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Deconstruction for Mother Earth
Friday, February 05 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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deconstructioncoverweb.jpgThe ground may be covered with snow, and temperatures wintertime cold, but an entire new “green” industry with job training is being created in both cities and rural areas here in the Northland. Native American workers for Miigwech Aki Deconstruction (Co.), based at Bemidji, recently completed deconstructing a commercial building in downtown Minneapolis and a large Twin Cities suburban home. They have also started deconstructing two abandoned properties in the Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota.

Salvage businesses have been around for centuries to rescue and reuse metals from sunken ships and old automobiles to wood and brick building materials. But creating social enterprises for environmental and employment training purposes is a new twist, and a new industry, built on old salvage practices.

Deconstruction is an environmentally friendly alternative to demolition, said project director Chris Bedeau (Leech Lake Ojibwe). The purpose is to keep from 85 percent to 95 percent of building materials from simply being destroyed and dumped into landfills.

That objective fits the company name Miigwech Aki, (“Thank you Earth” in Ojibwe) and is consistent with Native American values and culture, Bedeau said.

The deconstruction company is a year-old creation of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center (NWICDC) at Bemidji and simultaneously provides construction training, financial literacy, work readiness and personal well-being training programs for its participants.

uleah Palmer, the NWICDC executive director said that training and work experiences are important for unemployed and underemployed Native Americans who aspire to meaningful jobs.

The Jobs Now Coalition nonprofit group estimates northern Minnesota jobs in the Bemidji area would require $17.55 per hour for a worker to support a family of four. Average pay for jobs in that area is currently $9.95 per hour.

Miigwech Aki Deconstruction can do some of that work. “I believe this initiative fits what we do as Native people,” Bedeau said.

"Our [company] tagline says it all: ‘Preserving our greatest resource, Mother Earth, one building at a time.’ Our social enterprise gives us the opportunity to have hands on experience on a daily basis, contributing to the preservation of our planet,” he said.

Deconstructing homes and commercial properties is emerging just as the U.S. is slowly turning to ways to convert wastes into energy, recycle materials for new uses, and change American culture away from being the world’s most wasteful society.

Feds to Assume Jurisdiction at Mille Lacs Ojibwe Reservation
Friday, February 05 2016
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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Things have gotten so bad on the Mille Lacs Reservation that Melanie Benjamin, the Ojibwe band’s chief executive, closed the doors to her annual State of the Band address last month. She wanted to address her people, and only her people, admitting band members, essential tribal employees, and invited guests to the exclusion of all others. Benjamin used the occasion to speak about justice – economic, social, and criminal.

Her impassioned rhetoric reminded attendees of the great strides the Mille Lacs people have made since the dimmest days of the European invasion; how the people had fought to retain sovereignty and restore the band’s spiritual ways and economic base. She warned, however, that all progress would be lost if the band didn’t take immediate and unflinching measures to abate criminal activity on the reservation – the latest threat, Benjamin said, to its continuing existence.

Benjamin announced that beginning January 1, 2017, the federal government will assume concurrent criminal jurisdiction on the central Minnesota reservation. Under the new agreement, federal authorities will be able prosecute crimes such as rape, murder, felony child abuse and felony assault in cooperation with state and tribal law enforcement.

Benjamin said the move is intended to send a message “to drug dealers, gang members and anyone intent on committing violent crimes on our lands. We will catch you, and when we do, you are going to Leavenworth, not Stillwater, and you are not getting out for a very, very long time.  Tell the dealers,” she said “if you don’t want to go to federal prison, get off our lands now, and stay out.”

Some band members have decried the new agreement as a surrender of tribal sovereignty. Benjamin said she doesn’t see it that way. Unless the band restores peace on the reservation, she said, there will be no nation left to exercise its rights. “The circle of life needs to be restored in a manner that permits the integrity of the individual to be maintained so that the community will continue to grow and prosper.”

While the Mille Lacs Band’s two casinos have benefitted by their proximity to the Twin Cities, Mille Lacs Solicitor General Todd Matha told the StarTribune in January that tribal communities have paid a heavy price in the form of increased crime. “Mille Lacs is basically the first stop from the [Twin] Cities going north,” he said. “When there’s gang activity and control of the drug trade, there’s obviously the violence that goes along with that.”

U.S. Justice Department statistics show overall crime rates on reservations are typically twice as high as they are elsewhere. A respite in criminal activity was noted on Minnesota’s Ojibwe reservations, however, following a federal indictment in January 2012, which charged two-dozen suspected members of the Native Mob with crimes ranging from conspiracy and racketeering to drug trafficking and attempted murder.

Creativity and technology make markets for Red Circle clients
Thursday, January 07 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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redcircle1sm.jpgAward-winning Red Circle Agency in Minneapolis sticks close to core strengths by working with tribally owned casinos and hospitality industry ventures, but it attracts national attention for both its creative marketing skills and for its business growth.

Within the past year, Inc. magazine named the advertising and marketing company among the top 25 percent of the nation’s fastest growing privately owned companies on its annual Inc. 5000 list. Locally, Twin Cities Business magazine honored Red Circle among finalists in its Small Business Success Stories for the 2014 year.

Within the creative world, Red Circle received 11 Telly Awards that honor local, regional and cable TV commercials and programs, video and film productions, and online commercials, video and films. In addition, it was honored by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA) with a W3 Award for creative excellence in websites, web video and online marketing programs.       

Founder and president Chad Germann, (Mille Lacs Band Ojibwe) worked in marketing for the Band’s Grand Casino Hinckley and Grand Casino Mille Lacs for four years after attending college at St. Cloud State University and graduate school at the University of North Florida.

“I loved it,” he said. “Every day was fun.” And at the same time, the work and fun showed him an opportunity to start a business and that would also serve other Native American groups, he added.
Germann became an entrepreneur 15 years ago in the highly competitive advertising and marketing industry where he competes with Madison Avenue firms, regional and local “Madmen” and women.

By various accounts and directories, there are more than 1,200 such firms with headquarters or operations in Minnesota, of which nearly 1,000 are in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. These numbers do not count in-house departments at large Minnesota-based corporations.  
Like many others in this huge supportive business field where advertising and marketing are extensions of Minnesota’s food and agribusiness industries, finance or its medical technology sectors, Red Circle’s growth is closely linked to its ties with its origins: the Native American tribes and bands.

Red Circle has about 80 long time clients that are mostly casino and hospitality industry operators in Indian Country, Germann said. Over the past three years, employment at the agency has increased from 25 people to more than 40 while revenues jumped 406 percent to $7.1 million, according to the Inc. magazine report.

That means Red Circle is still a small business player in the big field of advertising and marketing, although it is the largest Native-owned, full-service advertising agency. But growth is coming fast. Germann said he anticipates Red Circle will crack the Inc. 500 list within the coming year.

Peggy Flanagan elected to MNHouse of Reps
Thursday, January 07 2016
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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peggy_flanagan_headshot_sm.jpgWhen Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe) attended her first committee hearing at the State Capitol she remembers the feeling of dread that swept over her. She had arrived in the chamber to testify on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, of which she was the executive director. Her goal: to convince legislators to raise the minimum wage so that working families across Minnesota could put food on the table.

On the wall behind the panel of representatives hung a painting showing the aftermath of an 1862 battle, in which the bodies of felled Dakota warriors lay strewn about a field. It was a chilling reminder of the consequences of starvation, and a message, Flanagan says, that Native American people are not welcome in the halls of government.

As the newest member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Flanagan, 35, aims to change that. The longtime community organizer, who grew-up with her single mother in St. Louis Park (where she lives today with her husband and two-year-old daughter), says the time is now for the voices of Native people to be heard in St. Paul. The multi-talented politician, whose resume far outpaces her age, has used her voice for nearly two decades to push for change, sometimes in surprising ways.

JL: You recently sang the Star Spangled Banner at a Vikings-Packers game at TCF Stadium.
PF: I did. It was pretty awesome. Pretty scary. And the halftime show was really great; it was a bunch of powwow dancers and drummers. It was really fun to see so many Native people on the field. Frankly, the NFL needs to do all it can to try to honor Native folks.

JL: Do you think Native participation in pregame and halftime shows has an impact on the NFL’s willingness to change derogatory team names?
PF: The NFL, and Washington team owner Dan Snyder in particular, are motivated by money. Snyder’s dug-in in much the same way that we’ve seen people like Donald Trump do lately. But I think eventually it’s going to change as people see just how inhumane it is. By having Native folks be mascots we’re being portrayed as less than human and when you portray people as less than human beings it’s easy then, when it comes to making policy, to not treat folks in a way that provides what they need to thrive.

Carceral Colonialism: Imprisonment in Tribal Country
Thursday, December 03 2015
 
Written by By Alisha Volante, Brianna Wilson and Elena Hristova,
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incarceration_story_graph.jpgAmerican Indians make up a little more than 1% of the population in Minnesota, yet make up almost 10% of those incarcerated. To put that in perspective, white Minnesotans make up 83% of the population but only 47% of those incarcerated (prisonpolicy.org).

The U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. And Minnesota incarcerates a higher percentage of American Indians than any other ethnic group, yet often the incarceration conversation fails to address Native communities.

In an attempt to address this, undergraduates, graduate students, Professors Brenda Child (American Indian Studies), Kevin Murphy (American Studies/History) and Jean O’Brien (History/American Indian Studies) at the University of Minnesota have joined a nationwide mass incarceration interpretation project and, in Minnesota, our focus is American Indian incarceration.

Launching in April 2016, Humanities Action Lab (HAL), is presenting, States of Incarceration Project, exploring the past, present and future of incarcerated people in the U.S. The University of Minnesota will be among 20 universities in the US and France contributing to the traveling exhibit and website.

HAL’s pilot project, the Guantanamo Public Memory Project, was the first major collaborative effort to offer multiple perspectives on GTMO’s history and what it represents. Two years and 18 cities later, this project has reached more than 500,000 people through social media, the website, and face-to-face interaction with the exhibit. The exhibit is scheduled to travel to New York, California, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Minnesota (in 2018).

The University of Minnesota will be the only exhibit contributor to focus on mass incarceration and American Indian communities. Students are grappling with two overarching questions: Why are American Indians the most overrepresented incarcerated ethnic group in Minnesota, and what is the historical legacy of American Indian incarceration in Minnesota? Students are investigating broken treaties, colonial incarceration, boarding schools, and various iterations of technologies of state power and violence preceding the current incarceration disparities in the state.

Undergraduates are working on a range of projects under the theme of understanding mass incarceration of Native people as extensions of racism and settler colonialism. The projects include the following: a history of the Dakota 38, the largest mass execution in US history; the history of American Indian boarding schools in the upper Midwest and their legacy in relation to incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline; the history of allotments and broken treaties and their relationship to the concentration camp at Fort Snelling from 1862-1863; the history of Little Earth, a site of resistance to carceral practices, and of Native self-determination; and an evaluation of how the current Minnesota public school curriculum addresses (or fails to address) the Ft. Snelling concentration camp and the US-Dakota War.

Native retailers not dependent on holiday season
Thursday, December 03 2015
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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native_businss_web.jpgNative American retailers in Minnesota who sell arts, crafts, Native and local foods and other specialty products are not as dependent on the November-December peak gift buying and shopping season that are make-or-break times for most large retail chains and stores.

Other seasons have greater impacts on sales of niche market products, several retailers and suppliers of Native American products said. The end of the year holiday season is still important and can cap off a profitable year. But a burst of sales for the holidays doesn’t sustain small business people in niche markets.   

Stores such as Northland Visions in south Minneapolis need strong sales year around to maintain inventories of artworks from Native artists and to keep stocks of art supply materials it sells to hobby customers and artists, said store manager Greg Bellanger (Ojibwe).

“We don’t have a ‘Black Friday’ like the big chain stores,” added his mother Marilynn Bellanger. “We can’t operate all year and then become profitable on the day after Thanksgiving.”

The same is true for Spirit Bay Trading Company in Duluth. There, said company founder Terry Smith, the big shopping season is the summer tourism season when Midwesterners descend onDuluth’s Canal Park to play and stay cool by Lake Superior.

Randy Beaulieau is both a specialty retailer and a wild rice processor and supplier. The biggest season for his Autumn Harvest Ojibwe Wild Rice is the summer Farmers Market season in Minneapolis, he said, when he is an active retailer.

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