In the last half of the 20th century, a little known program that still impacts American Indian lives today was administered by the federal government. Called “The Urban Relocation Program” this program created one of the largest movements of Indians in American history. Yet the full scope of this massive social experiment and its impact on multiple generations of Native Americans remains largely undocumented and unexplored.
Called “Gi-gikino’amaage-min (We are all teachers): Defend Our History, Unlock Your Spirit,” this project aims to document the urban Native experience in West Michigan. The project represents a partnership among several Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) units, including the Kutsche Office of Local History, Native American Advisory Board, Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Special Collections and Archives. Additional project partners include the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) and the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM). This program is funded in part by Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The project launched in November 2014 with a community history harvest at the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Northern Health Center, 311 State Street S.E. in downtown Grand Rapids. After a six month planning process that included conversations with numerous tribes, Native American community members, and cultural heritage organizations, the project team began collecting its first oral histories in February 2015. A working draft of the project team's goals highlights our strategic objectives. We will continue to collect oral histories throughout the life of this project. And we are currently partnering with the GRPL and GRPM to digitally preserve more than three generations of Native American voices.
Recent events include the first in a series of traveling exhibitions that explore key chapters in the urban Native American experience in Grand Rapids. Called Walking Beyond Our Ancestors' Footsteps, the exhibit invites visitors to step into the gaze of a few of the Native Americans who have lived, worked and studied in the greater Grand Rapids area over the mid-20th and 21st centuries and features contemporary artwork by local Native American artists. The show contains historic documents and objects made by local Native Americans during the past several decades.
To learn more about the project, suggest topics and direction, or to get involved, please contact:
Belinda Bardwell, Project Coordinator
Phone: (616) 331-8099