From the Editor's Desk: Rebuilding and Exercising Power

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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgNative faces and issues came to the

fore on the regional and national stage in 2014. Our concerns became

part of a conversation that doesn’t happen in meaningful ways.

Whether we attempted to educate, rally or simply live from day to

day, we found our power.

After her election in 2013,

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges made good on her promises to the

Indian community by fostering a political environment that led to the

creation of Indigenous Peoples Day in the city, in place of Columbus

Day. More than that, however, the exercise of the organizing power

from within the community is what should be highlighted. The Native

American Community Development Institute began the process in 2013 by

surveying community members on what they’d like to see achieved and

shepherded it through until the ultimate city council vote on April

25 and subsequent celebrations on Oct. 12.

Inextricably linked was also the

growing attention to the Washington NFL team’s racist mascot. On Nov.

2, thousands gathered in front of TCF Stadium on the University of

Minnesota campus to once again protest the institutionalized

prejudice and ignorance that accompanied the team when it played the

Minnesota Vikings. The work of the protest began in two prongs

through the well-established and prominent organization National

Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media that organized a formal

rally at the stadium. The other wing of activism included a protest

march through the streets of Minneapolis by a coalition of grassroots

organizations including Idle No More-Twin Cities, AIM-Twin Cities,

Protest Our Manoomin and the Minnesota Two Spirit Society, among

several others.

Among those organizations rising

within the community to raise awareness and education about LGBTQ

Native issues was the Minnesota Two Spirit Society. While the group

has had over 20 years of presence in one incarnation or another in

the area, the society began reaching out to tribal communities to

educate about the Two Spirit identity, fostering leadership on the

Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota. Part of its goals for the

upcoming year is to secure a non-profit status and provide mental

health, social service and employment opportunities for Two Spirit

individuals in the region. This presence in the community is an

important method for reclaiming cultural roles concerning Two Spirit

people in modern Native culture after colonization’s attack on

tradition sexual and gender identity in tribal communities.

The battles still continue for those

tribal communities that see threats from proposed mining operations

and pipelines in both Minnesota and South Dakota. Activists and

advocates packed meeting rooms, capital buildings and airwaves to

make their voices heard on the national stage. The Rosebud Sioux

Tribal Chairman Cyril Scott characterized the U.S. House’s vote to

approve the Keystone XL pipeline in November as an “act of war”

on the tribe. Ultimately, the Senate failed to meet the required vote

to approve the pipeline; which, garnered Crow Creek Sioux Tribal

citizen Greg Grey Cloud an arrest by the Capitol police after he

attempted to render an honor song in the Senate chamber gallery.

After the Republican-controlled and pipeline-friendly 114th

Congress was sworn in, President Barack Obama promised to veto any

approval of the pipeline, though more out of respect for the approval

process than any environmental or cultural affinities.

In more subtle ways, however, the less

glamorous side of Native empowerment continued this year through

cultural and language reclamation. Bdote Learning Center opened its

doors in South Minneapolis to over 100 students in Kindergarten

through fourth grade. As an Ojibwe and Dakota immersion school,

English is a secondary priority as the teaching staff shapes the

minds of Native youth by expressing and thinking in their native

languages. Reclaiming a language and the culture that it represents

is an enormous step in maintaining tribal values, identity and

ultimately, sovereignty.

With all the accomplishments made in

2014, it’s easy to rest on laurels and maintain a sense of

entitlement on what’s been achieved. But for the continued prosperity

of Native communities, we need to continue effective work on issues

that directly affect us. The longer we continue to remind mainstream

culture that we are as vibrant and diverse a community as any other,

we begin to build our bases of power and relevance. The more our

lives and our contributions to society matter.

The risk we run in being complacent is

that we regress to being a static caricature that becomes again a

target for discrimination. We must do everything we can to remain a

part of mainstream culture’s conversation, beyond poverty, beyond

disadvantage and beyond annual or seasonal observances. As we build

that presence, our lives testify to our humanity.

And that humanity is not so easily

dismissed around the country. That humanity empowers us to ensure

that Native lives do matter, just as Black lives matter.