Department of Indian Work Staff Reflect on an Extraordinary Year


Kelly Miller had just assumed her role as director of Interfaith Action’s Department of Indian Work when the pandemic struck. “I never expected to have to close our food shelf to in-person shopping or our in-person youth programs,” Miller says, looking back on an extraordinarily tough year. “We love seeing our families and this past year of not being able to talk, laugh, and visit with them has been hard on all of us.”

Despite the difficulties, Miller and her team have done amazing things — from adapting programs to making sure the American Indian community has the resources to weather the pandemic. Over the past year, DIW has responded to a more than 300% increase in demand for the food shelf. Staff have made sure people had masks, cleaning supplies, technology for distance learning, and connections to community resources. DIW purchased a van to make food deliveries to elders and those with health concerns. And this summer, Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Walz held a news conference at DIW to commend the staff for ably addressing the tremendous surge in food insecurity.

DIW’s performance was acknowledged recently when it was chosen as a Covid Community Coordinator by the Minnesota Department of Health. A Covid resource hotline was established and is now taking dozens of calls weekly (see article below).

It was not the year Miller expected, but she and her staff have not missed a beat. As for 2021, she says she looks forward to “growth” — and to being in person with the community again.


Covid Hotline Resource Specialists Go the Extra Mile

“I am blown away at the impact of Covid on our families,” says Susan Y., who joined the Interfaith Action staff last year as a resource specialist for the Department of Indian Work’s Covid hotline. Daily, she takes calls from members of the Twin Cities American Indian community about testing, vaccines, rent assistance, and transportation and food needs.

“I spend a great deal of time researching resources so I can be informed and connect people to what they need,” Susan says. “There are so many needs as a result of this pandemic. This week, I talked with an elderly couple who didn’t have a car or internet service. They had been exposed to Covid and needed help with transportation to get safely tested. Another caller needed help figuring out how to pay his utility bills and another needed a gas card.”

Susan makes it a point to keep up-to-date with vaccine registration plans and vaccination waiting lists. “Things change every day and I know people are anxious,” she says. “We say it’s like riding a bicycle at the same time you’re building it. It’s my job to help people sort through resources and not get lost in the system.”

Kelly Miller, director of the Department of Indian Work, calls Susan a stellar resource specialist. “She goes above and beyond for the Native community in the Twin Cities. People are now calling the Covid hotline and asking specifically for her.”

The Department of Indian Work Covid-19 hotline is open Monday–Friday from 8 am–8 pm. Members of the American Indian community can call (651) 304-9986.