Ohkay Owingeh gets $200,000 grant from fellow tribe to revitalize homes

December 27, 2018

A Minnesota tribe described as the richest in the U.S. has awarded Northern New Mexico’s Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo a $200,000 grant toward its ongoing project to revitalize homes in the pueblo’s historic 700-year-old core.

Leslie Colley, the pueblo housing authority’s development officer, said she approached the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community after Ohkay Owingeh sought a “more diverse and sustainable” source of funding for a project that has been underway for a dozen years.

The first phases were mostly funded with federal dollars.

Ohkay Owingeh, known from 1598 until 2005 as San Juan Pueblo, is home to about 3,500 people.

The $200,000 the pueblo was awarded in an application process was part of $5 million that the Shakopees awarded last week to 11 tribes and

13 nonprofits around the country, Colley said. The housing authority still needs about $3.5 million to complete its project, which Colley said is expected to be finished with corporate, foundation and individual donations over a three- to five-year period.

“They are a wealthy tribe and very philanthropic,” Colley said in a telephone interview of the Shakopees.

The Shakopees at one time were a financially modest tribe, according to a New York Times article. Then the community, with 480 members, hit it big with casino gambling at two luxury resorts. Its Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, 45 minutes southwest of Minneapolis, is on a man-made lake and includes five restaurants, a 600-room hotel, a golf course, convention center, 2,100-seat showroom and an outdoor amphitheater, according to the newspaper.

Joe Garcia, head councilman of the Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Council, said the Shakopees “have a wealth of economic development,” adding news of the grant came as a surprise.

“It was a shock; it was a lot of prayers and hoping,” he said.

Garcia, 65, is the former president of the National Congress of American Indians and knows the Shakopee leadership from those interactions.

“Hopefully, that helped,” he said.

“Sharing is fundamental to our Dakota culture, and we make donations to a variety of tribes and organizations that improve the lives of others across the country,” the Shakopee tribe said in a statement.

“Indian Country is facing a chronic housing shortage, and we are grateful to be able to support projects — like the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority’s restoration project — that provide homes for people to thrive in their community.”

Families at the pueblo are moving back to its traditional core as part of the preservation project. More than 40 families are living there now, compared to 12 in 2005.

Twenty more homes will be restored in the project’s final phase. Prior federal programs had drawn people away from the cultural core called Owe’neh Bupingeh, she said.

“It’s the heart of the pueblo and the heart of the tribe,” Colley said of the historic center.

Colley said she was hired over a year ago to raise funds from nonfederal government sources to finish the job.

“The federal funding is more scarce [now] and very competitive” to acquire, Colley said. Also, the pueblo wanted a more diverse and sustainable source of money to finish the work and “wanted to reduce some of the dependence on the federal government.”

Several studies have found it is difficult for Native American projects to raise money through private funds.

Other grants last week by the Shakopee to New Mexico entities include $120,000 to the A:Shiwi College and Career Readiness center for a new modular building at Zuni Pueblo and $100,000 to the American Indian Graduate Center of New Mexico to start an endowment for graduate students, according to Native News Online.

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