Lesson 3: Small Steps Matter

The North American Indian Center of Boston has had many names and many directives, but it has always kept its central mission of empowering the Native American community to achieve a higher quality of life for themselves and for Indian Country as a whole.

Forty-nine years ago, NAICOB strived for its socially just means under the name of the Boston Indian Council. For many years, it served as the headquarters for indigenous and civil rights activism. Now, it has morphed from social action to social service. Although social services do not have the bravado, the crowds, and the publicity that comes with marching-the-streets action, they still serve as an integral component of social justice. The advantage and most important quality NAICOB’s new strategy possesses is its ability to reach out to the community on an individual level and build it up incrementally, one person at a time.

Photo By: Joseph Norman at MFA Boston

Ironically, serving the individual rather than reaching for broad goals eventually brings the whole together stronger than before. Rather than asking the community to risk their already tenuous resources to support the outcome of a large goal (law amendments, major protests, etc.) NAICOB asks the community what they need during their day-to-day lives. Once those questions are answered, they amass resources to support those in need and eventually become a central component of empowering the indigenous community. For example, a common issue they found was that many native families were unable to afford backpacks and toys for their children for school and the holidays, so they partnered with Toys for Tots. After much success, toy and backpack drives became permanent parts of NAICOB operations.

However, this type of service only goes so far. In order to lift the Native American community out of the need for these immediate use programs, deeper issues must be faced. One such issue is the Native American unemployment crisis, wherein over 8.9% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives are jobless, compared to 4.9% rate for the rest of the country (Hagan, 2018). To combat this issue for the local natives, NAICOB has built a coalition with WIOA (Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act) where individuals can access a wealth of employment resources, training, and cultural support in gaining new employment that will fit their needs.

The social justice that NAICOB strives for goes for impacting lives on a more personal level by bringing people new opportunities and ways to educate themselves.  By employing and educating the community, they can stand together and empower themselves to make larger strides towards indigenous rights goals.