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Proposed Native American Center could be cultural landmark in Fargo

This digital rendering shows the proposed Native American Center, which supporters hope would serve as a cultural landmark in the state. Special Forum News Service1 / 2
The proposed Native American Center, shown in this digital rendering, would be located between Fourth Street South and Island Park skate park in Fargo. Special Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — Efforts to deepen the knowledge of Native American heritage in the region may come to fruition with the recent proposal of a Native American Center in the area.

What began as a discussion to construct a sweat lodge on a portion of land near a local psychiatric and addiction facility has evolved into a proposition for a cultural landmark.

The vision for the center stemmed from an idea by Tim Mathern, director of public policy at Prairie St. John's hospital, to provide additional treatment for Native Americans through a spiritual approach, an element believed to be missing at the facility.

It took one brainstorming session between Mathern and Guy Fox, Native American commission chairman, to realize this concept could become more than a sweat lodge.

"A large percentage of our population is struggling and needs help, and we wanted to address that," Fox said. "But, there's room in this community for a cultural center to bring people together. It would be open to everybody. It could be a cultural landmark for the state."

The proposed center would act as a cultural and health center, as well as a museum. It could host cultural events and ceremonies, display relics of the Native American people and be home to a medicine garden for natural remedies, Fox said.

Prairie St. John's will donate the land for the proposed center, Mathern said, which would be located between the hospital's location on Fourth Street South in Fargo and Island Park skate park.

"Our community really needs a stronger presence of demonstrating the unique value of our Native American background in this region," Mathern said. "That's important. If you look across the river to the wonderful Hjemkomst center, it is sort of a testament to the heritage of Scandinavian people. There has to be something for the city of Fargo that is every bit as nice and supportive of the culture that caters to the Native American heritage."

Aimed to enrich the community, the proposed center would be the first of its kind in the area. Fox said no similar facility exists within 1,000 miles.

"We're excited for the chance to strengthen the relationships between the Native and non-Native communities," Fox said. "There aren't a lot of highly visible Native American role models in the F-M area, and we think this cultural center could provide positive awareness of our history and culture. We think we have something really special here."

A Native American Center previously existed in Fargo at 109 9th St. S, but isn't up and running due to funds, said Willard Yellow Bird, board member of F-M Crossroads, the organization that would potentially be in charge of the Native American Center.

The proposed center involves a price tag between $3 and $5 million dollars, which the Native American Community would have to raise, Yellow Bird said. It would also take approximately three years to complete.

The project is in its beginning stages, and the Native American Commission is working to secure partners like the Fargo Park Board and the City of Fargo to be involved in the creation of the center, Fox said. The proposal was first presented to area boards and commissions Feb. 27, but no official agreements have been made yet, he added.

Fox said fundraising efforts for the center will begin and the proposal will be presented to prospective partners, he said.