Little Earth of United Tribes is regarded as the “heart and soul of the American Indian community” in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Founded in 1973, Little Earth is the only federally subsidized housing complex in the United States for American Indians. The complex, located in south Minneapolis, comprises 212 townhomes and apartments, a community center and early learning center. It is home to nearly 1,000 residents representing more than 30 different tribes and tribal nations.
Seventy percent of the residents at Little Earth are under the age of 30. Approximately, 94 percent of its residents live below the poverty line and experience high rates of unemployment.
Robert Lilligren, president and CEO of Little Earth, does not believe these statistics are an accurate representation of the community’s potential. He says, “Little Earth residents are smart, energetic and enterprising, but lack the skills and tools to engage in the economy more fully.
Over the past year, Little Earth has restructured its governance system and improved management practices with the goal of engaging and empowering its residents. To this end, Little Earth established several new programs that emphasize financial literacy, self-sufficiency and access to homeownership.
In 2014, First Nations, with generous support from The Kresge Foundation, awarded Little Earth $40,000 to assist with efforts to grow and improve these new programs. With this grant, Little Earth launched the Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program.
The Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program is a three-year program that assists residents with personal and business financial planning. Recently, 20 residents completed the first year of the program, which focused upon basic financial skills, job search skills and professional development.
The second and third years of the program will introduce residents to the key steps and tools required to start a small business. Little Earth leaders will work with residents to establish Little Earth’s Food Truck and Catering and Little Earth’s Online Market. Little Earth’s Food Truck and Catering is expected to launch in 2015 and Little Earth’s Online Market is tentatively scheduled for early 2016.
The Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program is intended to increase employment rates and decrease poverty rates in the community. Lilligren says, “We expect program participants to gain the experience, motivation and wherewithal to achieve their employment and entrepreneurial goals, and to inspire others in the community.”
Additionally, completion of this program will allow residents to take advantage of Little Earth’s other programs such as the new homeownership initiative. The Little Earth Homeownership Initiative provides support services to help Little Earth residents purchase their first home. To qualify for this program, residents must have a reliable and steady source of income.
The Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program functions as a pipeline that will helps ensure that potential applicants are prepared to meet this criteria and achieve their long-term goals. Through these innovative programs, Little Earth is able to promote self-determination and community advancement. Little Earth reiterates that American Indians have the knowledge, power and resilience to strengthen their own tribes and tribal communities.
By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator