Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona giving and leading looks at the nation's first social service agency designed to help American Indians living in urban areas. Christina Estes reports that the Phoenix Indian center opened downtown in 1947 and while the center has moved to a larger building, its mission remains the same.
Christina Estes: Along Central Avenue north of Indian School Road is a center based on cultural respect.
Woman: We never forget where we come from. So whenever we introduce ourselves, we introduce -- Where we're originally from.
Christina Estes: Deborah brings her son to the Phoenix Indian center for Navajo singing classes.
When I was little I started singing when I was 4 years old.
Christina Estes: He started singing when his grandmother became ill. Four years later he honors her memory by learning more songs.
Woman: This is the chanting part. The real words --
Patti Hibbeler: We were founded in 1947. And really founded during that time of the federal government's policy of Indian relocation. They took native people from reservations, moved them to one of the five relocation cities farthest away, with the thought and the idea they would assimilate, become part of the overall population, and not actually make their way back to the reservation.
Christina Estes: Language barriers, discrimination, and home sickness left many native people struggling. The center offered a place to make cultural connections and help finding jobs.
Patti Hibbeler: When you're on a reservation, you usually know where to get services. It's going to be somewhere around tribal offices. That's where most all of the human services and employment services exist. When you move to Phoenix, it's a little like the big bad wolf. You've got to find it somewhere.
Christina Estes: Work force development remains a heavy focus today because so many people move to Phoenix for jobs. That's what attracted Deborah's family. But she doesn't want the distance to dilute her Navajo roots.
Deborah Nez: I was growing up, and my grandparents and parents always told me, as you grow up, don't matter how old you are, always have a song with you. Even one song, a prayer, even one word. Say one word and one song, that will protect you from wherever you're going. It's very important, to learn -- To know at least one song.
Christina Estes: The center aims to preserve the past while preparing for the future. The chief operating officer Karen Thorne says more Arizona tribes now offer more career opportunities.
Karen Thorne: There is the need for more skilled and educated people on the reservations to conduct -- Not only the gaming enterprises, but the revenue from gaming that is built and pumped into the various tribal infrastructures, upgrade housing programs, upgrading schools, upgrading their hospital and health care services, the youth services.
Christina Estes: It's one reason Chief Executive Officer Patti Hibbeler says they're investing in young people. The center plans to open its own charter high school within the next three years.
Patti Hibbeler: When you look at the statistics for American Indians in public schools, or education, K-12 education, in Arizona we continue to still have the highest dropout rate. We have the lowest college going rate. What we find with our native population, they get lost in the school system. They get completely lost. Many of our children are I think it's part of our -- Quality of American Indian people, they're not disrespectful, they sit and they're quiet, they'll be in the classroom and they just kind of fall between the cracks. The goal is really to successfully prepare those children for colleges and careers.
Christina Estes: Setting them up for success in the city while upholding the lessons of their ancestors.
Deborah Nez: I look at him, and it really moves me. It makes me proud to see my kids picking something up like that.
Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.