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Two new Native women elected to Minnesota Legislature
Wednesday, February 08 2017
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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jamiebeckerfinn.jpgFamilies that have long been active in community affairs, and inspiration drawn from other take-charge local leaders, have paved the way for two new Native American women to get elected to the Minnesota Legislature.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, an attorney who grew up at Cass Lake on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe reservation, won the District 42B seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She represents Little Canada, Vadnais Heights, Gem Lake and parts of the cities of Roseville and Shoreview in the northern suburbs of St. Paul.

Rep. Mary Kelly Kunesh-Podein, a library media specialist for Robbinsdale Area Schools, won a House District 41B seat and represents Columbia Heights, Hilltop, New Brighton and St. Anthony in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul. She descends from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota but grew up in Sartell where her father was a St. Cloud city attorney, an assistant Stearns County attorney, and active legal consultant for Northern Minnesota Ojibwe tribes.

Those nearby and extended examples of family leadership influenced Kunesh-Podein, and she’s followed the same path. She has 21 years as a library specialist for schools in Minneapolis and Robbinsdale, and more recently she also became chair of New Brighton Parks, Recreation and Environmental Commission, and this past summer she started the first New Brighton Farmers Market.

marykunesh-podein.jpgThis activism continues into the next generation. One daughter, Elianne Farhat, works on fair wages and workplace issues for the Center for Popular Democracy and a son, Elie Farhat, is an assistant to Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene.  
For her part, Becker-Finn said, “My parents have always been involved in politics so I grew up looking up to people like (the late) Senator Paul Wellstone.”

“In recent years, I’ve seen politics at the state level become extremely partisan and it’s turned folks away from even wanting to be involved,” she added. I believe what Senator Wellstone believed – that politics, at its best, is about people. And about hope.”

Personal experiences clearly influence the two lawmakers’ agendas. Assistance for families and protection of the environment are examples.

Kunesh-Podein, who has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of St. Catherine and a master’s in information media from St. Cloud State University, was a single mom during a federal government shutdown that prevented her from getting a teaching license. “My pride took a hit when I went to use food stamps and MN Care, but I remembered my dad telling me that those safety nets are there to help us when we need it and I am so thankful for them,” she said.
That had a lasting impact. “I felt the anguish of discouragement, but I also learned the courage to pursue my dreams,” she said.

As a “life-long learner” from being a parent and an educator, she said she’s dedicated to support policies for quality education from pre-kindergarten to post-secondary. Native students, or instance, have low graduation rates in Minnesota and the disparities for Native and Black communities in the state are growing.

Environmental issues also attract her attention. Along with her work on Parks, Rec and Environment in New Brighton, her husband Tim Podein is an active sports fan and outsdoorsman, she said.

The first bill introduced by Becker-Finn, who was a Roseville Parks and Recreation commissioner, could be described as taking care of business for her district. It was a road and bridge bonding bill for a project. But another issue that holds her attention as both a Native and as a state representative is projection of water.

“My district has 14 lakes and a lot of people want those lakes to remain swimmable and fishable,” she said.

The problems with water in Flint, Mich. Is on the “minds of many,” she said. “I am fortunate to serve on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and it has been clear from day one that we need strong voices keeping clean water at the forefront.”

Becker-Finn made headlines as a Native parent, it should be noted, before she actively started seeking a legislative seat at the State Capitol. She went after store managers who were selling stereotypical and insensitive clothing and costumes for Halloween in 2015. She was shopping for Halloween costumes; she and husband Gabe have two young children.

A particularly solid article on the controversy was provided by Michael Rietmulder in the Oct. 30, 2015 issue of City Pages. One store did remove a particularly offensive sexy costume, she said, but other plastic insults to Native culture and religion stayed on the shelves.

She was too busy campaigning at Halloween time this year to revisit the suburban stores. But friends told her all the offensive gear was back. “There is definitely a lot of work to be done, as you can see with the Washington Redskins and Cleveland ‘Indians’.”  

Native people are everywhere, she said, including in the Minnesota House of Representatives. And, she added, “We don’t always look like the caricatures you see on ESPN.”   

Friends, clients mourn Native-rights lawyer Larry Leventhal
Wednesday, February 08 2017
 
Written by Jon Collins/MPR News,
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larryleventhal.jpgMinneapolis, MN – Longtime Twin Cities civil rights attorney Larry Leventhal on Jan. 17th of pancreatic cancer. Leventhal, 75, was one of the nation’s most prominent experts on American Indian treaty rights and a committed advocate for American Indian civil rights.

American Indian Movement co-founder Clyde Bellecourt remembered meeting Leventhal early on in the movement.
Leventhal had read that AIM members had been patrolling Minneapolis streets to document police brutality against American Indians. Leventhal wanted to help. And AIM needed legal advice.

“Eventually, of course, he graduated from law school and came in as our attorney, knowing very little about Native people, about treaty rights or things like that,” Bellecourt said. “But he started representing us on all these issues. He actually became one of the foremost Indian attorneys in America.”

Leventhal defended American Indian Movement activists who faced charges in the occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973. He also won a settlement for two American Indian men put in the trunk of a patrol car by police officers and driven around the city.

Bellecourt sees Leventhal’s influence in some of the treaty arguments being made at the Standing Rock encampment over the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.

Leventhal had a hand in many high-profile cases, but Bellecourt said he also helped with day-to-day legal issues, like incorporating schools and other nonprofits in the community.

“He became family,” Bellecourt said. “He became like part of our family. Even to the point where he could joke around and tease us. ... We celebrated birthdays together, dinners together and anniversaries together. We’d never think about doing anything like that without Larry Leventhal.”

In the legal world, Leventhal was known as a tireless representative of activists, said Twin Cities attorney Melvin Welch.
“He really developed a good reputation there because he was such a tireless worker,’ Welch said. “He was really known as a zealous advocate. He would pick up the smallest case where there was an injustice and really pursue it vigorously.”

But not everything was grim struggle. Leventhal had also served since 1969 as an officer of the Block-Heads Oasis #3, one of the longest-running Laurel and Hardy clubs in the country.

Grand Sheik Tracy Tolzmann recalled a running joke: He would introduce Leventhal as “a ‘prominent Minneapolis attorney with offices in St. Paul,’ and one person in the crowd would applaud wildly, and Larry would run back and shake hands. And I’d say, “Notice how deftly the $20 bill changes hands.’ I mean, I think a lot of people didn’t realize that Larry was a prominent Minneapolis attorney.”

 Leventhal also collected Laurel and Hardy memorabilia. Some of the youthful energy of those early film comedians seemed to have stuck with Leventhal even into his 70s.

Explained Tolzmann: “The thing that draws people to Laurel and Hardy is their childlike comedy, and they inevitably get into trouble, but they’re always looking out for each other.”

Leventhal’s funeral service was held at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. The family is asking that memorials be sent to the Minneapolis Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the American Indian Movement’s national office.

Minnesota  Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at www.mpr.org

Natives travel to the International Slow Food gathering in Italy
Tuesday, October 11 2016
 
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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slowfoodsart.jpgIn an impressive fossil fuels travel day, I left the Standing Rock reservation and flew to Italy for the International Slow Food gathering known as Terra Madre. A world congress of harvesters, farmers, chefs and political leaders, this is basically the World Food Olympics. This is my fifth trip to Italy for Slow Food. I first went with Margaret Smith, when the White Earth Land Recovery Project won the Slow Food Award for Biodiversity in 2003 for our work to protect wild rice from genetic engineering.

This year, I went as a part of the Turtle Island Slow Food Association – the first Indigenous Slow Food members in the world, a delegation of over 30 representing Indigenous people from North American and the Pacific. We have some remarkable leaders, they are young and committed.

It is a moment in history for food, as we watch the largest corporate merger in history – Bayer Chemical’s purchase of Monsanto for $66 billion, with “crop protection chemicals” that kill weeds, bugs and fungus, seeds, and (likely to be banned in Europe) glyphosate, aka Roundup. Sometimes I just have to ask: “Just how big do you all need to be, to be happy?”

In contrast, the Slow Food Movement grows in depth and numbers. This year, 7000 people gathered from 140 countries to discuss clean, fair and good food, and how we will make that happen. Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s president, reminded us that this is food which is not produced by forcing others from their land, poisoning ecosystems or underpaying farmers. This is the conference of cool cheeses and meats, amazing produce, and lots of chocolate. Those who come, Carlo notes, come to reload themselves with “energy and self esteem.” We are, frankly, quite undervalued.

Why is this important?  Because on a worldwide scale two billion people suffer from hunger and a billion are obese.    You can guess which side of the equation most Americans are on. Food security is the security of society. That security will not be found in larger corporate mergers.

Consider this:  Indigenous farmers are already producing up to 70% of the food in communities, while industrialized agriculture, with $l3 trillion in investments, cannot actually feed the world.

If there are founding mothers and fathers of the Turtle Island Slow Food Association (our formal membership name in the l40 countries), some of them were present this year. Clayton and Margaret Brascoupe of the Traditional Native American Farmers Association (Santa Clara) have been staunch in their preservation of traditional seeds, and their nurturing of young farmers. Lorraine Gray (Mohawk/Tesuque Pueblo) remains committed to permaculture, longstanding leaders in the food systems. Patti Martinson and Teri Badhand (Taos Community Economic Development Commission), Dan Cornelius (Intertribal Agriculture Council) successfully worked to secure the purchase of both buffalo and wild rice from tribal producers for the commodities program. And Melissa Nelson, of the Cultural Conservancy, remains as a backbone of the Indigenous Slow Food Movement.  

But this Terra Madre really featured the leadership of a new generation of traditional farmers and food leaders. Denisa Livingston (Dine) has worked tirelessly to implement the Navajo Nation Junk Food Tax. Kaylena Bray has worked to restore California traditional foods; Victor Martinez to restore Ohlone food, language and culture.  Others include: Aretta Begay (Dine), Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk, with a forthcoming book called Garden Warriors), Prairie Rose Seminole (Arikara) and of course, Sean Sherman (the Sioux Chef). As a Founding Mother (if that is what I am called) I could not have been more proud of these young people.  

Indeed the work is reaffirmed and so important. As Canadian researcher Pat Mooney explains, “Indigenous people work with 7000 crops and one million varieties, while the majority of industrial agriculture has whittled this down to l35 major crops and l03,000 varieties.”  Agribusinesses are clearly losers.

The very foods we grow or harvest have very special powers to combine. As Harriet Kuhnlein, from McGill University explains, “…corn, beans and squash;  some are nitrogen hungry and some are nitrogen producing...” Make a meal and all is balanced. “Singularly tortillas are at 62 on the glycemic index, and beans are at 22”, Kuhnlein explains.  Put together into a meal, they are at 32.

Plants are medicine. There are over 300 natural medicines in plants to reduce blood sugar. And the lessons of l0,000 years of agriculture and the Irish potato famine tell us that diversity is the answer; the way to adapt plants for climate and for survival.  

We live in a time, when 41 percent of Minnesota’s streams and lakes have excessive nitrogen, all of them in the state’s agricultural regions. Nitrogen is a primary cause of the vast oxygen-depleted area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone. That dead zone is about a thousand square miles of destroyed ocean. We live in a time when the climate will change, and industrialized agriculture is sucking up billions of dollars to create “climate smart varieties”, (about $l36 million per smart seed creation), when in fact those plants will not be as intelligent as the plants of our ancestors with all their adaptation and diversity.

To be sure, life makes strange bedfellows. Max Brooks, of the Modern War Institute at West Point, appears more concerned, than even I am, about the Bayer/Monsanto merger. Noting the 2013 US Supreme Court decision in Bowman v. Monsanto, which accorded intergenerational seed ownership to the corporation, Brooks is concerned about the half of US farm land already in GMO production and the foreign ownership of all of this food security.  “Crops… are the difference between life and death. …American farmers will now be buying those seeds from a foreign power, albeit a friendly one. And I mean a lot of seeds – Monsanto (through its various licensing agreements) controls 80 percent of the corn market and 90 percent of soybeans…”  Brooks is worried about the day when Bayer is purchased by a Chinese multinational and used as leverage in a political battle.  Basically, the company which brought gas to the Nazi gas chambers now has control over most American crops.  

In the end, what I want and I think we all want, is good food. I will venture to say that I also want a free healthy school lunch guaranteed to every child in America, and that will cost $ 5 a day per child to pay farmers a decent price.  That’s what I want. And I want to grow traditional corn without threat of genetic contamination or theft. And I would like to have water.

Petrini reminded us of who we are, “This is a movement which must be based on emotional intelligence. Bayer has bought Monsanto, but we are the multitudes and we are more powerful.”

And for all of you who are snickering at my international fossil fuels travel; I have a final word:  Jet Blue announced that it will be buying more than 330 million gallons of renewable fuel over 10 years to get ahead of the curve on greenhouse gases. Delta, you should follow suit. 

Winona LaDuke is founder and Executive Director of Honor The Earth .

Jim Northrup passes on, groups ensure he will be remembered
Friday, September 09 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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jim-northrup.jpgInternationally recognized and award winning author, poet and storyteller Jim Northrup died of cancer at his home at Sawyer, on the Fond du Lac Reservation, on Aug. 1. While family and friends among the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa held memorials during the past month, honors from broader communities are forthcoming that will add to his legacy.

On September 11, Northrup will be among 12 Minnesota military personnel and veterans to be honored with Legacy Awards from the Minnesota Humanities Center as part of its Veterans’ Voices Award program. That program, to be held at the University of St. Thomas Anderson Student Center in St. Paul, will also honor 13 “On the Rise Veterans” who are 40 or younger and engaged with service to our country and communities.

“I was privileged to be able to tell him that he was receiving this award two days before he died,” said Trista Matascastillo, the center’s program officer for its Veterans’ Voices programs. “He was pleased.”

He was indeed, said Pat Northrup, his wife of 38 years, who will be at the September honors program with family members and friends. While for many in the Upper Midwest region, Northrup is best known for providing a voice and a window on reservation life and Native American – Ojibwe culture, but an entire generation of Americans also knew Northrup as a voice for warriors in the Vietnam War, she said.

Tom Whitebird, the FDL veterans’ service officer, was in meetings in late August planning for veterans observances. Details were not complete when this issue of The Circle went to press. But Whitebird said plans were being made to commemorate Northrups’ work built around Fond du Lac Memorial Day activities next year.

James (Jim) Warren Northrup Jr. was born April 28, 1943 on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation in Minnesota. His father, also named James, was a truck driver and logger. His mother was the former Alice Shabiash.

Jim, who’s Anishinaabe name was Chibenesi, endeared himself to Native American and military reading audiences with his books: Walking the Rez Road, Rez Road Follies, Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View from the Rez, and Rez Salute: the Real Healer Dealer that combine his observations on broader society, the world, and personal matters from his FDL and Marine Corps life experiences at home and in Vietnam.

These writings touched people who shared experiences, said Pat Northrup and family friend Ivy Vainio, the multicultural students’ services coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. They were with Jim Northrup awhile back when he spoke to Wisconsin military veterans at a stadium filled celebration in Green Bay, Wis.

At the same time, Northrup is still best remembered by readers in Indian Country. He started writing a newspaper column, Fond du Lac Follies, for The Circle nearly three decades ago and had since syndicated it to other Native American newspapers across the country.

Among area Ojibwe, he is also fondly remembered for starting a language summer camp program with his wife to keep the native language alive for future generations. For that and other efforts to preserve Anishinaabe culture, traditions and language for all Minnesotans, he was presented an honorary Doctorate of Letters by the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.  

He is survived by his wife and a large extended family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For info on the Veterans Voices awards program, and for information on other award recipients, see the Minnesota Humanities Center’s announcement at: www.minnesotahumanities.org/vets .

Red Lake to build affordable housing in Minneapolis
Friday, September 09 2016
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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red-lake-housing-minneapolis.jpgThe Red Lake Nation announced in mid-August that it will develop a former hardware warehouse site in south Minneapolis into a large housing and service complex on the east edge of the American Indian Cultural Corridor. This will expand both its tribal business ventures and services to its members and their descendants.

“We recognize there is an affordable housing crisis in Minneapolis,” said Justin Beaulieu, chief executive officer of Ogaakaaning Enterprises, the tribally owned holding company and management firm for Red Lake businesses. “This is one of the properties we’ve been looking at so it’s not a one-time thing.”

Where this goes in years ahead is uncertain. It does, however, provide a textbook example of how community development strategies with multiple bottom line goals differ from single bottom line investment strategies usually associated with real estate developments and investments. The project will help diversity Red Lake’s portfolio of business holdings and at the same time it will provide affordable housing and services for away-from-home members of its community and their nearby neighbors.

The project needs to be sustainable while it addresses affordable housing problems, Beaulieu said. But, he added, “We don’t need to make a ton of money” while reaching out to provide a valuable service.

The planned housing development, preliminarily named “Mino-bimaadiziwin,” or “living the good life” in Ojibwe, will contain 115 large apartments for families in upper floors with retail and service space below that will likely include a health clinic and the Red Lake Urban Embassy that is now located in the Cultural Corridor.

Construction work is planned for 2018, the Red Lake Band said in its announcement. This follows the expansion of existing affordable housing in the American Indian Cultural Corridor scheduled to open this fall. It is a $10.5 million project by the American Indian Community Development Corp. (AICDC) and its nonprofit partner, Project for Pride in Living (PPL) that adds 32 such apartment units to the Anishinabe Bii Winn development at 1600 19th St. S. in Minneapolis.

Both housing and business and retail space are squeezed along Franklin Avenue and the Cultural Corridor. “You can’t find land anywhere along here to develop and create new businesses,” Michael Goze, chief executive officer at AICDC, said in a May edition of The Circle. “We replace, or recycle, retail space. We don’t create more.”

The Red Lake project addresses some of these spatial and demographic problems in and around the Cultural Corridor on the near south side of Minneapolis.

In the Red Lake Nation’s announcement, as reported in the Bemidji Pioneer (Aug. 16),  the 17,367 square-foot warehouse site selected for development was described as being 200 feet from the Franklin Station convenient to the Blue Line light rail system. Located at 17th Avenue South and Cedar Avenue, it is just east of where the squeezed American Indian Cultural Corridor begins. While adjacent, the development site is in Minneapolis’ Seward Neighborhood while the Corridor is in the city’s Phillips Neighborhood.

Beaulieu said the neighborhoods around the Cultural Corridor are desirable for people wanting access to cultural events and proximity to jobs and transit. The large, new Somali immigrant and refugee population, for instance, mostly lives nearby.
Securing housing and space for Native Americans and especially Red Lake members and descendants is important, tribal officials explained. Like most Native American tribes, Red Lake now has more members and their descendants living off reservations than on it. There are 5,590 members living on the reservation and 6,000 living outside. With non-enrolled descendants, the outside population is around 10,000 population.

Minneapolis is the largest urban population center for Red Lake members and descendants. “The Red Lake Band has developed a national reputation as a tribal housing leader, and we have long sought a way to extend our affordable housing efforts to our members who reside in Minneapolis,” said Samuel Strong, the Red Lake director of economic development, in the initial announcement.

The Minneapolis development is the first for the Band off the reservation. The Band’s economic development and planning department and the Red Lake Housing Authority have 12 affordable housing developments on the reservation.
“By providing a self-sustaining source of affordable housing for our people, Mino-bimaadiziwin will also generate revenue for the Band that we plan to reinvest on the reservation,” Strong said in the announcement. That further explains the balancing of multiple bottom lines for community development.

Separately, the Red Lake Band operates three Seven Clans Casino sites at Red Lake, Thief River Falls and Warroad. Ogaakaaning Enterprises, meanwhile, operates nine business ventures on the reservation. They include grocery stores, convenience stores, a construction company, propane and fuels companies, Red Lake Foods and Red Lake Farms that prepare Northern Minnesota Native foods, and Red Lake Fishery, which has harvested and sold walleye and other freshwater fish products since 1919.

All these ventures carry out what business professors, sociologists and others call multiple bottom line agendas. In its background section of its website, the tribal businesses note the Red Lake Nation Tribal Council adopted a Ho-Chunk Nation business model in 2011 that separated the business holding company from the tribal government organization.

This model, known as the “Total Approach” model, has proven successful and is the leading model throughout Indian Country, the Red Lake site claims.

Ho-Chunk Inc. operates more than 30 subsidiaries in a wide range of industries in 10 states and four foreign countries. It has more than 1,400 employees. Housing is the Ho-Chunk’s second largest business sector.

The nine Red Lake businesses have 217 employees, not counting casino and hospitality employment; and a customer base estimated at 10,000 people.

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