After two years of fundraising, the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio (NAICCO) has reached the halfway point of their “Land Back NAICCO” project, which seeks to raise enough funds to purchase Ohio land for community use and cultural restoration. According to its website, NAICCO aims to purchase at least 20 acres of high-quality land “worth building the future of our Native People upon.” The group is actively seeking donations from supporters to complete their fundraising goal.
Founded in 1975 by Selma Sully-Walker, NAICCO has become a source of support for Natives and their families living in Ohio and the broader Indigenous community. The organization regularly leads and participates in programs geared towards supporting the Indigenous communities and families of central Ohio, in order to focus on its primary goals of cultural preservation and restoration, and social and economic development.
Executive Director Masami Smith and Programs Director Ty Smith define their mission as “preserving and restoring balance in the lives of their Native People” through initiatives that celebrate education, tradition, family and community. The group’s members hail from a number of different federally recognized tribes across the United States, and share a commitment to creating opportunities for urban-based Natives to connect with each other and to celebrate Native American culture.
NAICCO’s current fundraising efforts are part of a broader regional and national movement dedicated to returning ancestral lands and rightful Native territory to Native American tribes and groups across the country. As American institutions and individuals begin to move beyond land acknowledgements and towards broader, long-term support for Indigenous groups, many Native leaders and individual supporters have identified contributing to land restitution efforts as a meaningful way to account for past and ongoing injustices towards Native Americans.
Since the start of the “Land Back NAICCO” campaign in 2019, the group has raised over $100,000 in donations and matched funds, bringing the fundraiser approximately 48% of the way to its ultimate goal of $250,000. According to NAICCO’s website, the first phase involves raising the funds necessary to purchase the land, and the second phase will continue the work with specific efforts to develop the newly obtained space. The organization aims to complete Phase 1 by the end of 2022 in order to start fundraising for Phase 2 by 2023.
The Land Back movement is also connected to goals of promoting food sovereignty among Indigenous communities and preserving Native American foodways, another of NAICCO’s central efforts. Here, the group celebrates Indigenous culture with the NAICCO Cuisine food trailer — a Columbus-based operation serving Native American street food, the first of its kind in the U.S. These efforts are reflective of both the broad significance of Indigenous connections to land, and the specific needs of the Native community of Central Ohio. Director Ty Smith spoke to the necessity of this work. “We need a space in Ohio that we can call ours … where we can gather and be ourselves; thus, to honor our past, thrive in the present and walk proudly into the future,” he wrote on the website.
NAICCO leaders hope the Land Back campaign will fulfill a long-identified need for a distinctly Native space in Central Ohio that will both honor its members’ pasts and serve them well into the future. Ty Smith emphasizes the centrality of land in creating such a space. “Land will always be a critical piece to sustaining our legacy as Native People,” he wrote.
Community members interested in supporting NAICCO’s efforts can contribute to the fund and learn about other methods of support at naicco.com/donate.