to go,” said Tuleah Palmer, executive director.

Palmer became the director of the NWIOIC nearly two years ago as the organization decided to scrutinize its operations. In the last year, Palmer said, “virtually everything” about the NWIOIC was changed as the organization underwent comprehensive restructuring.

With a new guiding principle and mission statement, the organization now is working toward addressing intergenerational trauma and incorporating spiritual healing into its work.

“Everything else flows from there,” Palmer said.

The NWIOIC, with a staff of eight, still focuses on helping its clients reach their goals through education, workforce training and career development.

By working with its members to determine their strengths and interests, the NWIOIC offers one-on-one training and group classes to improve their employability. All trainings are accredited so members receive credit for their participation.

The NWIOIC offers GED tutoring, first aid and CPR courses, and training to become a certified nursing assistant or home health aide worker. Other courses include financial literacy, customer service, and computer basics.

But recognizing that not everyone desires to achieve an upper-middle-class existence, working a 9-to-5 job, Palmer said the NWIOIC has become a sort of community center.

Residents come together at the NWIOIC, 520 Fourth St. NW, to do beadwork, take part in a weekly drum group, or simply relax and visit with one another.

“For them to have this space available to them, for them to feel welcome and safe, is critical,” Palmer said. “These are really fundamental components to having a good life.”

In addition to going through the restructuring process, Palmer also led NWIOIC staff through one of its toughest budgetary years as the organization faced a funding loss of $400,000 this year after losing two grants.

In response, the organization laid off three employees and identified other resources, Palmer noted.

“Things look good and healthy (now),” she said. “We created a more sustainable model for what we do.”

Joe Day, the board chairman of the NWIOIC said Palmer’s addition to the staff brought opportunities to confront some of the long-standing community issues and to face the organization’s root goals.

“What Tuleah challenged us on was recognizing our job was not to get jobs but how to meet the needs of our membership,” he said. “It’s not about getting someone a job, but about helping that person.”