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NoDAPL: The Beginning is Near
Tuesday, December 06 2016
 
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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nodapl-wall.jpgStanding Rock is an unpredicted history lesson for all of us. More than any moment I recall since Wounded Knee, the Vietnam War, or the time of Martin Luther King, this moment stands as a crossroads in the battle for social justice. It is also an economic issue, in a time of economic system transformation, and profoundly a question of the future of this land. The world is watching.  

As the US Army Corps of Engineers issues a December 5 eviction notice for thousands of people gathered on the banks of the Missouri River, we face our truth. Those people at the Oceti Sakowin and Red Warrior Camps, along with the 550 people who have been arrested so far, are really the only thing standing between a river and a corporation that wants to pollute it. That we know, because absent any legal protections, and with a regulatory system hijacked by oil interests and a federal government in crisis, the people and the river remain the only clear and sentient beings.  

In short, this is a moment of extreme corporate rights and extreme racism confronted by courage, prayers, and resolve. This moment has been coming. The violence and the economics of a failing industry will indeed unravel, and this is the beginning.  

The Deep North
North Dakota did not become Alabama – or the Deep North, as it is now called – overnight.   Native people in North Dakota have been treated poorly for more than a hundred years, whether by the damming of the Missouri and the flooding of millions of acres of tribal land, or by poverty and incarceration, North Dakota is a place of systemic and entrenched racism.

Two of the poorest counties in the country are on Standing Rock, Native people comprise almost a fourth of the people in prison, Native suicide rates are ten times that of North Dakotans, infrastructure (like the fifty year old hospital with four doctors for 8000 people, and a now blocked Highway l806, without a shoulder) is at an all time low, and people freeze to death and overdose in the shadow of the Bakken Oil fields. That’s the first layer of abuse, aside from the day to day racism, emboldened by Morton County and the incoming Trump government. It is visible for the world to see now.

Indian Country moves closer to the sun; takes Saga Solar with it
Tuesday, December 06 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Northern Minnesota’s Indian Country is reaching out to the sun for clean energy and is finding innovative ways to get it.

In the most recent development, upstart photovoltaic solar panel manufacturer Saga Solar SBC will move from St. Paul to Cass Lake in the second week of December to become the first indigenous-owned manufacturer of the 21st Century technology products on tribal land. Saga Solar was founded in St. Paul about a year ago by R. Marie Zola, a Minnesota solar energy leader of Cherokee descent.

Aki Development LLC, a newly formed company based at Cass Lake, acquired a 60 percent controlling interest in Saga Solar in September. It is one of three ventures for Aki, a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe chartered corporation that is not tribally owned. One of the other startup businesses it is launching will construct housing. The third business is a new “green” industry venture, like Saga Solar, and will have a factory where employees assemble and test LED street lights.

Mike Myers, founder and chief executive officer at Aki Development, said the green companies could have as many as 24 employees within the next year. The LED light factory – LED is short for “light emitting diodes” lights – will have eight employees at the start of the coming year. Twenty jobs in the two businesses will be in manufacturing with pay starting at $12.80 per hour. Four additional jobs in marketing will be created along the way.

Aki Development recently received a $29,000 job-training grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to train employees for both businesses through the Leech Lake Tribal College at Cass Lake.

These developments further Northern Minnesota Ojibwe commitments to green, or environmentally effective and sustainable enterprises. In August, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa opened a 1-megawatt solar farm projected to light 150 homes and 10 percent of the band’s electric power needs for its Black Bear Casino. While doing so, it is also projected to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-generated plants by 2.6 million pounds annually.

Earlier this past year, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa entered agreements with construction and engineering companies for an even larger solar farming project from rooftops of its largest buildings. Design plans call for 15-megawatts, or equal to 15 million watts, harvested by solar panels that should light the tribe’s three casinos, government buildings and the tribal college. The first phase to power tribal buildings is anticipated to save the tribe $2 million a year in energy costs.

Red Lake Band Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr. said the goal over the next five years is to generate enough solar power on tribal land to meet the electricity needs for every home on the Red Lake.
Solar and wind generation both reduce harmful carbon emissions that come from fossil fuel burning power plants. LED lighting, meanwhile, is more energy efficient than compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and the incandescent light bulbs in homes and offices.

NATIVE Act aims to promote Native tourism
Thursday, November 03 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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tourismstory1.jpgOne major exhibit in the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa’s Atisokanigamig (Legend House) shows how the Ojibwe people – over centuries – migrated to Northern Minnesota and the Western Great Lakes, creating a path a new federal law hopes will encourage tourists to follow.

In late September, President Obama signed into law the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act aimed at promoting tourism and related economic development at Native American communities. The new law had strong support from tribal and tourism groups and bipartisan support from lawmakers representing Indian Country and Native Hawaiian and Alaskan communities.

Details for bringing the Departments of Commerce and Interior and federal agencies into collaborative efforts with tribal entities are still to be worked out. The new law, however, brings hope to Bev Miller, executive director of the Bois Forte Heritage Museum, that heritage and cultural curiosity will be another driver of tourism to Native communities.

In October, for instance, a group from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe paid a visit to the Bois Forte museum. Students from Nett Lake schools visited the next day. Meanwhile, a regular stream of Canadian First Nation tour groups related to the Bois Forte come across the border each year to study at the museum while having a recreational outing to the Lake Vermillion area and Bois Forte’s Fortune Bay Resort and Casino.

“Next month (November) is Native American Heritage Month and hopefully more school groups will come in,” Miller said.

In step with the new law, Miller wants to build on heritage and culture. “We would like to see more interaction with our elders and youth and this is going to happen real soon here,” she said.
To that end, Miller and colleagues added a new exhibit in October showing regalia, the clothing and ornamentation preserved by a Bois Forte family since 1919.

Reusing, Restoring in Indian Country
Tuesday, October 11 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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deconstruction3.jpgThe abandoned Eagle View Motel at Cass Lake, on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, is coming down in pieces with useful materials stored for later use in building projects in northern Minnesota. Come November, another crew of workers from the Miigwech Aki Deconstruction Co. will do similar salvage work on the remodeled and expanded Grand Portage Lodge and Casino.

Miigwech Aki Deconstruction (“Thank you Earth” in Ojibwe) is a business and training unit of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center at Bemidji. Both the Leech Lake and Grand Portage Bands of Ojibwe contracted with the firm because the salvage work it does, leading to recycling and reusing building materials, is consistent with widely shared cultural goals throughout Native American communities.
The environmentally sensitive work would be reason enough, said Bryan Lussier, the Leech Lake compliance officer for the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO). But it is more than that, he added. Contracting with Miigwech Aki “is a form of reinvesting in the community. We want to keep trained, productive people up here.”

Chris Bedeau, director of the program for the Bemidji-based community development center, said 17 construction–deconstruction workers  went through four days of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and one day of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training before starting work on the Eagle View project in September. Most of the workers were residents of Leech Lake while at least one was from Red Lake and another was from Bois Forte, he said.

These workers are now certified from that training. That knowledge and talent is a benefit to the entire northern Minnesota area, said Leech Lake’s Lussier.
“This was the right fit,” he said. “We have worked with Chris and the Northwest Indian (Community Development) Center in the past, and we have many of the same objectives.”

Don’t forget local school elections
Tuesday, October 11 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Presidential election year thunder is generated by the race for the White House but that should not distract Native families and community leaders from paying close attention to school board elections and school tax referendums.
“Voting is the best way to make your voices heard at any level, and especially close to home,” said Louise Matson, executive director at Division of Indian Work (DIW), an operating arm of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.
That is especially true this election year in Minneapolis, added Mary LaGarde, executive director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

The Nov. 8 ballot in Minneapolis has one at-large seat and three district seats – from western areas of the city – up for grabs on the nine-member Minneapolis Board of Education.

One race that is certain to attract attention among Native American residents pits Ira Jourdain, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation, against incumbent school board member Tracine Asberry in District 6 in the southwest area of the city.
Voters are also being asked to extend the existing property tax referendum that raises 13 percent of the Minneapolis Public Schools’ budget. This referendum would retain, not raise taxes from where they are now, and is equal to $1,604.31 per student.

In an Aug. 17 statement from the schools, education officials noted the existing referendum manages class sizes and provides supportive services for students. It funds 750 positions that include 591 classroom teachers, 82 academic and behavioral specialists, and 81 teachers and support staff for English language learners (ELL).
The election comes at a time of transition in Minneapolis schools. The newly-elected board will work with newly-hired superintendent Ed Graff who started with the current school year. Graff, a native of Bemidji, was formerly superintendent of schools at Anchorage, Alaska.

That change in leadership coincides with Minneapolis schools policy changes that are especially important to the Minneapolis Native American community. DIW’s Matson said the new school board is scheduled to approve or reject a revised Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Jan. 17 with the American Indian community.
Minneapolis became the first non-reservation public school system in the US to reach an agreement with Native groups on Indian education policies and programs with acceptance of the first MOA in 2006, which was updated in 2012.
Three committees are currently working on a 2017 revision, Matson said, that involve the Phillips Indian Educators Committee (PIE) and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) among partnering organizations.
The Minneapolis Indian Education program that functions under the MOA serves about 2,000 Minneapolis school students from 30 different tribal nations out of a total school district enrollment of about 36,000.

Missouri River threatened by DAPL
Friday, September 09 2016
 
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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dapl-protestors.jpgIt’s 2016, and the weight of American corporate interests has come to the Missouri River, the Mother River. This time, instead of the Seventh Cavalry, or the Indian police dispatched to assassinate Sitting Bull, it is Enbridge and Dakota Access Pipeline. In mid August, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II was arrested by state police, along with 27 others, for opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the meantime, North Dakota Governor Daplymyre called for more police support. Every major pipeline project in North America must cross Indigenous lands, Indian country. That is a problem.  

The road west of Fargo is rarely taken. In fact, most Americans just fly over North Dakota, never seeing it. Let me take you there.
 My head clears as I drive; my destination the homeland of the Hunkpapa Oceti, Standing Rock Reservation. It is early evening, the moon full. If you close your eyes you can remember the 50 million buffalo, the single largest migratory herd in the world. The pounding of their hooves would vibrate the Earth, and make the grass grow. There were once 250 species of grass. Today the buffalo are gone, replaced by 28 million cattle who require grain, water and hay. Many of the fields are now in a single GMO crop, full of so many pesticides that the monarch butterflies are being wiped out.

If you drive long enough you come to the Missouri River. Called Mnisose, a great swirling river by the Lakota, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is breathtaking.  

The Missouri River has a fixed place in the history and mythology of the Lakota and other Indigenous nations of the Northern Plains. In the time before Sitting Bull, the Missouri River was the epicenter of northern agriculture; the river bed so fertile, the territory was known as the fertile crescent of North America.

Now Enbridge and their partners are preparing to drill through the river bed. The pipeline has been permitted in sections from the west and from the east. The northern portion was moved away from the water supply of Bismarck, into the watershed of Standing Rock.  That’s unfortunate.

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