Dr. Wyatt new Emergency Department Director at HCMC
Wednesday, December 06 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Aida Strom, American Indian Patient Advocate, is shown with Dr. Thomas Wyatt, director, in the Emergency Department at Hennepin County Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of Christine Hill, senior medical relations specialist for HCMC.)

Dr. Thomas E. Wyatt (Loyal Shawnee and Quapaw Tribes of Oklahoma) became director of the Emergency Department at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in July. This marks the first time a Native American has headed a department at the large Minneapolis medical complex and makes him one of the few, if not the first Native American, to head emergency services for large hospitals anywhere in the country.

No one actually keeps track of such records, Wyatt said in a recent interview. But only three participants identify themselves as American Indians when they attend meetings of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

At the same time, the national Association of American Indian Physicians estimates there are only 500 and 600 Native American medical doctors in the entire country. That isn’t a huge number given the size of the medical profession in America. “We have more (total) physicians than that here in Hennepin County,” Wyatt said.

There is nothing about Wyatt’s rise to leadership at HCMC specific to outreach to the Native community. Rather, credentials and experience account for that. But it is another indication that this major medical and emergency services center for Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis – and for people from throughout the Upper Midwest – is welcoming to Native Americans.

Wyatt grew up in Oklahoma City, received a bachelor’s in psychology at the University of Oklahoma, and followed an Indians into Medicine (INMED) outreach program to the University of North Dakota where he received his M.D. degree in 2000. He completed his residency at HCMC in 2003.

He was a part-time emergency physician at HCMC from 2004-2011 and along the way he was attending emergency physician and assistant medical director for emergency medicine at Mercy Hospital, and was a part-time emergency physician at Virginia Medical Center in Virginia, Minn., from 2014 to earlier this year.

Professionally, he has held state leadership positions with the Minnesota Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and its national organization, is active with the Liability Carriers International Inc., American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American Medical Association, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine and the Association of American Indian Physicians.

Aida Strom (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) serves as American Indian Patient Advocate for HCMC patients and their families. It is, on paper, a part-time position.

This position was created more than 20 years ago and remains rather unique among major medical centers, she said. The Sanford Medical Center at Bemidji has a similar position, Joe Beaudreau is the American Indian Advocate there, but most large hospitals don’t.

Without such advocates in place, hospital staffs must work through a host of cultural differences, language barriers, legal and governmental agency requirements, and support services for family members accompanying a patient.

That position was vacant for a period of time before Strom was hired eight years ago. Native American leadership groups worked with HCMC officials to get the position refilled.

Some of her advocacy service goes far beyond what most people might think of as hospital care. For instance, when a patient must be rushed from one of Minnesota’s 11 reservations, or from nearby states, a relative usually “drops everything and goes with.”

That means she taps into local support groups and tribal organizations to come up with clothing, hygiene and other articles of personal use for the caregiving relative during the stay. And sometimes it is basic needs such as access to food.

Wyatt said Strom’s work is important for a patient from initial arrival on through the care and healing that must follow. At the Emergency Department, the work between Strom and medical staff is limited when the priority is saving a life. But after that, Wyatt said, Strom is especially important to connect medical staff with a patient’s local doctors or clinics and to work out connections with Indian Health Service or other agencies.

Further work is often needed for a patient to recover, and that, too, involves Strom. Both Wyatt and Strom noted that the opioid crisis in Minnesota – and across the nation – is growing worse and doesn’t spare any ethnic community.

State officials claim prescription opioids killed 186 Minnesotans in 2016, which was more than half of the opioid-related overdose deaths last year. All drug overdose deaths from various substances took 637 Minnesota lives that year. That was from five to six times more than the same causes of death in 2000.

“Lack of resources … lack of funding is a real problem for follow through,” Wyatt said. “It’s real depressing.”

This becomes what might be called extension work for Strom. She connects patients with their local doctors and clinics to try to prevent relapses, further overdoses and perhaps return visits to Wyatt’s Emergency Department.

But this isn’t the only reason why patients arrive with serious injuries or life-threatening health conditions at HCMC.

Wyatt said the medical center’s Emergency Department provides services for about 110,000 patients annually. They are cared for initially by 40 physicians who hold faculty positions with HCMC’s emergency operations, and then by other physicians and medical staff as they move to other rooms and departments for continuing care and recovery.

About 70 patients each month entering HCMC units are known to be Native Americans, Strom said. She works with only about half of them.

In their personal lives, both Wyatt and Strom are surrounded by commitments to health, safety and service.

Wyatt is married to a physician at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and they have 12, 10 and eight-year old children. Strom is married to a Minneapolis firefighter and they have a 12-year-old daughter.

Strom studied English, not medicine, at Carleton College and worked in business positions before being tapped by HCMC as a patient advocate to use her people skills.

Wyatt said he was always interested in medicine and from early on he knew he was mostly attracted to emergency medicine.

This interest was supported by his parents, he said. “I always had encouragement from outstanding mentors,” he added in what is a reoccurring acknowledgment from successful people in Indian Country. These mentors included high school teachers, a college professor, and medical school faculty “who took a genuine interest in me, not only as a student but as a person.”

This mentor influence was an investment being carried forward. Wyatt has been involved with the Indian Health Service, the Winnebago Indian Health Service unit in Nebraska, the Blackfeet Hospital Emergency Department in Montana, lecture and training programs in Quito, Ecuador and Lima, Peru; and, close to home, the Hearth of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis.

The latter was as a mentor for students interested in Native Americans in medicine.   

Peggy Flanagan could become the highest ranking Native woman to hold public office
Wednesday, December 06 2017
Written by Camille Erickson,
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peggy-flanagan.jpgState Rep. Peggy Flanagan currently serves St. Louis Park, Golden Valley and Plymouth in the Minnesota Legislature. She is running for lieutenant governor in the 2018 election. (Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.)

“It matters that people see themselves reflected in the leaders that represent them,” said state Rep. Peggy Flanagan (DFL-St. Louis Park).

Joining U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s (DFL-Mankato) bid for governor of Minnesota, Flanagan, an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, will run for lieutenant governor in next year’s gubernatorial election.

Walz and Flanagan’s campaign headquarters are situated in St. Paul right on University Avenue, where swaths of vibrant paint enveloped the walls of room. When we met, Flanagan’s warmth and attentiveness were immediate; she spoke to me in earnest with generous gestures.

“All my epiphanies happen on University Avenue,” Flanagan admitted with a smile. It’s probably not a coincidence that they are organizing near where the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s campaign office sat in 2002 – the very place where Flanagan jumped into her first political campaign.

“Campaigns are a way that we test for power and people can be heard,” Flanagan stated.

Fast forward to October 2017 when Walz announced that Flanagan would run alongside him in the gubernatorial elections. “If elected, I would be the highest ranking Native American woman in a state and federal office,” Flanagan resolutely told me.

Yet, Flanagan is quick to point out that she stands on the long legacy of Native women who have been leaders of Native nations throughout history. As Flanagan noted, “Native women often times at best are invisible, and at worst disposable. For me, I had to [run] because people need to see Native women and hear Native women. They need to value Native women.”


A record of advocacy

Flanagan’s two terms in the state House of Representatives have been punctuated with consistent calls to support children, especially children of color, Indigenous children and their families.

Flanagan grew up and is now raising a family in Bronx Park, a neighborhood within St. Louis Park. She represents District 46A which encompasses communities of greater St. Louis Park, Golden Valley, Plymouth and Medicine Lake.

“My story is a Minnesotan story. When someone is in trouble or has a need, we step up and we help them,” she said. Flanagan elaborated by illustrating her own beginning. “My mom had a Section 8 housing voucher that allowed us to get an apartment in St. Louis Park. We were on food stamps […] and we used the Child Care Assistance Program. These programs combined with living with a really wonderful, supportive community helped lift my family out of poverty.”

Flanagan brings a history of fighting for equity in education to the governor’s race. As she said in her 2014 TEDx talk, Flanagan and her family are of the Ojibwe Wolf Clan, “The role of the Wolf Clan is to be the protectors of the community, and to ensure we’ve left no one behind.”

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a focus on psychology and American Indian Studies, Flanagan began working for the Division of Indian work. She ran a program called Parent Plus which sought to bridge the gap between home and school for Native American children and their families. “[That experience] was my first look into how families of color and Native families were treated in Minneapolis.”

In 2005, Flanagan ran for the Minneapolis Public School Board and won. She was the youngest-ever member and the first Native American to serve on the board. During her tenure, she helped establish an agreement between the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors and the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) that works to improve outcomes for Native American students including hiring and training for cultural competency, building partnerships for additional education opportunities and engaging more deeply with the Native community.

During Flanagan’s time on the School Board, the district faced low enrollment, low funding and the shuttering of 20 schools. Minneapolis’ already low high school graduation rates lagged even further, dropping from 46.9 percent in 2007 to 42.3 percent in 2009 district-wide. Even six years after the landmark agreement between MPS and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors, by 2011 the graduation rate for Native American students was only at 21.8 percent.

While graduation rates in Minneapolis are still low compared to national averages, the district has now seen increases in the past five years.

For Flanagan’s constituents like Anne Casey, a constituent of Flanagan’s in District 46A and community member of St. Louis Park, the state representative has done exceptional work. Casey shared with me that her first encounter with Flanagan was when she was running for the House in a special election in 2015.

“It was really important to her to represent this community and in particular to represent voices that had not been at the table. As a constituent, this is what I have seen her do,” Casey said. “She does not just say ‘here’s what I’m hearing from the people in my community,’ but works to empower and include people at the table who are in underrepresented groups. She has fought really hard to be inclusive by empowering people of color, Indigenous people, women, children and workers.”

During the 2017 state legislative, session Flanagan organized with other DFL legislators to form the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus. Together, they released a statement and package of bills in response to a variety of issues, including the threats to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this year. “There is a team of us and we can rely on each other,” Flanagan explained. “We intentionally amplify one another’s voices.”

Currently, there are four women making up the Native caucus including Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock Lakota), Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (Leech Lake Ojibwe) and Rep. Susan Allen (Rosebud Lakota).

Becker-Finn explained the significance of participating in in the legislative process with her peers. “Having these caucuses are helpful because we have similar life experiences and similar things we are concerned about in our communities,” she said.

“Peggy’s from White Earth and I’m from Leech Lake. The histories of our people are very similar.” Becker-Finn added. “I think our histories that our families have struggled with are similar in a lot of ways. It’s [important] knowing that she gets where I am coming from and will always have my back.”

While having long been a champion for indigenous rights and needs, Flanagan also sees protecting immigrants and refugees in the state as a responsibility. “We’re going to have to fight back, be on the front lines and keep people safe. No one benefits when immigrants and refugees feeling as if they have to go into hiding or can’t talk to law enforcement. We need to do everything that we can to make sure people feel safe and protected. We are all residents of Minnesota and we are all community members of Minnesota. Whether or not folks are citizens, we still represent them.”

For the gubernatorial race, Flanagan and Walz stand committed to ensure driver’s licenses are an option for undocumented residents of Minnesota. “I have been very firm in that [driver’s licenses] are something we support,” Flanagan said. “We believe that is one of the first steps in just creating a space that is more welcoming and inclusive.”

“As Native people, we have a unique perspective on immigration […] we didn’t draw the lines that separate us. It is important to me to recognize that and see the full humanity in our community members and know that their success is our success.”


A team built on accountability

Flanagan and Walz met when she was leading a Wellstone Action training soon after she won the school board election in 2005. They have been friends ever since.

“It helps that we’ve known one another for more than a decade,” Walz continued. “You need to have a strong relationship and an ability to give and take with your governing partner for every voice to be heard. This is about governing, not politics.”

That does not mean that the two always agree, but Flanagan seems to think that is healthy. “There are times when I have called Tim on particular issues or for votes that are happening that affect greater Minnesota,” Flanagan explained. “We have come to rely on each other to get a difference in perspective.”

Walz echoed this philosophy, “It’s crucial to have people with different life experiences in positions of power. Peggy and I had different experiences growing up, but we share the same values. And we always approach our work with a sense of joy and optimism.”

That means holding each other as running mates accountable as they transition toward statewide office where they will be representing both urban and rural communities across Minnesota. Flanagan is candid in sharing the points where Walz and her have disagreed. For instance, in 2015 Walz voted to undermine protections and require intensive background checks for Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

“He received a phone call from me after that vote,” Flanagan states, “I told him I was concerned.” Flanagan went on to claim that since that vote, Walz has actively traveled across the state to have conversations with people. She believes that he has since recognized the harmful impact his decision had on immigrants and refugees across that state.

Another concern for urban communities has been Walz’s lenient stand on gun control and his continued support of Second Amendment rights. Having represented Minnesota’s first congressional district since 2007, he has supported issues like concealed carry and has also voted against the enforcement of stricter gun control measures passed by Washington, D.C. These decisions, among others, have awarded him a strong backing from the National Rifle Association.

Walz has since appeared to pivot his position on guns as evidenced by his kick off to the campaign at the American Indian Center, where he touted his change in perspective and commitment to addressing gun control to the room. Last month, state Rep. Erin Murphy asked Walz to return any campaign contributions accepted from the NRA. Walz has pledged to donate any campaign contributions he received from the NRA.

Flanagan in turn has actively worked to restrict gun violence, co-authoring two bills earlier this year at the state House calling for criminal background checks for firearm transfers, as well as allowing law enforcement and family members to petition a court to prohibit people from possessing firearms if they pose a significant danger.

Despite these differences, Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn was not concerned about Flanagan’s ability to lead with her values, and hold her colleagues accountable. She stated, “Peggy, she’s real, and you know a lot of people throw the word progressive down, but I think she really lives it. ‘Progressive’ is the idea of moving us all forward together. At heart, Peggy’s very connected to her community and committed to her constituents.”

A seat at the table

Flanagan remarked that what surprised her most after assuming her seat in the state House was how often legislation was introduced onto the floor without any dialogue or input with the communities most directly impacted by those bills.

“To me,” she said, “that is not what makes for good governance.”

Flanagan considers what it might look like to “co-govern with communities.” For that vision to be realized, she thinks legislators need to create spaces that bring people together and ask, “What is your vision for your own community, and how can we work together to make that happen?’”

Flanagan contended, “People are experts in their own lives and we need to be respectful of those experiences.”

Flanagan carries a record of making this a reality with her work as the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund where she created Voices and Choices for Children, a space by and for people of color to create early childhood policy initiatives for the state capitol.

At the state capitol, Flanagan pointed out, there is an expectation that people need to come to legislators with ideas. “I think that’s not right, people should expect that leaders come to them. And I think we should meet folks where they’re at and where they feel most comfortable,” she said.

“Within the capitol,” Flanagan continued, “it is incredible to me how many people are surprised that Native people even still exist and are around. Decisions are made about Native people without talking directly to the community or the tribes directly impacted by it.”

Walz confirmed this commitment to shift how the process of building solutions begins. “We also want to make sure that we’re out in communities across Minnesota. Most good ideas don’t start at the capitol. We want to meet people where they’re at, figure out what’s happening in their communities that’s working and how we can amplify the work that Minnesotans are already doing.”

Flanagan explained that Walz and her announced their campaign for the gubernatorial election this early in the race intentionally.

“We have a lot of conversations that we need to have with folks across the state. Getting started a little early felt like the right thing to do. Additionally, we need to hear from people. We need to hear what is on people’s hearts and minds so that when we are putting or moving forward and introducing policy issues that those are informed by conversations we have with the community,” she said.

“I hope that people see a place for themselves within the campaign,” she asserted. “And if we earn the ability to represent the folks in Minnesota, that they also see that there is a door that is open to them and space for them at the table.”

This story was created in partnership with the TCDaily Planet.


ADY’s Housing For Young Adults
Friday, November 03 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Angela Gauthier, left, the residential and clinical director; and Deb Foster, executive director of Ain Dah Yung Center, show an artist's drawing of the planned housing complex for young adults in St. Paul. The Center's reception room is decorated for Halloween for the 10 children currently housed in ADY's  emergency shelter.  (Photo by Lee Egerstrom.)

St. Paul’s Ain Dah Yung Center has been helping Native children and families since 1983 but is now preparing to provide affordable, transitional housing for young people who normally “fall through the cracks” of social services and foster care programs.
The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency recently announced it is providing $9.4 million in housing tax credits to support a joint Ain Dah Yung and Project for Pride in Living project to build 42 small, apartment-style housing units on University Avenue at Victoria Street, less than a mile west of the Minnesota State Capitol complex.

The total $11.3 million project will provide housing, cultural and healing services, various health and living services for homeless young people ages 18-24 who have moved beyond foster care eligibility, said Deb Foster (St. Croix Ojibwe), the ADY Center executive director.

While these young people fall through the cracks of other social services, she said, they must have safe, culturally sensitive training and counseling services to adjust to life as successful working adults.

Half of the planned development’s units will serve long-term homeless people although they must be in the 18-24 age group for admittance. Seven other units are designated for use by people with disabilities.

Gov. Mark Dayton, state housing officials and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum made the Oct. 19 announcement at ADY Center’s headquarters at 1089 Portland Ave. in St. Paul, which is also the site of Ain Dah Yung’s emergency center.

Minnesota Housing is providing housing infrastructure bonds and state appropriations totaling $126 million in the coming year. This state involvement with federal programs will leverage a projected $346 million in private and local investments on affordable housing.
Some of the projects statewide are for building and rehabbing single family homes. Other projects are for low income apartments or special housing units such as Ain Dah Yung’s. Combined, state officials said the grants, tax credits and private investments will generate 1,823 “affordable housing opportunities” for individuals and families.

For Ain Dah Yung (“Our Home” in Ojibwe), the targeted group that will be served by the new project represents a disproportionate slice of the homeless population in the Twin Cities, Foster said.

“In the state of Minnesota, approximately 2 percent of the population is American Indian. At the same time, an estimated 22 percent of the homeless youth are American Indians. Once you ‘graduate’ from foster care programs, you find yourself put out on the streets,” she said.

Foster spoke about Ain Dah Yung’s plans during an interview at the emergency shelter the day after staff decorated the main floor of the building for a Halloween party.

“The kids get excited seeing this decorated, and yes, it does make them feel at home,” said Angela Gauthier, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who is the residential and clinical director for ADY Center and the shelter.

Currently, as is usually the case year around, there are 10 children from ages 5 to 17 at the shelter, Gauthier said. Being able to care for children as young as 5 gives the shelter the opportunity to keep siblings together even though they may be homeless, in a family crisis or involved with juvenile corrections.

Nearby, the Center also operates the Beverly A. Benjamin Youth Lodge as transitional housing for young people between the ages of 16 and 21. Its goal is to create community and cultural support to help the young people to prepare for independent or inter-dependent living and break away from homelessness and “couch cruising” from one location to another.

Foster said the University Avenue development is for the next step up age group. Young people were key participants in the planning, she said. “They wanted a safe place, they wanted to be on the light rail system so they have access to education and jobs, they wanted access to food and entertainment, and they wanted access to medical and counseling services.”

Mike Laverdure (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), architect and owner of the First American Design Study in Lake Elmo, has developed plans that will have a “healing circle” gathering area on all four floors of the building. Cultural training and supportive gatherings can occur there for residents and their ADY counselors and staff.

There will also be dental services, a clothing store, food store and other amenities on site for both convenient living and for workplace training opportunities.

This won’t solve American Indian urban problems with homelessness and family crisis, but it is another step toward filling a void. The majority of Native Americans from Minnesota’s 11 tribes now live in urban areas and especially in the Twin Cities metro area.

As a result, major foundations, corporations and religious groups have joined with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and an ADY Center’s neighbor, House of Hope Presbyterian Church, in helping fund construction of units in the new housing complex.

Foster said Mille Lacs officials were “shocked” when ADY pointed out that Mille Lacs represented the second and third largest tribal identity for youth needing housing and other family and related services.

Sometimes a safe haven means getting away from abusive situations. In many cases, she added, a safe environment is needed to get away from drug dealers and pimps. Too often with homeless youth, Foster said, undesirable street elements “become substitute families.”

Gauthier said the ADY Center currently has 35 various residential staff, counselors, therapists, legal advocates and others working on programs.

The 2017 ADY Center’s annual reports shows the magnitude of their work which is not exclusive for Native American youth but accounts for more than 90 percent of their residents and clients.

The emergency center provided short-term shelter, crisis intervention, access to medical and dental care and other advocacy and counseling services to 75 youth last year. The Ninijanisag (“Our Children”) program helped 220 young people in prevention and cultural activities that included monthly family nights.

Counselors with the Street Outreach Program helped 2,212 homeless and runaway youths who didn’t want to enter a shelter, including 1,547 new contacts and 665 young people previously known to ADY.

Mental health case managers worked with Ramsey County colleagues to help 57 youth and their families with mental health needs, and ADY’s Family Advocacy Program with family preservation and reunification efforts. There were 41 families with 90 children reached through that program.

ADY legal monitors also worked in collaboration with Southern Minnesota Legal Services in 2016 to monitor 167 court hearings affecting 240 children to enforce local compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

Put all together, Foster said Ain Dah Yung seeks to bolster children and young people’s self-identity and cultural pride. Often, she said, “you need to know who you are to get an idea of what you may become.”

Learn more about Ain Day Yung at.

To ease tribal homelessness, Leech Lake band takes back its land
Friday, November 03 2017
Written by John Enger/MPR News,
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Cabins all along Trader’s Bay on Leech Lake were built on leased tribal land. Now many of them are abandoned. (Photo by John Enger/MPR News.) 

Jim and Gail Hinkemeyer just retired and they had their future all worked out. They'd dodge Minnesota’s cold winters with a cheap apartment in Belize, then spend their summers at their small family cabin on Leech Lake.

After 30 years at the local Potlatch lumber mill, Jim saw it as the perfect place to rest. But while the couple owned the cabin, they did not own the land beneath it. They’d been leasing the waterfront lot from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
Now the tribe wants it back. The Hinkemeyers received a letter a few months ago from the Leech Lake band telling the couple they had to leave the northern Minnesota lake property at the end of the lease, which will happen sometime in October.

“I’m to the point where, do I laugh or do I cry?” Gail Hinkemeyer said. “That’s where you’re left, because you’re not going to change it.”

For decades, the tribe has leased nearly 350 small waterfront lots on Leech Lake, Cass Lake and a few others. Earlier this year, though, a new tribal administration voted not to renew the contracts.

Now, as those leases come up for renewal, the properties are reverting back to the tribe. This fall alone, 75 cabin owners will have to sell or move off the land.

Band leaders say they need to retake those properties as part of their plan to help ease the reservation’s gnawing homelessness problem.

That’s left the Hinkemeyers and scores of other non-tribal cabin owners, many of them retirees, with three options: try to sell the structure to a band member, move the structure off the property, or simply leave it all behind.

Along the shore of Trader’s Bay on Leech Lake, whole strings of small cabins are being emptied out or trucked away.
“We’ve been here 24 years,” said Gerry Heldt. “I loved it here. But things change.”

On a recent afternoon, Heldt packed his stuff into a shipping container. He’ll be out of his cabin by the first of the month. Most of his neighbors are gone already, or will be, soon.

A few lots over, Dave Knowlton was tearing the skirting off his trailer house so the whole thing can be moved.
“It’s a lot of work for a guy that’s 58, and has a bad back from college football,” he said. “I mean, I am just barely getting by, getting all this done.”

Knowlton said many people are worse off. He noted the the cabin to his left that was built by an old friend. It has a sprawling porch and a stone fireplace. There’s no moving it. To the right sits a two-story home with a walkout basement, a place Knowlton said nearly sold last year for more than $100,000. Now the owner is asking $25,000.

Farther down shore, Dave Unruh, a Twin Cities man, said he paid $80,000 for two cabins a few years ago and put thousands more into them. He said he recently sold them both, plus his dock for $5,000.

It’s hard to sell permanent structures, Knowlton said, because the only people allowed to buy are Leech Lake band members. Even then, the tribal government requires them to be converted into year-round homes, with a well and septic system.

Knowlton always figured this might happen, so he never invested beyond a trailer house. “It’s their sovereign nation here. This is their land,” he said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I appreciate the time I’ve had here. I just wish I had more.”

The leased lots will be consolidated and homesteaded by 80 tribal families, said Leech Lake Natural Resources Director Levi Brown.

Phasing out the leases, he added, will cost his department roughly $500,000 a year, about half his budget. He said it’s worth the cost.

Right now, there are 500 homeless tribe members looking for places to live on the reservation, and 100 more applying for tribal land allotments where they can build a home.

Brown added: “You can put a dollar sign on what you have to spend on somebody. Or you can say, ‘You’re Annishinabe. You’re people from the water. We’re going to allow you to live and be who you are, and return some of those cultural values to you.’”

While cabin owners like Knowlton are philosophical, others have not taken it well.

Since the leases started running out, Brown said he has been yelled at, called names and received death threats. He said he’s been nearly forced off the road by angry drivers and had to call the tribal police.

Brown didn’t see any of this coming, but still thinks the tribe made the right decision.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “Tough to know that you’re doing something that is going to really help the future generations and echo some social change but, at the same time, have people tell you that it’s wrong.”

As their lease nears its end, the Hinkemeyers aren’t sure what they’ll do with their cabin. They’re pretty sure it won’t sell. They’re looking at moving it, but even that might fall through. Cabin movers are booked up and in short supply right now.

The couple, though, still have a place in town. Heldt’s permanent residence is in the Florida Keys. Knowlton lives in the Twin Cities.

The former lease holders will be fine, Brown said. Generations of tribal members have been closed off from the shoreline. Most of the property around Leech and Cass lakes was sold and developed long ago. The little that remained in tribal hands was leased to non-tribal members. Now, he said young tribal members will be able to grow up swimming and paddling the lake, as they did generations ago.

Reprinted with permssion from

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:


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