AICHO expands capacity at domestic violence shelter

To raise funds for the construction of Dabinoo'Igan, AICHO and the Ordean Foundation are hosting a concert at NorShor Theatre featuring Annie Humphrey, Keith Secola and Erik Koskinen.

Woman points at studs.
Dabinoo'Igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter Director Jen Davey gives a tour of one of the bigger bedrooms at the new shelter construction site Tuesday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

DULUTH — The American Indian Community Housing Organization is expanding its Dabinoo’Igan emergency domestic violence shelter to care for women experiencing violence and their children.

The shelter, which currently has 10 beds, will have 24 beds and expanded staff to provide resources.

Dabinoo’Igan, which means “a place where you are safe, comforted and sheltered” in Ojibwe, was created in 1993 as AICHO’s first community resource. The shelter takes in women experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, stalking and/or exploitation for up to 30 days, and welcomes people from all over the country and from all cultures.

According to Jen Davey, director of Dabinoo’Igan Shelter and Services, the shelter has taken in hundreds of women each year since it was created. However, they have had to turn away about 200 women a year recently because there isn’t enough space, especially when they had to limit their capacity amid COVID-19 precautions.

Construction site.
Construction continues in the office area at the Dabinoo'Igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter site Tuesday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The shelter’s expansion has been in the works since before the pandemic, AICHO Executive Director LeAnn Littlewolf said. However, because of the dramatic increase in material and labor costs, the budget for the new shelter has more than doubled, from $900,000 to $2.1 million.


To make up for these differences in construction costs, AICHO and the Ordean Foundation are hosting “One Community, Many Voices, Stop the Silence,” a concert fundraiser April 6 at the NorShor Theatre in Duluth.

“This fundraiser is a way for the community to really come out, and individuals can come support and also learn about the project,” Littlewolf said. “We have these incredible Native artists who are giving their time and talent to really show support, so it’s going to be a great night — a night to remember.”

Featuring performances from Annie Humphrey, Keith Secola and Erik Koskinen, the evening will also have vendors, a drum group, a jingle dress dancer and speakers including Duluth City Attorney Rebecca St. George.

Annie Humphrey performs during the Water is Life Festival at Bayfront Park on Sunday.Tyler Schank /
Annie Humphrey performs during the Water is Life Festival at Bayfront Park in 2019.
Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune
Rebecca St. George

“It’s not only going to be music and entertainment, it’s going to be a really great cultural experience, and I think for those who aren’t familiar with Native traditions or culture, it will be an enlightening experience for them,” Davey said.

Don Ness, executive director of the Ordean Foundation, said Ivy Vainio, AICHO's art, culture and communications coordinator, deserves credit for organizing the event, and Ordean is happy to support AICHO in bringing the event to life.

"For the Ordean Foundation, AICHO is one of our most valued and important community partners. We love their entrepreneurial spirit, their innovation and their heart for community," Ness said. "The lineup is stacked top to bottom. From a pure entertainment standpoint, it’s going to be a great night. But then to be part of raising money for such an important cause and it becomes an epic evening of music and community."

AICHO strives to serve local women and their children first at Dabinoo'Igan, whenever possible, and they offer culturally specific practices for Indigenous people. These practices include sage smudging and traditional medicines, healing and talking circles, and traditional prayers and ceremonies.

Work light sits in a construction area.
A work light illuminates what will be the new kitchen area of the Dabinoo'Igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter on Tuesday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Littlewolf said it’s critical to offer these culturally appropriate methods so Indigenous community members feel safe and understood during times of trauma. Historic abuse and exploitation of Native Americans has led to a cultural sense of mistrust when it comes to seeking shelter and resources.


“A survivor could need immediate shelter, but won’t use it because they want to feel culturally safe, too,” Littlewolf said. “In this case, they’re more apt to try it. It’s a big step to go into shelter — it’s not an easy decision.”

Littlewolf said there’s also a disproportionate amount of violence experienced by people of color, especially among Native Americans. In addition, she noted 47% of the people served at the Duluth Warming Center in the 2021-22 winter season were Black, Indigenous and people of color.

“There’s a racial element to being unsheltered, but there’s also this overwhelming data around lifetime experiences of violence for people of color, and specifically for American Indian people. So the shelter is a place for people to be safe, and we can’t ever underestimate the need for immediate safety,” Littlewolf said. “For the American Indian community, we’ve had long-standing experiences with violence. It’s well-documented that we experience higher rates and higher levels of violence. There’s more harm, there’s more fatality, so that’s the context that we operate in.”

A survivor could need immediate shelter, but won’t use it because they want to feel culturally safe, too. In this case, they’re more apt to try it. It’s a big step to go into shelter — it’s not an easy decision.
LeAnn Littlewolf, AICHO executive director

Besides more than doubling its capacity, the new Dabinoo’Igan shelter will have a commercial kitchen from which to serve daily meals, a large outdoor green space with a garden and children’s play area. The new shelter, which is in a confidential location, will have direct access to the Duluth Transit Authority bus route and is in a central location.

Snow covers a garden.
The garden and outdoor area of the Dabinoo'Igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter is blanketed in snow Tuesday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Dabinoo’Igan’s services, in addition to the shelter beds, include a crisis call line that connects women to help; legal advocacy services to help apply for orders of protection, restraining orders and assist with custody/child support cases; and a community outreach advocacy program to continue to assist women after they leave the shelter, including help with housing applications. AICHO plans to bring on several more staff members with the expansion.

“We want to make sure that everything we do with them and for them while they’re at the shelter is maintained and has a stability with it, so they don’t just leave our shelter or our services and everything starts to fall apart after,” Davey said. “We want to make sure that they’re self-sufficient and that they can carry out and live a healthy life in a healthy environment.”

Davey said the majority of women they serve come to the shelter with next to nothing, fleeing unimaginable circumstances of danger.

“Really, it’s about people just leaving everything and starting over,” Davey said. “So it’s traumatic in their experience of what they had to go through, and then it’s traumatic that they have to leave everything that they have and start over.”


Woman works at her desk.
Dabinoo'Igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter Director Jen Davey works at her desk Tuesday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Davey said the physical changes she witnesses in the people they serve are what the mission of Dabinoo’Igan and AICHO are all about. When people arrive at the shelter, they are hyper-vigilant, mistrusting, traumatized and terrified.

“Being with us for a week or two, you just start to see those walls come down when they’re working with us and things really start to happen for them,” Davey said. “Their faces change, their eyes get brighter, their skin gets better, their body posturing gets better. They go from being tense and scared to finally being able to let go and have joy. … When people come into our shelter, they’re experiencing — for the first time in a long time — peace.”

The Dabinoo’Igan domestic violence hotline number is 218-722-2247.

If you go

  • What: “One Community, Many Voices, Stop the Silence” fundraiser for Dabinoo’Igan
  • When: doors 6:30 p.m., start 7 p.m. April 6
  • Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St., Duluth
  • Tickets: $20-$60, available at NorShor Theatre and at and

To get help

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.

National Sexual Assault Hotline:24/7 hotline: 800-656-4673

Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse (CASDA):serves Duluth, Superior and Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties; 24/7 hotline 800-649-2921; submit a help request at

Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA):serves southern St. Louis County; 24/7 hotline 218-726-1931

Sexual Assault Program of Northern St. Louis County:serves northern St. Louis County; 24/7 hotline 800-300-3102

Family Pathways:serves Carlton and Pine counties; 24/7 hotline 800-338-7233

Support Within Reach:serves Aitkin and Itasca counties; hotline 866-747-5008

North Shore Horizons:serves Lake County; 24/7 hotline 218-834-5924

Violence Prevention Center:serves Cook County; 24/7 hotline 218-387-1237

Friends Against Abuse:serves Koochiching County; 24/7 hotline 888-344-3264

Fond du Lac Reservation:24/7 hotline 218-348-1817

Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa:Grand Portage Human Services 218-475-2453

Bois Forte Tribal Government–Victim Services Program:emergency cell 218-248-0067

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
What To Read Next
Get Local