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Comedian Ralphie May Blames “Ignorance” on US Education
Thursday, May 05 2016
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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ralphie_may_racist_comments.jpg“Humor,” said the Greek writer Taki, “is a reminder that no matter how high the throne one sits on, one sits on one’s bottom.” Comedian Ralphie May, the star of multiple Comedy Central and Netflix specials, was living proof of this last month.  A firestorm erupted across Indian Country in response to a 44-second audio clip of a May performance that surfaced April 5 on YouTube. A joke contained in the outtake came off as a rant against Native Americans, as it relied upon a litany of profanity-laced stereotypes for its set-up.

May describes Native Americans as “a bunch of unemployed alcoholics in need of haircuts” who have “never made it to the Bronze Age,” which is why white settlers took their land with “smallpox blankets and a bag of beads.”

May’s career has been riding high since he won runner-up in 2003 on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. But the response to the YouTube clip, which American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder Clyde Bellecourt called “The most racist thing I’ve ever heard,” forced May to reflect on some of the material which gave rise to his success.

The comedian started posting defiantly on Twitter shortly after the clip began circulating. One of May’s tweets read: “Afraid, I will not be. Shamed, I will not be. Apologize, I will not. I am a man that stands on his own.” Another read: “I make jokes about whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Arabs, gays. None are PC but at the end of it they all show how hatred is stupid.”

May – a white American whose comedy stabs at just about everyone, himself included – said the clip had been edited and stripped of context that would have clarified his intent. In an interview with Indian Country Today last month, the comedian claimed to have Cherokee ancestry.

Meant to quell the controversy, May’s comments only drew more attention to it. One day after the clip was released on YouTube, it had been viewed more than 10,000 times, and the fallout was just beginning.

Public criticism of May focused on the Sanford Center in Bemidji where the 44-year old from Chattanooga, Tenn. was schedule to perform April 9. The event center addressed the matter on Facebook – first by saying they do not necessarily condone the views of their performers, and later by apologizing for booking May to perform. The Sanford Center said it would not cancel the show, citing a legal contract with May. One day after it issued its apology, however, Bemidji city manager Nate Mathews directed the Sanford Center to cancel May’s performance and refund tickets to customers “due to concerns about the appropriateness of what the comedy material could contain.”

Native Community - Drivers of Change
Thursday, May 05 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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native_american_business_on_franklin.jpgChange is coming to Franklin Avenue in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis, but it need not drive out the Native American population that has put down roots there as their urban home for more than 50 years.

“We’re either going to be victims of progress or navigators of progress,” said Michael Goze, chief executive officer of the American Indian Community Development Corp (AICDC). Building affordable housing is an important tool for navigating the change, he said.

In October this year, one small but important step to preserving Native residency and cultural ties in the neighborhood will occur when Goze’s AICDC and Project for Pride in Living (PPL), another mission-driven nonprofit organization, open 32 new units in their Anishinabe Bii Gii Wiin housing project at 1600 19th St. South.

The new, three-story addition will increase apartments available in the campus to 77, all serving people who are disabled or low-income earners who are receiving public housing and living support. The existing 45 units in the complex are being remodeled as part of the $10.5 million project.
That barely scratches the surface on affordable housing needs in the general area, according to various research studies, although it is crucial for a segment of the neighborhood population with low incomes and disabilities.

The Phillips neighborhood is served by the Blue Line light rail system that runs from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America in Bloomington and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. With it comes commuting access to jobs and potential customers to local businesses. And that also brings the threat that transit availability will bring added upward pressures on rents and home prices.

This process of changing neighborhoods is called “gentrification” by sociologists and urban studies professionals. Some of this is inevitable and is already visible along Franklin Avenue. It raises the challenge for the Native community to either be victims or drivers of the change, Goze said.
“All communities (neighborhoods) need good mass transit to have opportunities,” he said. But with greater opportunities, he added, “we are seeing more competition for land and space for housing and business development.”

Alberta’s Stoney Nakoda First Nation Co-Stars in The Revenant
Tuesday, April 05 2016
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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Leonardo DiCaprio had been nominated four times by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before this year’s selection for his lead role in The Revenant. As one of the iconic Hollywood actors of his generation, DiCaprio’s long losing streak, going back to his first bid for 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, became itself iconic.

At last month’s 88th Oscar Awards ceremony, DiCaprio finally won a golden statuette for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of American fur trader Hugh Glass. His gritty, physical performance, which contained few spoken lines, was boosted by a stunning backdrop of raging rivers, snow-capped mountains, and flooded woodlands – a landscape which Chief Ernest Wesley of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation says deserves partial credit for DiCaprio’s victory.

“I believe our movie set helped Leo win his first Oscar,” Wesley said. DiCaprio thanked the Stoney Nadoka people for their contributions to The Revenant in an understated acceptance speech which he used as a platform to warn against the dangers of climate change.

The Revenant is the latest production to shoot primarily in Stoney Nakoda territory, which is centered 20 miles west of Calgary, Alberta in the eastern foothills of the Canadian Rockies along the Bow River. The relationship between the Stoney Nakoda and Hollywood began in the 1950s; dozens of producers have sought out the First Nation’s pristine landscape, which evokes the pre-industrial American West.

When contacted by The Circle for this story, Chief Wesley extended greetings to his “Sioux relatives in Minnesota.” While Wesley says that the Stoney Nakoda people are well aware of their connection to the greater Sioux Nation, he says Sioux people in the U.S. are often surprised to learn they have relations as far away as northern Alberta.

Wesley says Sioux people have always called the area home. “When you look at the Sioux Nation as it was before contact with Europeans, we were a very big country. Within our borders were all or parts of Alberta, Manitoba, Montana, North and South Dakota, Saskatchewan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska.”

While Sioux people had established themselves north and south of the present International Boundary long before contact, Wesley says it was following the 1876 Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) that their population in Canada swelled. Bands following leaders such as Sitting Bull, seeking shelter from the U.S. armed forces genocidal campaign, moved north. While many, including Sitting Bull, eventually returned to the U.S. (where he was murdered December 15, 1890), others decided to remain, establishing new Sioux communities and expanding existing ones along the outer reaches of their traditional homelands.

Buy Native Directory coming soon
Tuesday, April 05 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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maple-blueberry-granola_.jpgSap is flowing and being harvested from Minnesota maple trees. It’s calving season out on the bison and beef ranches in the Dakotas and Montana. Like every year over the last millennium, April starts a new food production season for Indian Country in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains.

But there is something new under the springtime sun this year. The “Buy Local” movement popular across the country for the past decade is being repackaged into a “Buy Native” movement in the Northlands.
Indian Business Alliance organizations in five Northern Plains and Upper Midwest states are launching an interactive, online Native Business Directory this month for both Native American individual and tribally owned businesses.
The North Dakota Indian Business Alliance is taking the lead in designing the directory website, said executive director Stacey LaCompte. The IBAs in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Montana are also involved with the initial Native Business Directory. It was set to go online in early April.

Over time, LaCompte said, the Alliances hope to make the directory a national listing of American Indian and Alaskan owned and operated businesses.  

Foods and arts and crafts will be a big part of the directory, said Pamela Standing, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Business Alliance. These are popular items, and Native harvested and produced food items are part of what appears to be a growing, expanding Native industry sector, she said.

The directory should function as a “Buy Native Gift Guide” in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, Standing said.

This effort is consistent with local business groups all across the country that promote “Buy Local” campaigns to strengthen local economies, Standing said. That movement really took off in 2007 when four San Francisco women started a local campaign and coined the term “locavore” to describe people who want to purchase local foods. A Native directory is a variant of the local theme.

IHB Opens its Doors to a New Model of Patient-Centered Care
Tuesday, March 08 2016
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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ihb-dr-rock.jpgDr. Patrick Rock, CEO of Indian Health Board (IHB) medical and dental clinic in the heart of Minneapolis’ Philips Neighborhood, says every year it’s the same thing: the federal government woefully underfunds urban Indian medical facilities in violation of its treaty obligations.

Rock, an 18-year IHB employee and member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, says clinics like IHB must seek alternative funding sources as they strive to provide quality care to a population facing steep health challenges.

Rock and his staff saw opportunity with the passage in 2010 of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The law provided funding for just the kind of patient-centered innovation IHB had on its wish list for over a decade. With nearly $1 million in capital provided under the ACA, the clinic has been revamped to reflect a care model known as Accountable Care Organiza-tion (ACO).

Dr. Rock says the model is designed to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction, while reducing costs by using preventative medicine to keep patients out of emergency rooms.

Last month IHB celebrated these changes with an open house. Community members were welcomed to tour the renovated facilities, which feature bright, comfortable waiting rooms displaying Native artworks, and a state-of-the-art patient care area.

The Circle’s Jon Lurie spoke with Dr. Rock about the changes, and the challenges of caring for Minneapolis’ urban Indian population.

JL: What were some of the considerations you pondered when redesigning the clinic?
Dr. Rock: With this ACO model we’re seeing the patient as the center of our practice. The largest footprint of the clinic is the patient care area. That’s the center and everything is built around it. So, for example, when we provide dietician services, or social work consultations, it used to be that the providers would be away from the patient care area working in some corner of the building. The patient would be expected to seek out the provider’s office. But now, with the hub model, all of the providers are located in the center of the patient care area, and they go to where the patients are.

JL: Does this model work particularly well with a Native American patient population?
Dr. Rock: One of the things we take a lot of pride in is we try to adapt a lot of cultural practices into our daily work here. Right now we’re on a journey where we’re looking organization wide at indigenization and decolonization as objectives for our daily work. We think the care we provide is very Native-centric, meaning that we’re seeing people as a whole versus as a disease or a set of symptoms.

Reclaiming Bde Maka Ska for the Future Generations
Tuesday, March 08 2016
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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calhoun-lake-beane-sisters.jpgWhen I first interviewed Kate and Carly Beane (Bad Heart Bull) for Rake Magazine in 2006, they had recently moved to Minnesota, the homeland from which their family was exiled 143 years earlier following the Dakota-US War of 1862. Both of the twin sisters, citizens of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, had been experiencing hard times and hoped their return to a state in which neither had lived but where they had deep historical roots, would help restore balance to their lives.

The first thing they wanted to do upon arriving in Minneapolis, they told me at the time, was see their ancestral village, Heyata Otunwe (the Village to the Side, their grandfather Cloudman’s Village), at Lake Calhoun. “We thought, that’s our lake; let’s go see it. So we drove around it and were saddened. I guess in a way I was picturing it to look like a Seth Eastman painting,” Kate said. “He depicted scenes of traditional Dakota life with tipis, lodges, women cooking, trees, kids playing and lots of dogs.”

“It was the middle of summer,” said Carly, “and the lake was packed – people rollerblading, tons of traffic, mansions everywhere. All we knew was that this lake was where our people called home.”

As direct descendants of both Mahpiya Wicasta (Cloud Man) and Seth Eastman the sisters knew that the lake would have changed. “It’s not as if we were expecting Cloudman’s Village to still be here,” Kate added. “We knew things would be different. But we saw the lake with our hearts; we saw how it used to be, because that was the last time our family was all together, living in our homeland, and in peace.”

The sisters soon understood that living in Minnesota alone would not rectify the wounds of exile. At a recent meeting on the 24th floor of the US Bank Building in downtown St. Paul, where Carly works for a regional philanthropic foundation, and which offers stunning views of Kaposia (Little Crow’s Village) – they explained to me the process they’ve engaged over the past decade in their quest for healing.
 

“We grew up wondering why we weren’t living in our homeland, and why we weren’t raised with our language,” Kate said. The sisters both dropped out of high school at fifteen-years old.

“We didn’t feel like we mattered. We were part of an educational system that wasn’t created for us. Our story wasn’t being told, and like many Native students, we felt invisible.” Carly said. 

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