In November 1997, the Minnesota Board on Aging (MBA) sent out a special request for American Indians, reservation staff, professionals in the field of aging, staff of area agencies on aging, and others to form a special Indian Forum Planning Committee called “The Seventh Generation – Tomorrow’s Elders.”

The request was generated from a special Department of Human Services and MBA collaborative called Project 2030. Project 2030 identified the impact of a rapidly aging population – specifically baby boomers – and its potential impact on younger generations and traditional systems. By the year 2030,
one in four Minnesotans will be a senior and more than 16,000 American Indians will be 55 and older (compared to 5,000 in 1997).

Aging of the state’s population has even more severe consequences for American Indians, who face several barriers to health services. Indian Health Services’ statistics for American Indian elders paint a grim picture.

Despite the services that are available, the unmet health needs of American Indian people remain alarmingly severe. Indian people suffer a death rate for diabetes mellitus that is 249 percent higher than all races in the United states; pneumonia and influenza rates are 71 percent higher; the tuberculosis death rate is 533 percent greater; and the death rate from alcoholism is 627 percent greater.

A variety of factors impede access to health services for Indian Elders. A high level of poverty – more than 36 percent – coupled with lack of transportation makes it challenging to access health services. Also, many health programs fail to consider traditional American Indian culture and beliefs, so it’s easy to understand why so few Indian elders participate.

Between 1997 and 2000, reservation and urban Elders, Native Americans of all ages, and reservation staff gathered to discuss issues and solutions to aging issues facing American Indian Elders and their families today and in the future. Staff from a variety of state agencies, including the MBA, attended and supported the meetings.

The first three year strategic plan for 2000-2002 focused on developing and creating awareness for Wisdom Steps. The new 2003-2006 strategic plan focuses on building collaborative partnerships that will assist with the expansion and enhancement of model projects.

Wisdom Steps was created to overcome barriers. The program is developed and run by the American Indian community. Tribes across the state are partners, sharing ideas and resources, sponsoring walks and health screenings and more.


Wisdom Steps is represented by a Board of Directors who are appointed by their respective Tribal Councils.  Elders in each reservation/urban community recommend an elder to the council, who then appoints them to the board.  Some are self nominated and appointed by the council.  Currently, Wisdom Steps is represented by nine reservations and three urban communities.  Wisdom Steps hold quarterly meetings, hosted by a tribal or urban community.  The meeting are open to all elders and elder can join as an advisor.  Each appointed representative, alternate and advisor(s) also serve as the local Wisdom Steps coordinator and promote, recruit and plan Wisdom Steps activities in their local communities.  Participation in Wisdom Steps is voluntary and self monitored.  Members encourage each other to conduct the Wisdom Steps activities and report their efforts once a year to their local Wisdom Steps coordinator for inclusion into tribal/urban support to attend the conference. We have hundreds to thousands of particpants each year and have over 300 elders attending our annual conference.  Minnesota is home to an estimated 5000 American Indian individuals age 55 and over.


Minnesota Board on Aging Indian Elder Desk
Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Indian Area Agency on Aging

Other Volunteers and Support

Wisdom Steps would not be possible without the support of our volunteers and partners.  The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Indian Area Agency on Aging was also instrumental in the development of Wisdom Steps.  Vera Brown, Elderly Programs Manager and Terri O’Shea, Elderly Programs Assistant help support the project and volunteer on many of Wisdom Steps events and activities. All the board members, alternates and advisors also volunteer and support the project, often times seeking local support through their respective tribes and local communities.  They often seek donations for our events and organizing local Wisdom Steps activities, conducting walks, holding Medicine Talk educational sessions, and serve as volunteer instructors for arthritis education classes (Arthritis Foundation’s Self-Help, Exercise and  Aquatic) in partnership with the North Central Chapter Arthritis Foundation.

Board of Directors

The success of Wisdom Steps is tied to its Board of Directors. These appointments have been received from Tribal Councils and Urban Indian Affairs Council. Click here for our Board of Directors.

Advisory Committee

Interested American Indian Community Members from reservations and urban communities serve as advisors. For a complete list of our advisor list click here.