Founded by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) on June 12, 1967, Spokane’s American Indian Community Center was formed in response to the social and economic turbulence experienced by Indigenous peoples. As more Natives left the reservations in search of employment, the community center— originally located on 1007 N Columbus St—helped new arrivals find stability in a city where urban Indians were a distinct minority.
“We [needed] to show that not all Indians [were] riding around on horseback with feathers in their hair,” said Bert L. Peters, director of the Center in 1969; to do this, they worked to involve “the Spokane community in several projects…to help the Indian reach his rightful place in society.”
Hoping to foster pan-Indian relations, the center aided multiple native nations throughout the eastern Washington region and beyond—including, among others, the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. While they were considered a small population, estimated at 2,400 in 1967, Spokane’s urban Indian community experienced rapid-growth during the 1960s.
“Many people…wonder why the Indians leave the reservations for the cities,” said Peters, “they are forced to because conditions on the reservations are far worse than they are in the city.” But with these swelling numbers came the realization that many Native Americans from reservations had little preparation prior to relocation.
In response to the growing needs of urban Natives, the center sponsored events and programs including job fairs to help adults find employment opportunities in Spokane. They also advocated for self-determination by promoting vocational schooling and cultural events.
This dedication to supporting Indigenous peoples continues to this day; the community center—now found at 801 E 2nd Ave—still plays a vital role as a socializing-hub for urban Indians in the Spokane area. “There’s a lot of Natives here that are smart—that are educated; they know their people [and] they know what it takes to serve [their] people,” said Lux Devereaux, Executive Director of the center. “We’re in this whole thing together—don’t leave us out. We’re not invisible.”