Urban News
Native Youth lead the way toward environmental & economic sustainability
Wednesday, December 06 2017
Written by Elaine Salinas,
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migizcopy.jpgGreen Jobs Pathway participant learns the basics of wind power generation by constructing a model wind turbine. (Photo by Graham Hartley/MIGIZI.)

As a bitter cold February wind swept across the plains of North Dakota, and the Water Defenders at Standing Stone stood their ground, Indian youth participating in MIGIZI’s Green Jobs Pathway Project worked feverishly hundreds of miles away to complete a solar-powered water heater that would help to sustain the camp and the Defenders through the long winter days and nights ahead.

Jon Eagle, Sr., a horse rancher from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and a participant in the Dakota 38 Ride, provided horses that Defenders relied on at the camp.  Jon also uses horses for equine therapy training, where he teaches other people how to facilitate equine-based therapy remedies. He had put out a national call for help in designing and building a heater that could be used to prevent the water in his horse troughs from freezing and his horses from becoming dehydrated during the frigid winter days.  

John Hunter, Coordinator of MIGIZI’s Green Jobs Pathway, responded to the call and offered the help of MIGIZI’s Green Jobs Pathway youth who were joined by an Instructor in the Solar Energy Program at Century College. In late February 2017, John and the youth completed the first of its kind solar powered water heater and traveled to install it at Standing Rock, where they were welcomed by community members and awarded a college credit from Sitting Bull College for their cutting edge work.   

This was the first of several projects that youth involved in MIGIZI’s Green Jobs Pathway have undertaken to demonstrate their learning and showcase the benefits of solar, water, and wind renewable energy technologies. This past summer, youth constructed and installed solar panels to light the roof of the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre; they built and installed a solar panel at Little Earth to power the outside grounds of the Teen Center; and built a solar-powered weather station for installation on the roof of Nawayee Center School that will enable students to monitor weather patterns as part of their science studies.

This type of hands-on, culturally-connected learning has a very positive impact. One youth captured the impact in this way, “I learned more than just about what they were trying to teach me. I learned how to be persistent and how to do stuff on my own. I really liked actually doing things to help with green energy.”

Throughout time, Native Peoples have been forced to accept decisions that pit our indigenous cultural values of sustainable stewardship of lands and resources against colonialistic economic interests. Numerous examples of this conflict exist from deforestation of Minnesota’s tribal homelands by lumber barons, mining of coal in the sacred mountains on Navajo lands, to the recent oil pipeline being built by Energy Transfer Partners that will surely result in the contamination of the waters of the Missouri River, the primary water source not only for the people of Standing Rock but for the many non-Native communities down river.

migizi2.jpgMIGIZI’s Green Jobs Pathway provides an unprecedented opportunity for Indian young people to learnabout, and become proficient in renewable energy technologies that not only embrace indigenous cultural values but also lead to living-wage jobs in Minnesota’s growing green economy. The clean energy sector is, in fact, the fastest growing employment sector in Minnesota, with a growth rate 3.8 percent higher than the state’s job growth rate as a whole (Minnesota Jobs Related to Clean Energy Have Grown More Than 5 Percent, Star Tribune, September 7, 2017). Wages for workers in renewable energy jobs, including solar installation and wind turbine service technologies, range from $20.82/hour to $27.76/hour (MN Department of Employment and Economic Development - DEED Occupations in Demand database).

The Green Jobs Pathway targets American Indian youth from 14-24 years of age who are hands-on learners and interested in training for a job or career where they can contribute to environmental sustainability while earning a living wage. The program includes a paid ten-week Environmental Stewardship Institute during which youth learn the fundamentals of renewable energy technologies and have an opportunity to acquire industry-recognized certificates. Youth also receive academic support so that they can remain on track or get back on track for high school graduation, or work toward a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). As youth earn a diploma or acquire a GED, they are provided with transitional support to help them navigate post-secondary educational opportunities. The program serves three cohorts of youth each year; including high school students (summer), youth who left school prior to high graduation (fall), and youth who have a high school diploma or GED but are not in college or working in a living-wage job (winter).

Key partners in the project include Nawayee Center School, MPS Indian Education, AchieveMpls, Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Dunwoody College of Technology, and Century College.

The Green Jobs Pathway is made possible through support from the Opportunity Reboot Initiative of Youthprise (intermediary for a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, Social Innovation Fund), the Northwest Area Foundation, Otto Bremer Trust, and MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

If you are interested in learning more about the Green Jobs Pathway and the opportunities it has to offer, call Nicole DeCoteau-Vause at 612-721-6631, ext. 202, or email This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


From Santa to Super Bowl, holiday season looms large in Indian Country
Wednesday, December 06 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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woodlandscrafts.jpgWoodland Crafts Gift Shop, in the Lower level of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, sells beaded goods, cards, wild rice, and a myriad of other Native-created artwork, crafts and gifts.

While Native artists, retailers and food companies all try to hitch a ride with Santa Claus this time of year, an expanded St. Paul Winter Carnival and the National Football League’s Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis is extending the holiday entertainment and gift buying season well into the new year.

Large tribal hotel and entertainment businesses operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC), Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe are certain to intercept traffic coming to the Twin Cities for the Super Bowl and Winter Carnival.

Small shopkeepers and the artists and food manufacturers that supply them may also benefit from the longer season. Tourists to the Twin Cities metro area explore cultural attractions and buy gifts as keepsakes or for families and friends back home.

The Winter Carnival runs from Jan. 25 through Feb. 10 – seven days longer than normal. The Super Bowl, meanwhile, is Feb. 4 and has a good week of activities wrapped around the game.

Christmas holidays and St. Paul Winter Carnival offer annual opportunities for Native entrepreneurs and their retailers. Hosting a Super Bowl is a rarity, and not easy for Native groups to connect with officially, said Joanne Whiterabbit, executive director of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce.

The NFL doesn’t allow linkages with gaming operations, she said. That rules out direct involvement with nearby casino ventures. And officially sponsoring events for the Super Bowl is too costly for small business operators, she added.

At the same time, Native ventures are clearly in the right place at the right time as larger than normal wintertime visitors come to the metro area and may visit other parts of Minnesota while here.

The Mille Lacs Band owns and operates two large hotels accounting for more than half the hotel rooms in St. Paul, with about 700 rooms. It also has a hotel in St. Louis Park, on the west side of Minneapolis.  Meanwhile, both the Shakopee Mdewakanton and Prairie Island hospitality enterprises are completing hotel expansions this month in time for Winter Carnival and Super Bowl visitors.

Prairie Island has a ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for Dec. 5 and will be opening its expanded Treasure Island Resort and Casino hotel at Welch in time for Christmas, New Year’s, Winter Carnival and Super Bowl guests.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Treasure Island, said the expansion will add 308 rooms, giving the hotel 788 total rooms. That will make it the second largest hotel in Minnesota, behind the downtown Minneapolis Hilton with its 821 rooms.

Treasure Island Resort and Casino will also have a large presence at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, Smith said. It is sponsoring the three main entrances to Rice Park where entertainment is offered and where the ice sculpture competition is housed. Treasure Island is also sponsoring a sculpture and will offer a prize to encourage visitors and families to post photos with the sculpture on social media.

SMSC’s Mystic Lake Casino Hotel at Prior Lake is also undergoing a major expansion and is on schedule for a Jan. 1 opening. That $90 million project is adding 180 rooms, bringing the hotel’s total up to 766 rooms, or nearly the size of Treasure Island and the Minneapolis Hilton hotels.

Johnny Mackin, director of brand marketing for Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, said there isn’t any doubt that major events spill over and generate business within the broader community. “We are booked for the Super Bowl,” he said.

Families do gather at the resort and hotel for Thanksgiving, during the Christmas holidays, for New Year’s celebrations and whenever else the resort has major entertainment. “We are the full service resort closest to the Twin Cities, and that helps a lot,” Mackin said.

Entertainment is clearly a Mystic Lake attraction during the Super Bowl week. New York-based Nomadic Entertainment Group is hosting a pop-up concert venue at the Mystic Lake complex, as it has done at previous Super Bowls and major sporting events.

At the time of this writing, the Club Nomadic venue had announced that musical groups The Chainsmokers had been booked for Feb. 1, and Florida Georgia Line was scheduled for Feb. 3. Two more groups or performers were to be announced in early December.

Mackin’s point about the spillover, or “multiplier effect” of major events, reached out to the Upper Sioux Community (Pezihutazizi Oyate) at Granite Falls in mid-November. The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee awarded the tribe $100,000 from its Super Bowl Legacy Fund to support the community’s Zani Woyute healthy food initiative.

Some of the spillover benefits will also reach down to small business operators when tourists and the sports and music fans do a little shopping.

No single data source exists identifying retailers or others offering Native arts, crafts and food items suitable as gifts. Some of the larger stores and entrepreneurs, however, have helpful websites and do offer products online. Others, like Sandra Graves’ Stormcloud Trading Co. in St. Paul, have “one-of-a-kind” items that aren’t feasible to offer with online marketing, she said.

For one of a kind, hand-made crafts from local Native artist, there will be several craft fairs in December where shoppers can purchase their holiday gifts. The 2017 Holiday Art Market at the All Nations Church holds an annual arts and crafts fair. This year it will be on: Dec. 9th from 10 am to 4pm; Dec. 10th from 1 to 4pm; Dec. 16th from 10am to 4pm; and Dec. 17th from 1 to 4pm. All Nations Church is located at 1515 E 23rd Street in Minneapolis.

The Almost Winter Art Market will offer a collective of creatives with quilts, jelly and jam, jewelry, prints and gifts. Dates for this event are: Dec. 2nd from 10am to 4pm at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, 1530 East Franklin Ave, Minneapolis; Dec. 9th from 10am to 4pm at the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Bldg., 1404 East Franklin Ave, Minneapolis; and Dec. 16th from 10am to 4pm at Interfaith Action, 1671 Summit Ave, St Paul.

The above chart is a partial list of retail locations and websites featuring Native arts, crafts, foods and other products that might help you with holiday gift selections.


Want to reach a market? Climb a tree and ‘holler’
Tuesday, November 07 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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After more than three decades of offering marketing and business advice to start-up Native entrepreneurs, small business owners, nonprofit groups and tribal leaders, Altin (Al) Paulson is convinced that humility and self-imposed cultural restraints remain a problem for Native American business ventures.

“Quality of a product or service keeps customers coming back, helped by word of mouth,” he said. “But you don’t get customers to your door in the first place if they don’t know you have something to sell.”

After working in human relations, marketing and advertising for several corporations, Paulson and his wife Barb started Marketplace Productions in St. Paul with a partner in 1990. It filled a niche by running trade shows, marketing seminars and training programs for a variety of small organizations, tribal groups and nonprofit associations that didn’t have the in-house resources to do similar planning.

 alpaulsonweb.jpgAl Paulson is owner of Marketplace Productions. (Photo by Lee Egerstrom.)

An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, Paulson became a co-founder of the National Indian Business Association (NIBA) shortly after establishing Marketplace Productions. The U.S. Department of Commerce reached out to him and other Native business leaders for help because both domestic and international businesses were seeking ways to do business with Native Americans.

He’s been pitching more aggressive marketing ever since.

His firm put on a trade show in 1995 in Phoenix when he was co-chair of NIBA. At that conference a Sioux business leader humored attendees with this sage observation about marketing:

“Those that have a thing to sell and go and whisper in a well, ain’t so apt to get the dollars as those that climb a tree and ‘hollers’.”

It still makes Paulson smile. “I loved it. I’ve used that quote in introductions to trade shows and business seminars ever since,” he said.

Paulson still holds on to the Marketplace name but now, mostly retired, it is his business entity for working on special projects for some business and education groups. He sold his trade show and conference organizing business to a former employee, Heidi Buss, 10 years ago that continues as Buss Productions based in St. Paul.

Successful tribal groups that have developed diverse business portfolios from gaming, hospitality industry and other ventures have adopted sophisticated advertising, marketing and public relations operations, both in-house and from outside hires, he said.

At the same time, Paulson added, artists and start-up entrepreneurs still struggle with getting the word out that they are in business. Much of this is the result of lack of resources. Some of it is cultural.

“We were all taught not to brag,” Paulson said.

Another sage of earlier times comes to mind for advising groups and entrepreneurs. A great baseball pitcher and character, Dizzy Dean, was asked before the start of the 1934 season how many games did he think he and his brother Daffy Dean would win for the St. Louis Cardinals that year.

Dean predicted 45 games, an astonishing number for the inquiring reporter. “Hey, it ain’t bragging if you can back it up,” he said.

The record shows the Deans won 49 games that year; the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals won the World Series.

“Marketing isn’t bragging,” Paulson said. Products or services must have value. “Marketing is letting people know you have something of value.”

Paulson was a presenter at a conference hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Applied Economics in 1996. Leading off was a visiting Dutch economist, Gert van Dijk, who stressed that membership ventures such as cooperatives, mutual insurances and their kindred credit unions bring together people with common interests or problems. In Van Dijk’s words, they “draw a circle around themselves and tackle market problems together.”

Paulson supported that view by noting that membership organizations are nearly identical in structure and function to tribal organizations. Both speakers stressed the importance of communications for all such groups, including tribes, for the governing bodies to move forward with member consensus.

Stu Peterson, a vice president of the former St. Paul Bank for Cooperatives, asked, “Al, are you the hockey player from old Hill High School in St. Paul?” “Pete, Is that you?” Paulson responded.

“Yes, Al. But how long have you been an Indian?”

This exchange brought howls of laughter and drove home Paulson’s marketing theories and Van Dijk’s governance points. Former teammates had drawn “a circle” around their shared interests with the hockey team and as classmates; ethnicity wasn’t relevant. Visiting European academics went home and retold that story at conferences from Helsinki on down to universities in Spain and Greece.

Getting to that point in his career came from academic preparation and from watching business and tribal activities.

Though a member of the White Earth Nation, Paulson grew up in St. Paul where his father worked at the Ford assembly plant. He played high school hockey and later became a St. Cloud State University’s Hockey Hall of Fame player. But while taking courses for a dual major in psychology and business, he found he had a particular interest in business psychology.

Paulson transferred to the University of Minnesota his senior year, took a couple of extra years of school, and graduated with a degree in industrial psychology that wasn’t offered at St. Cloud State University. He was then hired to work in human resources for the Corning Glass Works factory in Louisville, Ky.

He, wife Barb, and the first of two sons then moved to Ft. Atkinson, Wis., where he worked in personnel for lighting manufacturer Thomas Industries. Next stop was across town at Johnson Hill Press where he worked in advertising and promotion for industrial trade magazines. While there, he and a friend developed another annual magazine for the publisher and state of Wisconsin, CAREERS in Wisconsin, which sought to alert college graduates of job offerings in the state.

The CAREERS publications were extended to Minnesota and Iowa as well. All three states had concerns about the “brain drain” then occurring to different degrees.

This all led the Paulsons back to St. Paul and starting Marketplace Productions. Over the years, Paulson worked with several academic institutions and especially with St. Cloud State University on education and training programs for tribal gaming and other continuing education projects.

He has also served on the board of directors for the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce and in positions with the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

Paulson has served as a mentor for various groups with Native school students in different Twin Cities programs, and through the Junior Achievement program that encourages entrepreneurship and business career planning among school age children.

Working with young people helped hone a couple of his business consulting themes offered at his Marketplace Productions seminars. He doesn’t recall where he picked these up, but he stresses that, “You become what you think about.” And, “You create your own reality.”

He shows students a power point presentation that has him dressed in a suit as a business executive, riding his Harley motorcycle dressed as a biker, dressed in his St. Cloud State hockey uniform, dressed in regalia with sons Roger and Rick while participating in the Fort Fest at Ft. Atkinson in observance of the last Army-Indian war east of the Mississippi River, and sometimes as a grandfather.

Al Paulson is all of those realities as he encourages younger generations to follow similar paths. He said that some students ask, “You are all those things?” To answer their question, and his banker friend’s lingering question, they are all Al and he always has been Indian.

For purposes of disclosure, the writer Egerstrom and Paulson lived two dorm rooms apart during their freshman year of college and have followed each other's careers since. Paulson's comments at the University of Minnesota conference came at the release of a book Egerstrom and Van Dijk coauthored, Seizing Control: The International Market Power of Cooperatives.


Borinquén (Puerto Rico): A Rebirth
Tuesday, November 07 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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What does Puerto Rico’s catastrophic hurricane teach us about ourselves, how we treat each other and the future? The Taino name for the beautiful island is Borinquen, it is still that land. Almost a month into the disasters of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, very little has changed: only 20% of the power has been restored, a third of the people don’t have drinking water, four hundred people have died, and Trump has bumbled a lot, including throwing paper towels at Borinquenos and criticizing the Mayor of San Juan.

There are a lot of reasons:  racism, ignorance, a hundred years of colonialism, an archaic colonial law called the Jones Act which basically stops aid from getting in, an economy constantly structurally adjusted to accommodate corporate interests and a crushing debt. Puerto Ricans themselves, with allies on the mainland and internationally, have a new, and a better plan for their country; that vision is being born.

A little history lesson: This year marks the l00th anniversary of the US political absorption of  Borinquén  (Puerto Rico) under the Jones Act, conferring citizenship, but not the full benefits of citizenship. As an unincorporated territory; residents are US citizens but have no say in presidential elections. They can die for this country in the military, but they cannot vote. And the Jones Act restricts what can come into Puerto Rico, and it is killing people today. Something is profoundly wrong about that second class citizenship, which should rankle, not just Puerto Ricans, but us all.

It is not surprising, that colonialism has not worked well for Puerto Rico. From the economic dominance of the sugar industry, to the military occupation of Vieques, the small island of Puerto Rico has seen much of the same relations as much of Indian country in the U.S. Take the example of Vieques. Between l941 and 2003, two thirds of this small island was occupied by the US Navy. Bombed 180 days per year; in 1998, the last year before protests interrupted maneuvers, the Navy dropped 23,000 bombs on the island, the majority of which contained explosives. Over the course of U.S. Navy occupancy, nearly 22 million pounds of military and industrial waste, such as oils, solvents, lubricants, lead paint, acid and 55 US gallon (200 L) drums, were deposited on the western portion of the island. The US Military is the largest polluter in the world.

This sounds quite a bit like many cases in Indian country, whether it’s the Ho Chunk Badger Munitions Site, Fort Wingate, Western Shoshone territory, or Pine Ridge’s Gunnery range; all occupied territories by the US military. The Navy is in some process of cleaning up the island, but has turned much of it over to the Department of Interior, and in calling it a wildlife refuge, is not subject to the same clean up standards as in other super fund sites. This sounds a great deal like Badger Munitions in HoChunk territory.

As scholar Nelson Davis writes, “After one hundred years of citizenship, Puerto Ricans are prohibited from managing their own economy, negotiating their own trade relations, or setting their own consumer prices. Puerto Rico has been little more than a profit center for the United States: first as a naval coaling station, then as a sugar empire, a cheap labor supply, a tax haven, a captive market, and now as a municipal bond debtor and target for privatization. It is an island of beggars and billionaires: fought over by lawyers, bossed by absentee landlords, and clerked by politicians.”

The results: economic refugees, who leave their beloved homeland and are forced onto the mainland, where they continue to be treated as second class citizens. From 2006 to 2015, more than 700,000 people fled debt-ridden Puerto Rico, to cities like Orlando, New York, Philadelphia and Miami. Who knew they were US citizens? One poll found that only 54% of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans were “American citizens”, therefore entitled to the same disaster relief afforded Houston, Texas, or any other city facing climate change disasters. Donald Trump appeared quite unaware of this.

In the midst of the federal mismanagement of Puerto Rican relief, Puerto Rican led recovery efforts are being choked by the Jones Act. A group called the Coalition of the Willing, led by the Puerto Rican Bar Association and others, denounced the act,“There is a shortage of everything in Puerto Rico, supplies are not arriving. And both the government and shipping companies must join other voices in condemning the Jones Act, to have an inventory of space that guarantees our needs for essential products after a catastrophe such as Hurricane Maria. This situation is causing damage to the health and nutrition of Puerto Ricans by leaving more than 1,000 vans with essential goods stranded at US ports” Alejandro Torres Rivera from the Coalition explained.

El Grito de Sunset Park (a non-profit organization, member of Sunset Park Relief Coalition) took on the task of collecting more than a million pounds of supplies, with a warehouse in Brooklyn full of aid for the victims in Puerto Rico. “We have sought help, humanitarian or regular tariffs to transport these supplies, but it has become an impossible task. We have learned that FEMA has taken all the shipping space; we have seen a rise in the prices of what was already expensive shipping. Our organization is making a call to permanently release Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, so that there will be space to send aid to the victims of Hurricane Maria,” said Dennis Flores, Director of El Grito. That’s something that Minnesota Senators Klobuchar and Franken should challenge – the Jones Act needs to be lifted. “The Jones Act after Hurricane Maria has cost us many lives and is threatening more lives. The fact that a power generator for a medical ventilator stays in US ports is sad because that means another person is dying as a consequence of that. The fact that a family runs out of food because hundreds of containers are left sitting on those ports because there is no space to bring them should make the Governor and the Resident Commissioner enthusiastically support these measures and have them approved,”  Puerto Rican Senator  Rossana López León told the press.

A New Birth for Puerto Rico

Crisis brings opportunity. It’s time to support Puerto Rico to become a self reliant, multi-racial, and beautiful country as it was intended. Early on, Tesla’s Elon Musk came out and said that Puerto Rico should just go solar, and that was a moment to reflect. It turns out that a movement of Puerto Ricans, like Resilient Power Puerto Rico, supported by many allies is creating a future. As Naomi Klein writes in the Intercept, “Under the banner of a “just recovery” for Puerto Rico, thousands have come together to design a bold and holistic plan for the island to be rebuilt as a beacon for a safe, resilient, and thriving society in the era of accelerating climate chaos, spiraling economic inequality, and rising white nationalism.”

 This is an opportunity to do the right thing. After all, a resilient economic and energy system is sure better than a non-working system, and with climate change disasters on the increase… we will need to be prepared.

Puerto Rico’s energy system was inefficient and outdated before the hurricanes. So how bad was it? Imagine that they are operating on petroleum. That’s right, in 2012, 65% of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from petroleum, 18% from natural gas, 16% from coal, and 1% from renewable energy. That’s expensive, and is forced through a surcharge in the US, the Jones Act, which requires Puerto Rican imports to touch US soil. The Puerto Rican Electrical company uses fuel oil No. 6 (the heavy, dirty version that New York City has banned), or Fuel Oil No. 2, which costs about $3 per gallon. It’s so expensive that the Puerto  Rican Electrical Company decided to take cash from its capital works fund – up to $100 million – to buy oil . It’s not surprising that Puerto Rico’s electricity costs, at about 27 cents per kilowatt-hour, are about twice what they are on the mainland. Puerto Ricans, however use much less power.

Let’s say we set up a power grid and  a local food system which would feed island people, reduce the debt and make sure that they still had power in the next hurricane. Then maybe get rid of that Jones Act.

That’s this plan. Sunrun and Tesla, two solar companies brought over smaller solar panels with powerwall batteries to power water desalination tanks. Funding for the project was provided by Empowered by Light (a group backed by Leonardo DiCaprio), rooftop company Sunrun Inc. (which also donated the solar panels), and GivePower, a nonprofit that specializes in solar installation in conflict regions.  Those are some solutions. It’s a humanitarian effort for these companies, but it’s also a chance to showcase an energy source capable of enduring natural disasters. The Solar Energy Industries Associationhas received pledges for more than $1.2 million in product and monetary contributions from its network.

“Rather than perpetuate the island’s dependence on vulnerable distribution hardware and carbon-heavy fuel,” Resilient Power explains on its website, “we prioritize clean production of energy that allows each household to be self-reliant.”

Many of the islands farmers are creating a similar revolution in agriculture. Most of the seasons crops were destroyed by Maria but the potential for a restorative agriculture system is clear. Because so much of the potential farm land is not being cultivated, Puerto Rico has been importing 80% of its food.  Even before the hurricanes there was a movement to restore “agroecology”, or Indigenous knowledge and modern appropriate technologies into farming, adding in the benefit of carbon sequestration. It turns out that organic agriculture sequesters carbon, which is what we need.

Organizations like Boricuá Organization for Ecological Agriculture have “agroecology brigades”, now traveling from community to community to deliver seeds and soil so that residents can begin planting crops immediately. As Naomi Klein writes, “Katia Avilés-Vázquez, one of Boricuá’s farmers, said of a recent brigade: ‘Today I saw the Puerto Rico that I dream being born. This week I worked with those who are giving it birth.’”

Locally and nationally, internationally acclaimed musician Maria Isa, Minneapolis raised Borinquena has been working with leaders like Minnesota State Senator Melissa Lopez Francis (Edina) to leverage relief, and so far has raised $l50,000 and delivered directly it to Puerto Rico. The Puerto Ricans of Minnesota Coalition along with Borinquen will continue to support the birth of a new Puerto Rico. And in its own example of being so much like a reservation, let us support this rebirth, as it is our own.


Where building a business is also building for people
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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lofflerwoman.jpgTammy Loeffler is owner of Loeffler Construction and Consulting. (Photo by Lee Egerstrom.)

MIddle photo: The Shooting Star Casino at Bagley.

Bottom photo: The Lower Sioux Health Care Clinic at Morton. (Photos courtesy of Loeffler Construction and Consulting.)

For an entrepreneur like Tammy Loeffler, opportunities and problems have always been two sides of the same coin.

You seize the opportunities where they exist, she said. At the same time, doing so usually means helping someone or some group overcome problems.

Loeffler Construction and Consulting, based in Lakeville, does that whether serving as a general contractor on a construction project or as a partnering consultant helping others on project design or managing costs.

“We get to help people with everything we do,” she said. “All our Indian projects are exciting to me because I know it helps the tribe and the community members.”

Loeffler is an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. Through her ownership position, Loeffler Construction and Consulting is certified as both a minority-owned and as a woman-owned enterprise.

This create opportunities when government agencies and various groups want to contract with minority businesses, she said. That is especially so for Native American groups contemplating business ventures or building service facilities.

Nearly universal problems in Indian Country include affordable housing, housing tailored for seniors, and economic developments that lift community standards of living. Client and project lists for Loeffler show how opportunities and problem solving are bound together.

Among recent tribal projects, Loeffler Construction was the general contractor for the new Apache Casino Hotel’s Event Center at Lawton, Okla., for the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, that makes the tribe’s hospitality sector a major conference and convention center for Central Oklahoma. A similar project was the White Earth Nation’s satellite Shooting Star Casino and its Little Dipper Restaurant at Bagley, Minn.

Building or remodeling medical facilities also brings a great sense of accomplishment, Loeffler added. Among recent projects in those categories was the Lower Sioux Health Care Clinic, completed in 2015 at Morton, Minn., and several updates and expansions of medical labs and centers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

loefflershootingstar.jpgHousing projects for Native elders and neighborhoods of Native people are another area that has attracted Loeffler and her firm’s partners and managers.

Loeffler was the general contractor for Elders Lodge, 1500 Magnolia Ave. E., St. Paul, which provides 42 units of affordable housing for people age 62 and older. The company received national awards for work on Piccadilly Square Redevelopment, a

79-unit affordable housing development in the St. Paul suburb of Mahtomedi.The national Association of Women Contractors saluted Loeffler Construction and partners with its 2016 Small Project of the Year award for renovation of 45 units and new construction of 32 additional units at Anishinabe Bii Gii Wiin, a special housing complex in Minneapolis owned by the American Indian Community Development Corp. and Project for Pride in Living Inc.

Earlier this year, the Red Lake Nation identified the Loeffler firm as a partner in planning Mino-bimaadiziwin, a tribal-owned housing project to be built at 2105 Cedar Ave. S. near the Franklin Avenue Metro Blue Line station and the American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis.

The Red Lake Band is planning to develop a 109-unit to 115-unit mixed use complex, primarily for senior housing, at a former hardware warehouse site. Construction is to begin in 2018.

Other, non-Native projects serve similar lofty goals for communities. For instance, construction began in September to expand the Valley Natural Foods cooperative in Burnsville.

Another current project is a reconstruction and remodeling project for Minneapolis Fire Station #15, at 2701 Johnson Street NE. This historic fire hall, built in 1889, is having floor reconstruction, mechanical and electrical upgrades, and remodeling of a second floor sleeping area.

Loeffler doesn’t just work on building structures.

“When Tammy speaks, everyone listens,” said Roland Hill of First Peoples Insurance Services at Brainerd. “That’s the respect she has built,”

Hill serves with Loeffler on the board of directors of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce.

loefferclinic.jpgHer business success over the past 24 years is a tremendous help to “upstart” and younger entrepreneurs and newer members of the Chamber, Hill said. Whether people realize it or not, most successful people have had mentoring from helpful people.

For the Chamber and its members, Loeffler is one of those mentors, Hill said.

There aren’t a lot of construction firms like the Loefflers with ties to the Native communities, he added. “What she and her colleagues show is that you can be Native and play with the big guys if you keep your nose to the grindstone and keep doing good work.”

Big projects for reservations, especially in the past five years, keep building that reputation.

Loeffler said her mother was the biggest influence on her life and was the “driving force” to pursue education and careers in business. Family, friends and colleagues keep adding to that drive.

She worked for a developer and learned about real estate development, contracting, construction and real estate law while a college student. She received a degree in court reporting, then started her own court reporting company and has served as a court reporter for the Mdewakanton Sioux Judicial System for the past 20 years.

One thing led to another, she said, and her background in real estate and working with attorneys led to meeting people in construction and development, including Doug Loeffler. That led to Loeffler Construction and Consulting where Doug is a partner and serves as president.

“I’ve owned a business since 1987. Mom gave me the drive and I’ve always wanted to be entrepreneurial. Getting into construction wasn’t my first calling, yet everything connected.”

Evolutionary or gravitational, life experiences led to construction and real estate development consulting. Underlying these business experiences, however, was an appetite for entrepreneurship.


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