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The American Indian Community House

The American Indian Community House (AICH) is a nonprofit community-based organization serving the needs of Native Americans residing in New York City. Comprised of Native Americans from 72 different tribes, its mission is to improve the status of Native Americans and to foster inter-cultural understanding.

The AICH began as “Shunatona’s American Indian Store” at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. This evolved into the Native American Information Center in 1967 and was renamed American Indian Community House, Inc. on January 22, 1970. It was the main Native social services organization in New York City when founded by Mifaunwy Shunatona Hines (Pawnee-Otoe – Wyandotte), and remains an important advocacy organization. Like so many important cultural and advocacy organizations, such as the NAACP and ACLU, the AICH has roots here in the area South of Union Square that Village Preservation is working hard to protect. One of its earliest locations was 842 Broadway at East 13th Street.

842 Broadway. Image via 1940s tax photos

This building was demolished and the block was redeveloped as One Union Square South and 850 Broadway in the mid-1990s, but the surrounding area South of Union Square remains rich in architectural and cultural history. The ACIH office was relocated to 708 Broadway (between East 4th Street and Washington Place), part of the NoHo Historic District designated June 29, 1999, which it later left. It is now located at 39 Eldridge Street.

Shortly after its founding, the “Community House”, as it came to be known, had several different director/curators who managed an in-house art gallery, built directly from the efforts of Lloyd R. Oxendine’s (Lumbee) work at his American Art Gallery (1970-75). The American Indian Community House Gallery/Museum had several locations over the years.

AICH bulletin from 1994

The first comprehensive exhibition of photography by Native Americans in the United States was co-curated by two of the founders of the New York Contemporary Native American Art Movement in 1984 at the Community House at 164 Mercer Street. This building is part of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, designated August 14, 1973.

The show was called 24 Native American Photographers, and among them was Linda Lomahaftewa, Pena Bonita, Gerald McMaster, Benjamin Buffalo, Joe Fedderson, Karita Coffey, Alfred Young Man and Jolene Rickard. As noted in the April 26, 1984 NY Times review: curator Jaune Quick-to-See Smith says it is the first comprehensive display of photography by North American Indians. ”We are reporting on our own culture through our eyes, telling a story which has never been told before,” she says. ”Previously, artists imposed their views on us. Romanticized often, with contrived setups. What we’re trying to show is that we are spontaneous, not stoic.”

Prior to European colonization in North America, the Native American Lenape lived across what is now Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Westchester, Staten Island, and Long Island.

Map of Native American tribes around Astor Place, courtesy Lower East Side History Project

There are almost no physical remnants of the original Native American presence here beyond streets like the Bowery and Astor Place which followed Native American paths. So while there is little physical preservation that can be done of this important piece of our heritage, we can still remember and honor the memory of those who first settled and used this land. Click here to read more.

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