We often receive the question of how the Native Justice Coalition began. It is a culmination of a variety of experiences representative of support, struggle, oppression, discrimination, racism, resistance, resilience, triumph, family, community, healing, and love. It is generational, poetic, and always seeking to have our spirits reach new heights. Past memories envelop in concentric circles to push the work forward. Cultural values, ancestors, family, land, water, the Great Lakes, and community have supported the birth of this organization.
The Native Justice Coalition was once just an idea dreamt of in a small home office located in the 1836 Treaty Territory, Anishinaabe Nation, also known as Manistee, Michigan. Our Anishinaabe cultural values are infinite, such as who we are, the translation being, “lowered to the Earth.” The limitations of colonization, genocidal policy, assimilation, racism, land loss, culture loss, invisibility, and erasure have caused tremendous internalized oppression among us. However, our spirits, bodies, and communities are infinite. Our culture and who we are is about being as expansive as the night sky.
Since I was a child my heart has been aligned and connected with Northern Michigan. I recall traveling south after visiting the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and crying as we crossed the Mackinac Bridge. I had a strong feeling about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I just couldn’t put words on it as a child. When I moved to Colorado for graduate school, I would dream of the Great Lakes and tall trees several times a month. I knew that I had to return home after graduate school.
The NJC was birthed out of the struggle of bordertown racism, workplace discrimination, and exclusion. While trying to rise above these and heal, I dealt with numerous occasions of racism in the workplace and not finding my place in the world. Past memories, current traumas, generational trauma, as well as community support and love all propelled the creation of the NJC. Community healing was the focus and my commitment to build this organization was unwavering.
Creating Healing Stories as a Consultant
In 2018, the Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference & Healing Stories inaugural events propelled this work forward. While I had a main consulting position, I worked tirelessly to find and build the NJC from 2016 to the present. With increased funding and in the middle of a global pandemic, I transitioned to full-time in August 2020. Growing a nonprofit required endless dedication, as I worked long hours with limited staff but had amazing support from our community and many supporters which continue to this day.
In our foundational years, we had projects and programs including the Harm Reduction Program as well as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) Program. In addition to a successful Great Lakes billboard campaign we also had amazing events such as Healing Around the Lakes which took place in Rapid River, Michigan in June, 2021. The billboard campaign was very successful being located in 12 communities a total of 27 times from August 2019 to December 2022. The Decolonizing Research program with the University of Wisconsin-Madison began research focused on the Great Lakes Native American, First Nations, Métis & Inuit identities. In 2021, the NJC grew tremendously through funding, with 14 organizations donating to our overall organization, 7 funders donating to specific programs, and 185 individual donors! We saw tremendous growth in programming and funding. Our revenue increased by 212%, totaling $362,631 in 2021. Individual contributions increased 300% between 2020 and 2021, from $23,044 to $69,881.
By early 2022, I found myself experiencing burnout due to the amount of work I was putting into further developing the NJC. Losing a friend to tragic violence in February also weighed heavily on me for the remainder of the year. In May, I learned that my Grandfather attended Holy Name in Assissins, Michigan. I received the documents from Marquette University, which hold many of our Anishinaabe boarding school records. This felt inaccessible and although information about his experience was missing, the injustice was still more amplified when I read that my Grandfather was just a child when he attended this federally run institution at 7 to 9 years old from 1931-1933. The known and unknown trauma circled around me in my home office. Then, the pain was almost instantaneous and it fell on me like a pile of bricks – so much so that my back physically hurt and I had trouble standing up. My back hurt for days after that, and after coming out of the pandemic, my body had other compounding physical issues due to stress and collective community trauma from continued boarding school work through our programs.
Yet, I proceeded with my commitment to move forward for the greater community – a commitment I made when I started the Coalition. Despite all of these challenges in 2022, the NJC successfully transitioned to in-person work in April of that same year once the Michigan Native American community opened up post-pandemic. A few months after finding out the truth about my Grandfather, all of our hard work behind the scenes came to light when we launched the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in July. This was the beginning of our initiative to work towards healing justice for boarding school survivors, their descendants, and the greater community who have been affected by this federal policy. Our 3rd Annual Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference then took place in the fall. We are now in the process of continuing to grow the NJC exponentially, through new events and program ideas in the future and retiring some of our programs into the archives. These evolving developments for our organization will give us more opportunities for justice, especially in support of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, and our Healing Stories program, and continue to grow with the community.
Cecelia R. LaPointe
Founder & Executive Director