Breaking New Ground

NHBP Housing Department Breaks Ground on Next Phase of

Housing Development

Each new stage of growth for NHBP signifies the Tribe moving forward in a special way. The groundbreaking of Phase VIII, the Widokwtadwen Development on May 25, was especially tender and deeply personal.

A small gathering of NHBP Tribal Members, Tribal Council Members, employees and representatives from FireKeepers Casino Hotel and Waséyabek Development Company, LLC,  assembled under a white tent, shielded from the rain to reflect, conduct ceremonies and to symbolically dig on the Pine Creek Indian Reservation to officially commence the Phase VIII of housing development.

“Of all the phases of housing development, this has to be my favorite,” said Tribal Council Vice Chairperson Dorie Rios. “This Phase VIII development is being dedicated to two beloved Elders who have since walked on. They were so instrumental in the history of NHBP housing. These two individuals fought, tirelessly, for decades, making it their mission to get safe housing for all of our Members.”

Rios was speaking of Gordon Bush-Bën and Ruth Ann Chivis-Bën. These two Tribal Members’ foundational work in securing funding for developing housing on The Reservation was pivotal to the success of the Tribe over the years.

The two streets of the new development have been named in their honor: No’ek {Seven} Way for Bush-Bën, whose assigned Tribal enrollment number was seven, and Jigwé {Thunder Clan} Way for Chivis-Bën, who was a member of the Thunder Clan.

Just one example of Bush-Bën’s dedication to his Tribe can be found in 1978. Looking at a dilapidated Reservation, a fierce and tenacious 31-year-old Bush-Bën fought for the needs of the Tribe and its Members, eventually suing the governor of Michigan at the time for $1 million in damages and $1.3 million in rehabilitation due to the state’s lack of care for The Reservation land it held in trust.

“When my dad was given the Tribal enrollment number of seven, I don’t think anyone would know how fitting this number would be to the way that he lived his life. Anyone who knew my dad can attest that he lived his life modeling the Seven Grandfather Teachings,” Bush-Bën’s daughter and NHBP Tribal Member Lisa Barrett said. “He loved his people and respected our land. He was brave enough to come forward to challenge our government. He brought out the truth. He did it with honesty and humility. He also worked hard in life to receive an education and experience before he came back to the Tribe with the wisdom he gained to set out on a mission to get our Tribe housing.”

Chivis-Bën was equally dedicated throughout the years. She drafted the grant proposal and housing plan that awarded the Tribe its first U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant in the late 1990s in the amount of $1 million.

“I mean this with all due respect,” Rios said, “but they were our squeaky wheels. If the answer was no, they would continue to take other avenues.”

Mon-ee Zapata, an NHBP Tribal Member and daughter of Chivis-Bën, shared memories of her mother, who grew up on The Reservation in a home that had a dirt floor. Even after moving into a home with flooring and heating, Chivis-Bën could be found sleeping with a thick, fuzzy blanket covering her from top to toe – regardless of the weather conditions.

“I would ask her why she slept like that and she would say, ‘I don’t know, I guess it’s just a habit,’” Zapata said. “When she slept inside that house [with the dirt floor] and it was cold, she would cover up all the way. After hearing that story, I understood that that’s why she did the work that she did for Housing. She wanted to make sure that our People didn’t have to sleep on dirt floors, that they would have warm homes.”

Phase VIII of the housing development plan is expected to be completed in sets beginning this fall with full project completion in spring 2024 and will include the two streets previously mentioned. In this next phase, eight rental houses will be constructed, the first of 18 anticipated homes in the Widokwtadwen Development.

Barrett shared a quote from an article in the Nov. 19, 1978, edition of the Battle Creek Enquirer:

“At the reservation itself, he hopes state aid in general rehabilitation will allow Potawatomis to start their own businesses there and make a better adjustment to life in the final quarter of the 20th Century. ‘You’re going to see a new Huron Potawatomi,’ Bush predicted. ‘You’re going to see a people that are self-sufficient.’

“I wish my dad could see his prediction come true, how self-sufficient our people have become. How we started our own businesses, how we made a better adjustment to life,” Barrett continued. “But it was never about him. He not only lived his life following the Seven Grandfather Teachings, but also for the next seven generations. I know he’d be so proud to see the groundwork he laid 47 years ago being carried out by our Tribe.”

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