Robin Smith’s children are dreaming about bedrooms.
Last night, they slept in the living room of their house on the White Earth Indian Reservation. After this summer – when Episcopalians from around Minnesota join to build Robin a new home – her children will finally have a chance to sleep in bedrooms of their own.
“We walk through stores and they are excited about the idea of decorating their own space,” she said this week. “They are excited to think about their own things for their own rooms. Right now, we’re sharing things because of our limited space.
“They’re super-excited,” she continued. “And so am I.”
As for Robin, her dreams are a bit more practical – she wants a home that won’t cost $500 a month to heat in the winter. She wants a house with a backyard where her children can play. She wants a front yard that doesn’t have holes that trip her children and ruin the blades of her lawn mower.
Episcopalians from around Minnesota will travel this summer to Pine Point, part of the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwest Minnesota, to participate in the house building as part of Mission Project 2012.
The build will begin the weekend of June 8-10, kicked off during Convocation, an annual gathering of Department of Indian Work (DIW) churches from around Minnesota. The build is slated to continue through August 26.
Those who have signed up – filling much of June and July’s schedules at this point – come from churches as far north as Duluth and as far south as Rochester. They include a number of youth groups, as well.
“It’s just a really cool idea,” said Tomas Guevara-Carlson, 15, a member of St. Mark’s Cathedral. “I have family members and know other people who live in the White Earth reservation. It seemed like a really cool thing to be a part of.”
Guevara-Carlson heard about it from his youth leader, Stacey Olson, who said she was excited to provide this opportunity for the students.
“The kids really like to help and to serve,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard during the week with homework and confirmation for them to put some time and effort into doing some things. But there’s no school during that time and they are really excited to get in there and roll their sleeves up and help build this house for Robin.”
White Earth Reservation is located in Becker, Clearwater, and Mahnomen counties. It was created in 1867 by a treaty between the United States and the Mississippi Band of Chippewa Indians (also known as Anishinaabe or Ojibwe). It is an area of “especially severe continuous unemployment,” according to the Indian Affairs Council of the state of Minnesota.
“This house build will make everyone more aware that the Episcopal Church is actually doing something with a little more substance,” said Robert Two Bulls, missioner for Indian Work and Multicultural Ministry. “We’re really putting something into action, something that is Gospel-based.”
The need for housing is great on Indian reservations, which struggle with substandard housing, some of it managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Two Bulls said. This is the first time the Episcopal Church in Minnesota has undertaken a housing project on any Indian reservation, he said.
“It all goes back to basics, to giving people the pride of home ownership,” he said. “Given what we’re dealing with across the country with foreclosures, it’s an interesting comparison, what we’re doing here with the build.”
Smith is a community health representative, a certified nursing assistant who helps with a variety of health needs in her community. She will move into the house with her four children and her partner.
Robin’s father, Ed Smith, will be coordinating the building project this summer. He’s thrilled at the location chosen, about a mile from Breck Memorial Mission Church, where he married his wife in 1976. The church can seat about 60 people, and about a dozen people actively worship there, Ed Smith said.
“Our liturgy is Native American-oriented and it’s a comfortable place for me to go to church,” he said. It’s a blending of Episcopal liturgy and Ojibwe language. Hymns are sung in Ojibwe and the Lord’s Prayer and Doxology are said in the native language as well.
Having a house built at Pine Point this summer will send a strong message to the White Earth community, he said.
“It’s going to be great to have all these Episcopalians come up,” he said. “It will stir interest in the community (for the church).”
As for Robin, she said she can hardly wait until June when the building will begin.
And there’s only one dream she’s discouraging at this point.
“My daughter also wants a horse,” she said, laughing. “But I told her we’d work on the house first before we’d figure out what in the world we’d do about a horse.”
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota needs to raise $125,000 to pay for these builds. Make a donation to Mission Project 2012.
Article written by Jamie Mair, Christ Church, Woodbury.