Posted by DG Abbas Rajabi (Denver Southeast)
Last month I visited the Denver Indian Center, I was impressed and awestruck by what I learned during my visit. I saw a vibrant community that needs the time, attention, and goodwill of Rotary. The number of American Indians in our community in need of the most basic necessities is great. The good news is that there are many Rotarians who are doing all they can to help, however, they cannot address the concerns of this community alone. We need your help to provide this incredible community with on-going solutions to complex problems as well as with basic resources to help families get by. As cold weather and the winter holidays approach, it is incumbent on us, as Rotarians, to do all we can to support this vital part of our community.

Please see the background below; here are concrete ways to support District 5450’s American Indian populations in effective and constructive ways. 
Approximately five years ago, Mike Oldham (Past District Governor) started a District Committee that is focused on supporting the Indian Population in Colorado and in finding ways to grow Rotary’s spirit of “Service Above Self” with the Indian Community.  It has been a daunting task because the need is so great among many parts of the Indian Community but the convergence of the Indian Communities’ needs and Rotary’s area of service focus are very close.
In the last 5 years, the District Committee has focused quite specifically on the Denver Indian Center. The committee has supported the Center by building a playground at the front door, supporting Thanksgiving turkeys both at Thanksgiving and Christmas, providing winter clothing, and providing presents to the children at Christmas. IN all senses a good start  
Today the Denver Indian Center has new leadership and that Leadership is making a profound difference. They have received a significant Federal grant supporting a Fatherhood program teaching the basics of fatherhood to young families. They are on their 3rd cohort, and the program is having a significant impact on entire families within the community. They are also working to improve the building they occupy on Morrison Road so it can be used to support many more community programs.
The need is greater. The Denver Indian Center needs a new roof, new floors and new parking lots—work valued between $350K and $500K. That work is not typically supported by Rotary as it involves Capital expenditures. None-the-less, it is work that must be completed for the Center to continue to serve the Indian Community.
Who Do We Serve
The Indian Community across the US— across North America — is complex.
  • It consists of 5.2 Million individuals, or about 1.7% of the US population.
  • Approximately 40% of American Indians live on the reservation.
  • There are 560 American Indian Tribes and communities recognized by the US Government. Because the Denver Indian Center serves all Indian members we assume they serve all Indian Communities and so should Rotary.
  • American Indian groups reflect great cultural diversity with differences in language, culture and customs.
  • The median age on the reservation is 29, while the US median age is 35.
  • 71% have at least a high school education and 11% have at least a Baccalaureate degree (compared to a US average os 80% and 24% respectively.
  • The overall poverty rate (in 2006) for American Indians was 26% compared to 12% in the US generally.
  • Life expectancy is 6% less than the US general population.
  • Infant mortality is 21% higher.
  • Alcoholism is 7.5 times higher.
  • Diabetes is 4 times higher.
  • And the list continues.  
In Colorado, the American Indian/ Alaska Native population ranges between 50,000 to 100,000 members depending on the survey. In all data we have received, the suicide rate of young people on the regional reservations is growing. The ages range between 12 years old to 19 years old. There is a growing population of Indian Entrepreneurs and they have an exceptional resource in the Indian Chamber of Commerce. The jobs created are not typically a match to those Community Members served by the Denver Indian Center, so that mismatch needs to be addressed — perhaps with the help of the District 5450 Indian Committee.
What are the District 5450 Indian Committees Goals?   
As the District 5450 Indian Committee continues to work with the Denver Indian Center and with other Indian Communities within Colorado, we have three specific, programmatic goals:
  1. To establish a mentorship program supporting young Indian students in the K-12 educational environment similar to the Denver Kid’s program started with Denver Public Schools and Denver Rotary Club 31. In our work with the Denver Indian Center, the need for an active mentorship program was identified as the most critical need for these young people.
  2. To support the Sacred Hoops Basketball program, specifically at the Denver Indian Center. This includes both men’s and women’s teams and National competitions in early spring.
  3. To provide a robust Food Bank at the Denver Indian Center, supported by one District 5450 Club each month. We have the support of 5 District Clubs for the current Rotary year and need 7 more. This is perhaps the most pressing local need. Without food, children don’t learn, adults can’t work and the community suffers. Rotary can have a profound impact in the food program alone.
What can you do as a District 5450 Rotarian? 
  • Join the District Committee and help us with these program goals!
  • Ask your Rotary Club to step in and support the Food program!
  • Consider helping us build this Mentorship program!
  • Help us collect winter clothing that will make a difference for the families we serve.
Thanks for your help— it will make a difference, immediately. Please contact Jim McGibney if you would like to help the committee: or 303-888-3689. Our next meeting is October 9, 4:30, at the Denver Indian Center.
DG Abbas Rajabi, PDG Mike Oldham & Jim McGibney Chair the American Indian Committee