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Tenn. Native American Indian Assoc. to Build Cultural Center

Photo courtesy of Erin, Anfinson

MURFREESBORO, Tenn.  (Anfinson) -- The Native American Indian Association of Tennessee is making plans to break ground on a new cultural center here in the mid-state.

This past week, the NAIA hosted its annual Pow-Wow and Fall Festival. It's a colorful celebration of Native American culture and the organization's largest fundraiser.

Pulsating drums and song resonate throughout the day. Inter-Tribal dancers decorated in feathers and beadwork move like crimson and gold-flecked birds against the blue sky. It's quite an atmosphere.

Last week's gathering was Richard Morin’s first Pow-Wow. He and his wife have visited various Indian museums in the Southwest and Northwest, but he says they wanted to see some real activity.

"It’s beautiful. It’s a part of America that most people have no idea exists, and they should because it’s part of our American heritage."

Members of NAIA couldn't agree more. That's why they've spent the past 10 years raising over $400 thousand to build The Circle of Life Indian Cultural Center.  Their goal is to reach $1.1 million. So far they've raised enough cash to purchase the land on Bell Road in Antioch. Plans are to break ground within a couple months and begin construction sometime next year.

NAIA Board Member, Charles Hill, sees the Center as a great way to connect with the community and bring people together.

"Once this Center is built we are sure that your major universities, your schools, your public schools, the diversity, they can come and congregate and learn from Native Americans. They can bring their culture, their history from the time Europeans first came to Tennessee, and we can see what took place with, for instance, the Trail of Tears."

Since the Trail of Tears and the removal of most Indians from Tennessee in the 1800s, there hasn’t been a place for Native Americans to gather. This gives The Circle of Life Indian Cultural Center a special significance. Hill says it is all in the name.

"The Native American Indian Center is called The Circle of Life. All Native American tribes basically had a circle of which their storytelling, their oral traditions, their arts, their culture, their hunting, any kind of wars that they had were all told around the campfire. Hence, a circle."

Because there are no Indian Reservations in Tennessee, neither the State nor the Federal Government recognize tribes or offer services to Native Americans based on ethnicity. The NAIA works to fill this gap by providing emergency relief, job training and education scholarships.

This is important work. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disproportionately high rates of suicide among American Indian populations may stem from being disconnected socially and interpersonally.

More Native American young people commit suicide than any other ethnic group. The CDC suggests that making connections by reuniting American Indians with history and tradition can reduce the risk of suicide.

Native American award-winning flutist and singer, Cody Blackbird, was on hand at the Pow-Wow to breathe life into the conversation and help make the Circle of Life Center a reality.

"I do over a 150 shows a year, not only performing my music but also working with Native American youth on subjects like suicide prevention, drug and alcohol awareness. I also founded a scholarship to help Native American youth achieve the goal of higher education."

The NAIA is accepting tax deductible gifts from those who wish to be a part of building the Circle of Life Indian Cultural Center. Visit wmot.org to link up with NAIA.