By: Katrina Martinez
The Daily Cougar
HOUSTON — There are an estimated 70,000 Native Americans who call Houston and its surrounding areas home, but there have been little to no services, centers or programs geared toward the needs of natives in the fourth largest city in the country.
To fill the void, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, which has about 400 of its 1,200 enrolled tribal members living around Houston, opened the new American Indian Center of Houston in late February with their goal to help the underserved Native American population that lives in the Houston area.
“They’ve been here,” said Nikki McDonald, the director of the new center and Tunica-Biloxi tribal member who has lived in the area for about 10 years. “They’ve asked for help. They haven’t been able to receive help. It’s almost kind of — I don’t want to say — a slap in the face, but there’s so many programs to help other communities, but I haven’t seen that program for Native Americans yet.”
The center, which hopes to provide things like health services, mental health support, substance abuse rehabilitation, a fitness center, mentorship programs and community events in the future, was conceived after Tunica-Biloxi tribal councilmembers found Houston had such a large and underserved population of Native Americans.
“We started looking at what programs and services are available for Native Americans in the Houston area,” McDonald said. “There’s not really a whole lot. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States of America, and we have a population of 70,000 (Natives). We have to do something about that.”
McDonald hopes to grow the center into one like those in Dallas or Oklahoma, which both have large inter-tribal centers that have served natives for many years.
They have even partnered with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, which is based out of Livingston, to provide more to the Native community. The hope is to create a hub where all Native Americans can turn to for assistance and services, McDonald said.