Lorraine Davis moved to Bismarck from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe in South Dakota to attend college more than 12 years ago.
Although she had relatives to live with during her move, she faced a number of challenges during the transition.
Those experiences have led her to start the Bismarck-Mandan Native American Development Center.
“When I first moved here 12 years ago to attend United Tribes, I had looked for a phone number for some Native American entity that helped you navigate around town and there wasn’t one,” Davis said. “So, I had to go individually through each service. This center will benefit people in those situations, trying to find a better life and are coming off the reservation that are not even from North Dakota and are not familiar with Bismarck and are trying to find services to help themselves.”
She has a team of community leaders, including her husband, Scott Davis, director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, and other leaders at the United Tribes Technical College.
The center is a state recognized entity that will be working on its 501c3 tax exempt status, Lorraine Davis said. She will meet with a small committee to discuss funding and legal routes so they can begin fundraising. She is currently funding the project out of pocket.
Lorraine Davis plans to host a number of focus groups to garner ideas and to mobilize the Native American community in support of the center. The first will take place at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Bismarck Public Library, Room B.
“I want to make sure that I’m capturing everything and addressing the needs we’re seeing,” she said. “To make sure my vision is in line with theirs.”
The center hopes to help connect Native Americans relocating to the community to find services, including behavior health services and mentorship programs.
“The center will be a place for them to come to when they already know they want to go after a better life, whatever that entails for them,” she said. “An actual place that is going to provide a supportive system.”
Lorraine Davis was formerly the Family Housing Director for the United Tribes Technical College and saw he repeat of her own experiences in those she assisted.
“I could see the issues they’re having and I experienced all the same,” she said. “I got a direct view of our peoples’ and families’ issues.”
Under the behavioral services umbrella, Davis’ hope is to provide mental health services, and substance and addiction support.
“All of these traumas happen as a child and we carry them as adults and that’s why we have issues,” she said. “We stay in a victim mindset because we don’t understand why this is happening to us. That’s why I believe the behavioral health will help navigate through that and help discover ways to process and change that and control our lives.”
She hopes the mentorship piece of the program will help reinforce the positive changes the adults come to the center to seek.
“The mentorship piece is crucial to maintain a continuous walk and a positive light,” she said. “It will help their pathway forward and will provide learning opportunities that foster growth, self sufficiency.”
Overall, she believes that the services the center offers will help nurture a desire to be a part of the Bismarck-Mandan community as well.
“The philosophy in this whole thing is that we believe this will be the first step that will nurture the desire to be a part of community and economic development,” she said. “I believe that we have to first heal ourselves, first develop our own growth within us, before we can think outside of ourselves.”
She also will have outreach to target the rural tribal populations because a lot of them are underserved, she said.