The circle is a sacred concept to American Indians, representing the holistic nature of the world, the balance of the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional aspects of life, Forrest Cuch says.
By co-locating Indian programs with social services and a cultural center in a new multi-million dollar facility, Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, hopes the ideal of the circle will be embraced in urban Utah.On Wednesday, Gov. Mike Leavitt will sign legislation, sponsored by Sen. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake, that will provide the $300,000 seed money for planning, development and land acquisition of the Circle of Wellness project.
Cuch said sites in West Valley and near Salt Lake City's Gateway are being considered. A feasibility study, completed in January, called for more than 10 acres of land and between $18 and $20 million for funding. Because the money for the center will be raised privately, Cuch said the project will be developed over a few years and will be scaled down to cost $5 million to $10 million.
Officials hope to have it completed by the time the 2002 Olympic Games bring the world to Utah.
"The beautiful part is, we're trying to showcase our culture and we're also trying to create a sense of place in the valley," Cuch said.
While cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M., have "old town" areas where tourists can experience American Indian culture, food and goods, the urban Salt Lake Valley has no such gathering place. And cultural events, like powwows, are held on the small, aged stage at the Indian Walk-In Center or at the Utah State Fairpark, where noise and dust are common complaints, Cuch said.
A campus of buildings and an amphitheater could provide a place for business people to sell their goods, Cuch said, while serving as the cultural gathering place for the 32,000 American Indians in Utah, of which about one-third live in Salt Lake County. The state's tribal leaders may also lease office space in the new center.
Suazo said he first noticed the need for such a project when a downtown alcohol and drug recovery center was closed two years ago. That loss and the fact that a huge percentage of Bureau of Indian Affairs money stays on reservations prompted him to go to his colleagues in the Legislature. He said he's pleased other lawmakers also recognized the need for an urban project.
Services such as health care, emergency assistance, legal services and vocational and educational training are planned for the new project.
An important aspect of the plans also includes space for social services like counseling and alcohol and drug treatment, making the center inclusive to all who may need it.
"The thing that keeps us strong is our spiritual and cultural beliefs, so rather than attempting to compartmentalize and separate our social-service programs and our cultural fine arts activities, we would like to keep them together," Cuch said.
Which existing programs may move to the new center is still being considered. Cuch said those that provide important services in areas where they are needed wouldn't be asked to relocate.
Officials are in the process of setting up a nonprofit organization, which will operate as the fund-raising arm of the project. Then a board of directors will be chosen and the site decision made, probably this summer, Cuch said.