A Native Homecare Business Booms
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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 circleoflife.jpgPatricia Yager (center), founder of the Circle of Life Home Care companies, meets with two beneficiaries of her service venture at national headquarters in Minneapolis. On the left is Magi Spears, a personal care attendant (PCA) employee, and on the right is Margie LaMorie, a recovering stroke patient assisted by Spears. (Photo by Lee Egerstrom.)

The growing and unmet needs for Native health and home care weren’t going away. Patricia (Pat) Yager, who grew up at Bena on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and bounced back and forth between Cass Lake-Bena and as an urban dweller in the Twin Cities, knew she needed to become an entrepreneur in order to contribute to making life better for elder friends and relatives.

The planning started in 2003. Two years later, Circle of Life Anishinaabe was formed as a licensed home care provider in Minnesota. Within six months it expanded from its base in Minneapolis back to Cass Lake to find and train personal care attendants (PCAs) and nurses for home care clients.

The rapid growth of Circle of Life Home Care, as her company is known away from its Ojibwe roots, is a testament to the enormous need for culturally appropriate home and health care. Circle of Life now has 1,600 employees working out of 20 offices in seven states.

“I don’t know how I did it. It was a matter of just keeping on moving forward,” she said during a recent interview at her national headquarters on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis’ American Indian Cultural Corridor.

Both in the metro area and back home at Leech Lake, changing demographics were making home care more difficult for elders and for people with special health care needs. The cultural norm over decades and generations was for Native family members to be caregivers. That is still the case, Yager said.

But this in-family caring didn’t always produce the historically sought results. Matching talents to home care isn’t always easy for some families, and more and more Native families – like all other Americans – find it necessary to become two-income family households. Taking care of a grandparent or other relative with needs usually didn’t produce much income or position the caregivers with employment records that could lead to securing auto loans, mortgages or even health insurance for their families.

That is especially true on reservations and in rural settings.

Starting the Circle of Life operation “had been on my mind for several years,” she said. “I knew I had to help out and make a difference.”

One of the beneficiaries of Circle of Life services, Margie LaMorie – a retired educator living in Minneapolis – is representative of urban experiences. Originally from the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe in Wisconsin, LaMorie suffered a stroke seven years ago after her husband died. Staying in her home required health care assistance.

Magi Spears (Red Lake), of White Bear Lake, is the licensed caregiver who stops by LaMorie’s home three days a week and checks on her food and medicine supply, meal preparation, schedules and transportation needs.

But more assistance was needed initially. “Magi helped in feeding me, in making me lunch,” LaMorie said. And, she found a financial worker “who helped me budgeting to get through.”

LaMorie is one of three clients Spears visits and provides services for each week, she said.

While recovering from health problems now, LaMorie is typical of home and health care needs of Native people, Yager said.

While data isn’t available on the needs of Native elders, she said, the Native population is seven times more likely to have serious health problems that require care. And, the Native population has a suicide rate three times the national average.

It doesn’t matter if you are Ojibwe, Dakota or from any other tribal group across America. Yager said “It just isn’t in our (shared) Indian culture to ask for help.” This is where trained personal care attendants can become important advocates and problem solvers for people with needs.

Meeting such needs here at home in Minnesota triggered her pursuit of a Native-owned, Native-operated home care service company. By coincidence, Yager was in Gallup, N.M., within a year of expanding from Minneapolis to Cass Lake, and found the same problems to be widespread on the Navajo Reservation.

The Circle of Life group now has three operating companies overseeing 20 offices and their personal care attendants and nurses. The Soaring Eagles group in the Southwest now provides services for Navajo, Apache, Zuni and Hopi tribes from offices in Arizona and New Mexico.

A Billings, Mont., office provides talent and services primarily for people on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. And offices at Fort Yates, N.D., and Oglala, S.D. coordinate services primarily for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in both states and for the Oglala on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Minnesota offices and operations for the Circle of Life Anishinaabe firm are at 1433 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis, Moorhead, Mahnomen, Bemidji, Cass Lake, Deer River and Duluth.

The company is now expanding into a seventh state, beginning operations of Circle of Life Colorado.

The focus is on serving the Indian population in those areas, Yager said, but Circle of Life PCAs also assist non-Native people in those areas. To be culturally sensitive, however, Circle of Life does seek out Native people as employees whenever possible.

“I would say 85 percent, or more likely 90 percent, of our employees are Native people like Magi (Spears),” she said.

State and local governments have different licensing requirements for PCAs and nurses, and some of the companies’ nurses are non-Natives living and serving in Indian Country, she added.

The headquarters staff reflects the commitment to matching appropriate talents with personal and cultural awareness.

Chief executive officer since January, for instance, is Himmat Singh, originally from India with international management experience with manufacturing companies, real estate and software development. He has a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a MBA in Entrepreneurial Management from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Executive director is Samuel (Rocky) Papasadora (Leech Lake Ojibwe), with past experience with tribal and Minnesota law enforcement and with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and national gaming regulatory groups.

Other corporate officials include Arizona regional manager Lorita George (Navajo), corporate PCA coordinator Daniel Long Crow (Lakota), originally from Winner, S.D.; corporate client coordinator Molly Montana (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) originally from Rapid City, S.D.; and Cindi Shubert (Leech Lake Ojibwe) is the payroll director.

More information about Circle of Life Home Care and how to seek services is available at their website: 

A new video on how Pat Yager built the company is available online at .

Sioux Chef picked as restaurant for new Minneapolis riverfront park
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by The Circle,
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The Sioux Chef, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation will  partner to open a riverfront restaurant and food service venue for the future public pavilion at Water Works.

Bottom photo: Concept art for the Water Works plan from a birds eye view looking south. (Images courtesy of Minneapolis Parks Foundation. 

The Sioux Chef is a diverse, Indigenous-led team committed to revitalizing Native American Cuisine and reclaiming an important culinary tradition that has been long buried and often inaccessible.

The Sioux Chef was founded by Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota), who has been cooking for over 27 years. His main focus has been on the revitalizing indigenous foods. Sean has extensive knowledge of Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migrational histories, elemental cooking techniques, and Native culture and history.

In 2014, he opened  his businees, The Sioux Chef, as a caterer and food educator to the Minneapolis and Saint Paul area. In 2015, in partnership with the Little Earth Community of United Tribes in Minneapolis, he and his business partner, Dana Thompson, designed and opened the Tatanka Truck, which features pre-contact foods of the Dakota and Minnesota territories.

Water Works, a park development project overlooking St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge, will bring visitor services and recreational and cultural amenities to one of Minnesota’s most highly visited areas. 

This fall, Sherman and Thompson co-founded a non-profit called (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems) for the purpose of Indigenous focused education and research and food access, which they plan to leverage in order to align with the mission of the Minneapolis Park Board as well as other projects.  

The Water Works design includes a park pavilion with a rooftop patio, outdoor seating plaza, tree-sheltered city steps, playspace for children and families, and an open lawn overlooking the river. The pavilion will include the new restaurant as well as a public lounge, restrooms and support spaces; and a flexible room for small group activities.

The restaurant will be the first year-round, full service food venue within the Minneapolis Park System. In addition to its full-service venue, The Sioux Chef will also provide casual, counter-service food options.

“Our work within the evolution of the Indigenous food systems offers many opportunities for supportive nutritional and spiritual experiences,” says Thompson. “With the removal of colonial ingredients, our plan is to drive economic wealth back into indigenous communities by sourcing food from these growers first. We look forward to sharing and enjoying these diverse and healthy foods with all communities.”

siouxchefrestauant1.jpgWater Works is within the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, one of the most popular public spaces in the region; its estimated 2.5 million annual visits is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

“We are thrilled The Sioux Chef was interested in this location for their restaurant,” says Tom Evers, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. “Water Works will celebrate the complex history of this area, through a layered park design, as well as programming, art, play, and performance. Co-owners Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, along with their team, are sharing powerful stories through food about the intricate relationship between people and land.”

The Sioux Chef has a mission beyond serving food. The team will work with the pavilion’s architects and landscape architects to create places within the park to grow native plants traditionally used for food and medicine. The Sioux Chef plans to create events and educational opportunities to help bring diverse voices into a larger dialogue about Native American cultures, the river, and food.

“We realize that the river corridor is Dakota homeland and the river remains important to many Indigenous cultures,” says Jayne Miller, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. “Our partnership with The Sioux Chef opens up opportunities beyond what the Park Board could achieve on its own. Our goals of providing healthy, locally sourced food and meaningful recreational and economic opportunities are well-aligned with the vision of The Sioux Chef.”

In addition to serving food, The Sioux Chef intends to have their restaurant support training and jobs for people interested in related fields. 

“We are humbled and grateful for the opportunity to help honor the Indigenous history of Owamni Yamni (Place of Whirlpools). This location has been a sacred site of peace and well-being for the Dakota and Anishinaabe people for millennia,” says Thompson. “We plan to leverage this wonderful partnership with the Minneapolis Park Board, through our aligned mission of nutritional, physical, and spiritual health for all, as well as to create food access and education about the rich history of the Native people in this beautiful area.”

The Minneapolis Park Board approved the Water Works concept in June 2017. The design team is continuing with schematic design and construction documents and will share updated plans during community engagement events this fall. Limited archaeological work and selective deconstruction of the Fuji-Ya building have begun and will continue through early 2018. Construction is expected to begin in the late summer of 2018.

Through the Parks Foundation, the majority of Mezzanine Phase funding will be provided by philanthropic investment. In 2015, the Parks Foundation launched the RiverFirst Capital Campaign, which has, to date, raised $12.3M in philanthropic gifts and commitments.

For more info on the Sioux Chef, see:


Olympic-style ski jump plans in works for PIIC
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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skilongview.jpgThe Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) is in negotiations with the Friends of American Ski Jumping organization over plans by the latter group to build an Olympic-style ski jump on the Community’s Mount Frontenac near Red Wing.

Ski jump enthusiasts and Red Wing area boosters have been raising money from private sources for the project. Heading into August, organizers had raised $1.2 million and had another $1 million in pledges for what is estimated to be a $6 million year-around ski jump training and competition facility.

A second phase of development with more recreation venues and concern facilities is also being considered.  

Shelley Buck, president of the PIIC Tribal Council, said the Community and ski jump group are still finalizing business arrangements for the group to build on the Community’s land. But, she added, “We are excited to see the project moving forward and are encouraged by the growing interest and support.”

The idea for the ski jump facility came from the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame that is housed in the St. James Hotel in downtown Red Wing. Norwegian immigrants started American ski jumping at Red Wing in the 1880s on the bluffs above the Mississippi River.

skijumptop.jpgRegardless how business ties between the groups are resolved, the ski jump facility would expand PIIC’s activities in the hospitality industry. The site is connected to the Mount Frontenac Golf Course and its club house and event center, and is convenient to PIIC’s Treasure Island Resort and Casino.

Buck said diversifying the Community’s economy is a top priority.

“Gaming has been a successful economic development tool for our tribe and many other Native communities; it’s helped us become self-sufficient and allowed us to share our success with our neighbors,” she said. “But we don’t want to bet our future on gaming alone.”

Prairie Island’s economy is already one of Minnesota’s most diverse destination and entertainment attractions with gaming, golf, water sports, bowling and concerts, Buck said. “This project would add exciting elements to what we’ve already created and drive even more visits and positive impact to the region, she said. 

Ski jump backers are estimating as many as 100,000 people may be drawn to the site annually. Red Wing and Rochester newspapers have stressed this would economically benefits communities throughout southeastern Minnesota.
The Hall of Fame inducted six new members in early August at ceremonies at the golf club. A special guest at the Red Wing ceremony was Steve Collins, a Canadian Olympian ski jumper who has family ties to the PIIC.
Collins is a member of the Fort William First Nation near Thunder Bay, Ont. Peter Collins, a first cousin of the skier, is the elected chief of the Ojibwe First Nation. ­However, the Hall of Fame notes on its website that a grandfather of the celebrated Canadian Olympian was Charley Collings, a member of PIIC before migrating to Canada.

More information about the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame and Museum is available at: ;
the ski jump project is at, and Prairie Island Indian Community at .  

Indian Land Capital Co. helps tribes reclaim ancestral land
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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businessstoryroy.jpgAn unusual finance company based in the St. Paul suburb of Little Canada is playing a big role in helping tribes repurchase ancestral lands that should never have been sold or taken away.

The Indian Land Capital Co.  (ILCC) is legally a for-profit venture owned by two nonprofit organizations, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation in Little Canada and the Native American Community Development Corp. of Browning, Mont.

There are a variety of legal reasons why the ILCC is incorporated that way, said Rjay Brunkow, chief executive officer. But mostly, it allows ILCC to work with commercial banks and other lenders to allow creative financing packages for tribes that aren’t secured by land collateral.

“This has always been a problem for sovereign nations,” Brunkow said. “Lenders always want collateral supporting the loan. It takes some ‘getting used to’ for banks to recognize the full faith and credit (pledge) of sovereign nations.”

Founded in 2005, ILCC has helped tribes finance 17 land acquisition projects. The purchases have been in a dozen states but California is a major client base for ILCC activity. That comes from California’s large number of small Rancherias (reservations) and California Natives’ peculiar experiences with federal laws that disbanded the tribes and later restored federal recognition. 

Some ILCC loan have been small purchases of a few acres within reservation boundaries or a nearby mountain that has cultural importance but no economic value to a tribe. Others have been large purchases such as the 22,237 acres of timberland in 2011 that doubled the size of the Yurok Tribe at Klamath, Calif.

Land repurchases to date are important both economically and culturally but are a mere pittance of the 90 million acres pulled away legally and illegally from sovereign tribes, Brunkow said.

The most recent ILCC financed land purchase was two months ago when the Pinoleville Pomo Nation at Ukiah, Calif., acquired 9.3 acres of its original Rancheria land with a $2.7 million loan.  

“We couldn’t have done this without Rjay’s and the land company’s help,” said Leona Williams, the tribal chairperson.

The reacquired land was split between 8.8 acres of commercial property and 3.5 acres that Williams described as “cultural heritage land.”

All of the property, however, is significant for the Pinoleville Pomo citizens and for members of 16 other Rancherias in California, she said.

Part of the land formerly belong to Tillie Hardwick, a tribal member who challenged a 1958 federal law that resulted in terminating the California Rancherias in 1966. In winning that 1979 case, tribal status was returned to the Rancherias and their members regained federal recognition as American Indians.

“We really wanted to save this land but we didn’t have the means,” Williams said. “Then, an attorney we knew from Colorado suggested we find out if that group (ILCC) in Minnesota could help. It seemed to be too good to be true, but it was true.”

Small and less economically successful tribal nations like the Pinoleville Pomo make the primary client base for ILCC financing and originated loans with other partners. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community “really don’t need our help,” he said, and they have all the internal expertise they need to work financing and business ventures.

Meanwhile, Brunkow said the capital company is gaining access to participating lenders with each passing land deal. The track record with tribes is what does it.

“We’ve never had a tribal client default on a loan,” he said.

That would impress bankers. Brunkow would know.

Brunkow, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, is a former investment banker specializing in Indian Country business for Wells Fargo. He has a business economics degree from South Dakota State University and a law degree from the University of Minnesota.

Before joining ILCC two years ago, Brunkow had previously served as solicitor general for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and as chief legal counsel for the Turtle Mountain Band.

One reason for the success of ILCC’s loans is that Brunkow and his predecessors serve as the loan originators when bringing other participants in on the loans. “When we know Indian Country, we know what will be done with the land and we know the politics, the culture of a tribe, that tells us the tribe will follow through on obligations,” he said.

That isn’t significantly different from other banking and lending practices. “What we are looking for is stability,” he added.

ILCC is housed at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation office in Little Canada. It also gets staff help from the parent organization.

While the Foundation, with its 76 percent stake in the company, and its Native American Community Development Corp. partner could be taking profits out of the for-profit lending institution, it doesn’t. And it won’t, explains Chris Stainbrook (Oglala Lakota), president of the Foundation and board chair for ILCC.

“ILCC was formed as a for-profit company to demonstrate to outside lenders that tribes are good credit risks and full-faith-in-credit lending to the tribes could work. It was not formed for the two non-profit owners to be supported by ILCC profits,” he said.

“ILTF and NACDC will not take a single nickel out of ILCC until the 90 million acres of lost reservation lands are returned to Indian ownership, management and control,” he added.

That shows the magnitude of the work remaining for the capital company and its parents.

More information about the Indian Land Capital Company can be found at ; Indian Land Tenure Foundation at , and Native American Community Development Corp. at .    

Native Caucus = Strength in Numbers
Tuesday, August 08 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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native-american-women-minnesota-legistature.jpgFrom winning state bonding funds for redesign and improvements for the Minneapolis American Indian Center to preserving funding for Indian education programs, the newly-formed Native Caucus in the Minnesota Legislature is showing again there is strength in numbers.

Voters in the last election added two more Native Americans to the Minnesota House of Representatives, making a small Native Caucus of four women. They, in turn, joined with House and Senate members from Hispanic/Latino, Hmong and other Asian, Somali and Black American heritages to form a 14-member People of Color & Indigenous (POCI) Caucus to fight collaboratively for racial and economic equality issues during the 2017 legislative session.

New to the Legislature are Reps. Jamie Becker-Finn, of Roseville (District 42B); and Mary Kunesh-Podein, New Brighton (41B). They joined Reps. Peggy Flanagan, St. Louis Park (46A), who won a special election in 2015 and a full term in November; and three-term veteran Susan Allen, of Minneapolis (62B) 

All Native and POCI members are DFLers. That means they are minority individuals combining talents within the minority party of both houses of the Minnesota Legislature. It also means they needed to work offensively and defensively with Republican lawmakers and committee chairs to seek new programs and funds while preserving programs and funds already serving their constituents and communities.

“It is hard for me to imagine doing this job without the Native Caucus and the POCI caucus,” said new House member Becker-Finn. “I think there is strength in numbers, but it also gave me strength as an individual to look across the House floor and see Representative Flanagan and know that I was not alone in what I was fighting for.”

 Reaching out and banding together worked, at least in the eyes of Mary LaGarde, executive director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center. The caucus coauthored and supported legislative efforts for the Center's $155,000 renovation pre-design funding that was led by Rep. Karen Clark (62A), who represents that area of south Minneapolis.

LaGarde said design work and mechanical upgrade plans will be prepared by late fall at the earliest. Ever a diplomat, LaGarde said she was pleased that Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, included the Center’s funding in his state bonding bill recommendations, and that Clark and Allen were able to get Republican legislative leaders to study and accept the proposal. Key among them was Rep. Dean Urdahl (18A), R-Grove City and the House Capital Investment chair.

Given that there are now enough Native heritage members of the Legislature to actually work as a caucus, The Circle asked the four lawmakers to assess what was accomplished, what wasn’t, and how working together in Native and POCI (pronounced “posse”) caucuses worked.

Allen provided a long list of bills either passed or incorporated into larger, omnibus legislation from the state’s Revisor of Statutes Office that included:

  • Tax exemptions for tribal clinics in cities off of tribal lands, and including income earned by tribal members working on reservations for eligibility for Minnesota Working Family Tax Credits.
  • Tribal contract school aid for 2018 and 2019.
  • American Indian education aid and American Indian teacher preparation grants for the next two years.
  • Tribal college grants and an Indian scholarship program administered at Bemidji State University.
  • Opioid Abuse Prevention Pilot projects across the state that include Native communities.
  • Funding for the Indian Affairs Council for a variety of programs, including to preserve Dakota and Ojibwe language, support for the Niiganne Ojibwe Immersion School, Wicoie Nandagikendan Urban Immersion Project, Baby’s Space and other Indian Affairs Council partners.
  • A grant to the American Indian Council to carry out responsibilities for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
  • Grants for the American Indian Opportunities and Industrialization Center, in collaboration with the Northwest Indian Community Development Center, to help reduce educational disparities for American Indian students and adults.
  • Funds for the state’s Housing Finance Agency for use in encouraging housing projects for American Indians and communities of color, and for a home ownership assistance program for those communities.
  • And, $1.5 million in funds for the Department of Natural Resources as part of an agreement in which the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will acquire 45 acres of aquatic and wildlife habitat at an historic meeting place between explorer Henry Schoolcraft and Anishinabe people. The land will be open to the public and not put in federal trust through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Of course, nearly everything else that passed the Legislature and was signed into law will have an impact on Minnesota Indian Country along with all other communities within the state.

For Allen, the “dean” of the Native Caucus, there was as much frustration over what wasn’t done as there was satisfaction over what she deemed to be accomplishments.

The Legislature mostly ignored the chaos in Washington and how federal programs in transition might come back and harm state and local governments and their shared programs, she said. As a result, she added, the Legislature “squandered most of the $1.65 billion (state) budget surplus by redistributing it to the wealthy and further widening inequality between the wealthy and people struggling to secure and maintain regular employment that pays a living wage.”

The two caucuses working together did hold off legislative efforts to prohibit local governments, such as the city of Minneapolis, from addressing economic inequality issues such as raising minimum wages. They also were instrumental in preventing legislative efforts aimed at disallowing citizen protests.

The strength in numbers didn’t just come from the members of the Legislature. It was also reflected by citizens who came to support the caucus members. For instance, a House debate on an oil pipeline amendment drew Native people and environmentalist allies, “and was the most powerful day of my legislative career thus far,” said Becker-Finn.

“To hear the drum reverberate in our State Capitol – it was a very powerful and also effective at showing how much people in our communities care about the issue,” she said.

Kunesh-Podein, meanwhile, said being able to tell personal stories from family experiences helped other lawmakers grasp how public policy plays out in human terms. When funds for American Indian students and tribal schools were being excluded from initial budget bills, “being a member of the POCI caucus gave me the courage and voice to raise this ‘oversight’ on the House floor.

“It also compelled me to share my family’s history of trauma related to being removed from the Standing Rock Reservation and being sent to the Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania. At the end of the session, and after our collective perseverance and personal conversations with committee members, I was elated to see that monies were put back into the education omnibus bill.”

Four members of the House help make other legislators aware of tribes and indigenous people, the members said. But even greater strength comes from teaming with POCI members who represent other “marginalized” communities in Minnesota, Kunesh-Podein said.

Immigrants live in constant fear of deportation; and women’s reproductive rights and economic opportunities are under constant attack, she said. With POCI, she said, “we have a powerful, collective voice for these constituents.”



Riding the Line: Enbridge and the horse nation
Tuesday, August 08 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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native-american-horse-ride2.jpgI am a traveler, for sure, but my love of the horse, the sound of horses on our Mother Earth,  the chance to see a monarch butterfly, a back trail, and a ride with my grandchildren brings me to horse. And on Sandy Lake, it brings me to canoes. We have become a people who travel very fast, and many of us rarely stop to taste the fresh raspberries, harvest the medicines, or swim in our lakes. And perhaps we have forgotten our relationship to the natural world and the horse nation.  

These past three weeks I have had the privilege of riding with great horsemen and women, mostly Dakota and Lakota who came to ride the proposed Enbridge pipelines – this time in Wisconsin, where Enbridge has two main lines – a triangle from Superior which stretches across Bad River, Lac Courte Orielles, and into Ho Chunk territory. The line turns towards the Great Lakes and to the proposed Line 3 route in Minnesota and through the heart of our manoomin (wild rice) territory. It is an epic time and in an epic time, we must be at our best.

I am inspired by courageous people. I believe that we all are, whether Delores Huerta, Nelson Mandela or the Crow Creek Boys who we came to know at Standing Rock.  At 21, Mason Red Wing is young for a leader. Standing Rock changed his life as it did for many of us. We remember Mason and his brother Talon Voice from the early videos of the horses and dogs at Standing Rock. “Many of those who travel, saw the grammas being arrested and thrown to the ground by Morton County. …I went out there to protect the women and children, to put our  bodies in front of them,” Talon Voice tells me.

“The dogs came straight for the horses, as soon as they released the dogs. We had to drive them back..” he said.

Asked why they ventured so far into the woods and lakes to support us in our battle against Enbridge, Mason said, “You guys helped at Standing Rock, so I said why not return the favor and come support you.”

native-american-horse-ride3.jpgThe men of Crow Creek, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Sisseton, and Santee are seasoned and weathered for their young age. Their lives are much more tragic than many, yet their love of the horse and the restoration of horse culture inspires all and heals them.

We remember who we are when we see our relatives on horse back. It is not only a healing for Lakota people. What brings us together is often the spirit, the need for redemption, and the horse nation.  

Tracy Hsu is from Elgin North Dakota, a K-12 Librarian in the school system. She rides through Minnesota with us. “What really prompted me to go to Standing Rock was the kids on horses. I saw that on FB [Facebook],” said Hsu. Those kids are Mason Red Wing, Talon Voice, Kaler Kirkie, Judson Stadel, Jason Skinny Bull,  Elliot, Matt Pumpkinseed, and many more.  

Tracy brought two half Percheron, half thoroughbred horses to ride along the proposed Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline. “ I wanted to show my support. You guys came to North Dakota.” She pauses, “I also wanted to represent what you call ‘the Deep North.’ That there are a few of us that are here, who support you, who are conscious and are good people.” 

To Tracy, the violence of the oil industry was wrong. “When they sicked dogs on people and closed the highway, I was all in. You don’t get to do that to people... Our family ranch was on the Cannonball…” she added.

The Black Snake

I became committed to ride this 200 mile stretch from Rice Lake Refuge in Minisinakwaang to Rice Lake at Gaawaabaabaanikaag, five years ago.  For those years I have ridden, always with other riders better than I, this route proposed for the pipeline. The Keri Pickett film, “First Daughter and the Black Snake” tells much of our story in the ride against the current of the oil, and our commitment to face Enbridge on a long battle.

native-american-horse-ride4.jpgA journey is not always in your planner. Each day is like a journey to me, that is if I am able to take the Creator up on the offer. We stop at the East Lake Powwow and probably for the first time in years, 20 horses circle through the Dance Arbor, and the host drum, Swampy Cree, sings a jingle dress song for the horses. After all, many jingle dress songs are related to horse songs.

Half way through the ride we got word that our Great Elder, Anna Gibbs, had passed on. The Dakota remembered her and asked to escort our Waasabiik, Anna Gibbs, to her final resting place at the family cemetery in Ponemah.  Tracy Hsu drives her white percherons to carry the casket, and the riders escort Anna. The ride and the journey are beautiful.

Let’s be clear that what is being proposed in the failing days of the fossil fuel industry is a disaster of epic proportions. It is the same with the extreme mining proposals, the Confined Animal Feeding Operations, and the proposed Back Forty Mine of Wisconsin. They are all part of an extreme way of life, one which is not sustainable.  A disaster of epic proportions, requires an epic answer, and courage.  On the horse, and on the land and water, you find that courage.

Most of us have had little faith in a state or federal regulatory process. And it turns out that we are related. The proposed Line 3 would add more tar sands to Enbridge’s Mainline system, and would feed into a proposed 42 inch Line 66, called a “twin” to the Line 61 in Wisconsin. Another Snake, Line 5, heads through Bad River to the Straights of Mackinac where hundreds of water protectors gather. Line 66 crosses Ho Chunk territory, and for a time, Deer Clan Elder Bill Greendeer joins us on the ride. 

The Enbridge Pipeline already cuts through one of thirteen Bear, Snake, Effigy and other mounds.
“... The Ho-Chunk Nation is no stranger to the damage caused by the oil industry to our sacred sites within our traditional territory. In its current capacity, the Enbridge Pipeline has already caused the irreparable damage to many sacred site on our homelands…”, Jon Greendeer, Executive Director of Heritage Preservation for the HoChunk Nation.

Eighty feet wide and 300 miles long, running the length of Wisconsin – through neighborhoods, businesses, farmsteads, forests, rivers – that is the swath of Wisconsin land controlled by Enbridge Energy Partners. Beneath that 80 foot swath are three pipelines carrying more than 2 million barrels of oil per day, and one pipeline carrying diluent pumped northward to extract oil from Canada’s tar sands. Now Enbridge wants more and up to 300 feet more of easement.

Unlikely Alliances

The pipeline makes unlikely allies, linked through a dysfunctional and outdated system of infrastructure.  People come to see us at every stop, bring food, water, and community feasts. In Marshfield, Wisconsin (site of the largest Enbridge spill in Wisconsin) we are sweaty from horses, and welcomed at the Presbyterian Church potluck with hundreds of people, including landowners who were deeply concerned about the Canadian company being granted eminent domain rights to expand a line in Wisconsin. We are put up in Tweed’s farm, a newly elected Tribal Council man from Lac Couirte Orielle reservation, with whom we talk of local food economies, horses and a future. 

native-american-horse-ride1.jpgMarjy Hanson, built her home 30 years ago near Marshfield. Wisconsin. To her, “this is about property rights... I have paid taxes here as have many of my neighbors who will suffer similar issues and some who have it worse, they will lose their home. Truly my husband and I believe 80 feet is enough.”  

The heavy lobbying of the Canadian pipeline company came to bear. In the summer of 2015 the Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, through the obscure Motion 999 process, changed Wisconsin’s eminent domain law to allow Enbridge to take private land through condemnations.

The proposed Sandpiper and Line 3 originally was slated to cross Lynn Mizner’s land, and after her she became intractable (ie: would not budge) Enbridge backed off and re-routed. So we camp in her yard and admire her sheep and her sheep dogs.
Each day is like a journey to me, that is if I am able to take the Creator up on the offer. 
What Mason and the other horse people did at Standing Rock changed our perceptions of who we are and where we are in history. The truth is, we have become a people who live in a box, not only a house, a housing project, a city, but a computer, a phone, and a box, of our own social limitations.

I remember clearly Mathew King saying, “the only thing sadder than an Indian who is not free, is an Indian who does not remember what it is like to be free…” And in many ways that is this time. For the Anishinaabeg to be free is to make maple syrup, harvest medicines, net fish, harvest wild rice  and live the life of these Northwoods and lakes. The Riders remind us to be free. The sound of the horse nation on our land reminds us of the larger life around us. I see the few monarchs, the quietude of our lakes, and am grateful.  

 (All photographs by Sarah Kalmanson.)

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