Guest Column by Devery Fairbanks
In the spring of 1982 I was fresh out of New Visions Treatment Center and staying at the American Indian Services (AIS) Men’s Halfway House in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It was my first time in treatment and I must say it helped turn my life around. A big thanks must go to local community leaders Herb Sam (Ojibwe) and Chris Leith (Dakota) for helping me out in court and in placing me in New Visions.
While at AIS I found myself without a job, a car, a drivers license, and nothing to do. So I heard about AIOIC and made an appointment for an interview. (This was when it was located at Little Earth, across from Holy Rosary Church, where the Indian Health Board was also housed at the time).
At AIOIC they suggested I take a battery of tests, which placed me in the ‘World of Work’ program. From there the test results led to Minneapolis Community College, where I began taking classes in the fall of ’82. I was able to earn a AA degree which allowed me to work a few years and later transfer to the University of Minnesota, where I was fortunate enough to earn a bachelors degree in 1988.
AIOIC gave me the confidence to go out and get busy with my life. I began to work at New Visions as a driver, and as a volunteer at “The Branch” Catholic Welfare Services on east Franklin avenue. Later began a part-time paid position at The Branch.
I had grown up in a typical household of poverty and dysfunction and had gotten in trouble with the law most of my teen years. After a few years of landing in city jails I realized that I was wasting my life. I don’t know what propelled me to try and straighten things out, but I did know that I was raised the first two years of my life by my paternal grandparents, Ole and Anne Fairbanks. Even though I was reared for a time on the dark street corners of Franklin Avenue, I believe I must have learned some invaluable lessons from my grandparents during those first two years. (My mother was being treated for tuberculosis at the time, in a state sanatorium).
Because I was astounded when it was suggested that I go to college. No one around me had ever been to college or even thought of attending college. I certainly did not think of myself as ‘college material.’ But I did tell someone that people always told me that my dad was very smart. One thing I remember about childhood was that people would always mention to me that my dad (Herman Fairbanks, Jr.) was apparently a very intelligent man.
So when I took the aptitude tests at AIOIC and they showed that college might be a good thing for me, I thought of all those people telling me how smart they thought my dad was, and decided to give college a try.
The rest is history, as they say, as I took my two-year degree to the large and scary bureaucracy of the “U” and managed to graduate with a BA in American Indian Studies. Ten years later I went to graduate school and earned a Master’s degree at the University of Arizona (also in American Indian Studies), which led me to my current position as Lecturer in American Indian Studies at Iowa State University, where I’m about to begin my sixth year in the Sociology Department. At this time I am also considering a possible PhD program in education.
To sum it up, AIOIC took a streetwise but actually very insecure Indian boy off the streets of Minneapolis and gave me the courage and the tools to make my way in the world. And what a big difference that makes, especially for a typical Indian kid who had no confidence, no self-esteem, and no idea of the meaning and power of educational attainment.
AIOIC did so much for me that I used to volunteer there once a month in a program run by Dawn Nyberg, talking to the students about educational goals and attainment. Also began to volunteer at other American Indian programs, to help Indian people get on their feet.
AIOIC basically played a huge role in turning my life around. That, and staying clean and sober and practicing the humble Native American Indian values of sharing and compassion.
Megwech. Thank you.
Devery Fairbanks (Ma’Inganens)
343 Catt Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50014