Native 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
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
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.