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Native Americans Lose Cultural ‘Home’ to Bankruptcy

July 5, 1989

BOSTON (AP) _ When the Internal Revenue Service closed a center for the region’s 5,000 American Indians, many of them cried. They were losing not only a range of social services; they were losing their cultural home.

″This was the only place they could come where people spoke their language, knew their ceremonies and dances,″ said Reva Crawford, a director at the Boston Indian Council.

Council officials have in recent weeks been working toward dissolving their non-profit group and planned to file Thursday for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.

″It’s a major disappointment for the Indian community. They tried to keep too many things going during a time of federal funding cutbacks,″ Greg Buesing, an attorney whose firm has represented the group, said Wednesday.

About two weeks ago the IRS locked the council’s halfway house, its only secured asset, because back taxes were overdue.

″They got impatient,″ said Crawford. ″And as a result all the tribes in this area have lost. Not just in Boston, but all over New England.″

Crawford said city life leaves Native Americans feeling cut off, estranged from their culture. She said the group’s urban center and programs had over the past two decades been a life preserver for Indians from 38 tribes.

The council provided practical services such as emergency food, job training, drug rehabilitation, family counseling and healthcare. But the more ethereal services, the ceremonies and shared language, were at the organization’s heart.

″The day the IRS came over to close the building down, it was filled with people who were crying and very distraught,″ Crawford said, ″because even more than the social services, this is the only place people had to get together.″

Buesing said the Indian council slipped into the financial dead end slowly and then suddenly.

The group had about $2.5 million in federal and state funding in the early 1980s, but through the Reagan administration years it saw grants dwindle. By 1989, the group’s total budget had fallen to $1.5 million.

″They didn’t have any private working capital or a source of private funds to make ends meet and things got out of control,″ Buesing said. ″They spent money that wasn’t there and didn’t cut programs fast enough.″

The council’s financial woes have not in any way been linked with fraud, Buesing said, but a court-appointed trustee will ″evaluate what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.″

He said the group’s directors hoped to reorganize and reinstitute their programs, with new managerial systems and a more active board of overseers.

Crawford said she was optimistic the center would soon be alive again with old tribal rites and children’s laughter. But for now the doors are closed.

″If you don’t have a place to practice your culture, then you have no culture,″ she said.

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