Native American and Somali communities in Minneapolis have lived close to each other ever since the first refugees of war-torn Somalia began to arrive in the early '90's. The attraction of jobs and services in the cities has been offset by the conflicts that have arisen between Native and Somali youth. Assault and sexual abuse have been reported in the past, and members of both communities have voiced concern about the safety of their neighborhoods.
A high profile crime in January of last year brought the issue to the wider public. Violence, human trafficking, and housing placement are just some of the issues facing both Natives and Somalis in Minneapolis.
To stop the violence, and begin a dialogue between the two communities, the Native American Somali Friendship Committee (NASFC) was formed.
"It was really a series of linkages," says Terri Yellowhammer, an Indian Child Welfare Consultant and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "There was an email sent out expressing anger over a Native woman who was attacked. I forwarded it on to other community workers and the idea to get together started."
Kristin Berg Thompson, a Minneapolis Public Schools Liaison, responded to the email. "I read this letter, and thought, 'Ok, what do I do with this?' I talked to Terri and asked if I could help. I wanted to bring members from both communities together and so I sent the email on to members of the Somali community."
One of those contacted from the Somali community was Yusuf Ahmed, a worker for the City of Minneapolis, and community organizer. He saw an opportunity for dialogue. "Basically what happened was we had all received this mail about what was happening in the city, and we wanted to change this for the better. There are a lot of similarities between Native American and Somali culture, so when we came together I asked, 'how can we live better together as Americans?'"