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At MAIC, new Gatherings Café lives up to its name
Tuesday, March 08 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Howasta-Means-gatherings-cafe.jpgFor many South Minneapolis area residents, the urban setting has done little to numb their taste buds or their cravings for foods they remember from back home on the prairies or from the north woods of Minnesota.

Since mid-February, a steady stream of customers has come to Gatherings Café in the Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC), 1530 East Franklin Ave., to grab specialties such as the Bison Melt and the Red Lake Walleye Melt.

“Those are the two favorites so far,” said Howasta Means, the café manager. “Our menu will change from time to time, and with the seasons. But those two items are here to stay.”
MAIC owns Gatherings Café but it is also a culinary arts training program. Among partners in the training program are the American Indian OIC, the Waite House programs in the surrounding Phillips Community, and the Little Earth of United Tribes.

At its opening on Feb.16, the café started serving breakfasts and lunches with two employees and two culinary students, said Mary LaGarde, executive director of the center. Word spread by social media and word of mouth.

“We’ve been surprised at the turnout,” she said. Only one week into operation, the Gatherings Café staff started seeing regular customers stopping in for breakfast on their way to work on Franklin Avenue.

The center hasn’t had a restaurant on the premises for the past two years. But with the new regulars starting to make nearly daily visits, and the senior citizens now starting to gather regularly for breakfast and lunch, the café is taking on a gatherings role commonly found at restaurants in small towns all over America.

For Means that is as it should be. “I’ve been coming here (the center) all my life,” he said.

The center was founded in 1975 and has served the Native American community of Minneapolis with educational, cultural and social services in the years since. Means was among neighborhood young people who would gather at the center.

Means has worked for seven years in the restaurant industry and is a 2011 graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. While that casts images of upscale cuisine, the early offerings on the Gatherings Café menu suggest a fusion of tastes and recipes that will have special appeal to Native Americans.

The Bison Melt, for instance, includes pulled bison meat, blueberry-horseradish sauce, and provolone cheese. The Red Lake Walleye Melt contains roasted walleye from the Red Lake Nation, cream cheese, lemon, capers, tartar sauce and provolone. Both sandwiches come on whole wheat, wild rice bread and are moderately priced at $8 each – the high end of the menu.

Wild rice is a staple with other luncheon offerings, and locally raised greens and vegetables will be used in season, Means said.

Breakfasts (7:00 to 11:00 a.m.) vary from standard offerings found at most restaurants and coffee shops, to another fusion of upscale with Up North. The Ave Omelet, for instance, contains wild rice, bacon, carrots and craisins with béchamel sauce; there’s a Blue Corn Wild Rice Waffle, and there is a Roasted Sweet Potato Hash, with bacon, bell peppers, onion, cheese and two eggs.  
There are no plans to extend the café hours beyond the 3 p.m. lunch closing, Means said. But Gatherings Café will do special events at the center, or off premises, and offers a catering service.

One early customer who is especially pleased the café opened is Charlie Stately, proprietor of Woodland Crafts, a retail gift and crafts store also in the Minneapolis American Indian Center. The café brings people to the center, and that is good for both commercial enterprises.

“It makes us a destination point,” Stately said. “It’s been busy here since the café opened.”

The restaurant’s “good reviews” from early visitors is strengthening traffic in and out of the center, he said.  

Native American economic condition still nearly invisible in Minnesota
Tuesday, March 08 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Nonprofit organizations that deliver social services to Native Americans in Minnesota still struggle to quantify economic conditions for the Native population. They grapple for ways to measure social successes in economic terms and, at the same time, appeal for resources that haven’t fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

It’s not that money from foundations and government programs are just now catching up, said Joe Hobot, president and chief executive officer at American Indian OIC (AIOIC)  in Minneapolis. Information on current conditions for the Native population is lacking when compared to other racial and ethnic groups, he said.

Grant programs from government agencies and the philanthropic foundations were changed over the past eight years, often from mission-driven to program-driven goals that need measurement, he said. While measured outcomes can justify support for the programs, it can also make finding support to cover overhead expenses more difficult.

“We can’t show jobs gained from training programs in one year when you are helping unemployed people with third grade math and fourth grade reading skills,” he said. We don’t have a way to show progress from our ‘wrap-around’ services that get people into the workforce.”      

Meanwhile, U.S. Census Bureau and state monitoring agencies come up short in actually tracking data on Native American unemployment, joblessness, household incomes, and even identifying who is a Native American.

By extrapolating data that is available, however, Hobot said it appears one in two American Indians living in Minnesota are “jobless.” That combines people who are officially listed as unemployed with those who aren’t considered to be part of the workforce. 

Patina Park, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in Minneapolis, said funding support for her social service programs are now just getting back to pre-Great Recession levels. That recovery is fueled by federal funds, she said, and not by more local sources of financial support.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis reported in April 2015 that foundational assets in general had recovered to pre-2008 levels. In its Fedgazette magazine, the Fed noted the recovery was uneven for groups and geographies. The lingering economic disparity from the recession had created more need for services even as funding support dwindled.

The Fedgazette article, All In The (nNonprofit) Family, quoted Katie Barr of the Nonprofits Assistance Fund in Minneapolis in saying service delivery models in the social services sector are labor intensive so program and productivity efficiency gains over time are small.

This is the reality facing Hobot, Park, and at least 20 other social services providers for the Native American communities in the Twin Cities and statewide.

“We’ve been helped by some federal grants,” Park said. “That brings us back to about where we were before the recession.” At the same time, she added, foundations that support social service programs are slowly recovering their own budgets. Local government support, especially from counties, still lags where government budgets reflect problems from the housing market’s collapse and its spillover on property taxes, she added.

While economists and political scientists would predict a lag time for recovery from something as severe as the Great Recession, the impact on communities in need is predictably greater than for a state’s general population. It also contributes to the income inequality that continues to divide the state and nation.
Park joined Hobot in presenting brief testimony in January at a Legislative Working Group on Disparities and Opportunities hearing in St. Paul. The Working Group and other governmental responses are largely the result of the Census Bureau and its ongoing American Community Survey tabulations that follow demographic and economic data for various American ethnic communities.

“More vocal groups brought greater awareness to their communities’ disparities,” Hobot said. For instance, cities, counties and state institutions such as the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) all became alarmed when last September’s ACS report showed household incomes for African Americans in Minnesota declined by 3 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Native American service organizations, however, are still searching for ways to read, analyze and advocate based on available data and on what statistical information is still missing.
As February came to an end, executive directors of 20 American Indian nonprofit service providers (501c3 organizations) were drafting a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton and to state DEED officials calling for more data gathering and for more collaboration on programs. That joint letter from directors of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) was to be sent to state officials in early March.

From available data, MUID affiliated organizations and AIOIC have concluded that Native American households in Minnesota have an annual median income of $32,000, or 48 percent less than the state’s median household income of $61,500. The unemployment rate for American Indians was 10.8 percent at year’s end, while it was 3.7 percent statewide. Government measurements also considered 40.8 percent of working age American Indians in the state as “not in the labor force.”

Hobot said this latter category is especially troubling in that there are no good definitions or data on why this is so. In some cases, he said, there are wealthy people who aren’t looking for employment. For far too many, however, it means long-time unemployed have given up looking and therefore aren’t counted as being part of the potential workforce.
Combine the data, “and we can say that one in two, or 52 percent of working age American Indians, are jobless in Minnesota,” he said.

While they work with DEED and government agencies to make American Indian data more visible and understandable, service provider groups are taking steps to make their own programs more efficient, less duplicative, and better at information and service sharing.

AIOIC, Park’s women’s group, United Tribes of Little Earth and the Minneapolis American Indian Center, all of Minneapolis; and the Northwest Indian Community Development Center at Bemidji are currently forming a new referral and collaborative entity labeled the Indigenous Organizational Network, or ION.

All participating organizations have training programs that help the jobless return to the workforce. All have so-called wrap-around programs that are culturally sensitive to help American Indians prepare for meaningful jobs and careers.

On top of that, more collaboration among groups will lead to more information sharing so “the indigenous population won’t be such an invisible group,” Hobot said.    

How do we grieve the death of a river?
Friday, February 05 2016
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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“Our people blocked the road. When the troops arrive, we will face them.” 
– Ailton Krenak, Krenaki People, Brazil

This eighteen months saw three of the largest mine tailings pond disasters in history.  Although they have occurred far from northern Minnesota’s pristine waters, we may want to take heed as we look at a dozen or more mining projects, on top of what is already there, abandoned or otherwise. These stories, like many, do not make headlines. They are in remote communities, far from the media and the din of our cars, cans and lifestyle.   Aside from public policy questions, mining safety and economic liability concerns, there is an underlying moral issue we face here:  the death of a river. As I interviewed Ailton Krenak, this became apparent.

he people in southestern Brazilian call the river Waatuh or Grandfather. “We sing to the river, we baptize the children in this river, we eat from this river, the river is our life,”  That’s what Ailton Krenak, winner of the  Onassis International Prize, and a leader of the Indigenous and forest movement in Brazil, told me as I sat with him and he told me of the mine waste disaster. I wanted to cry. How do you express condolences for a river, for a life, to a man to whom the river is the center of the life of his people? That is a question we must ask ourselves.

November 2015’s Brazilian collapse of two dams at a mine on the Rio Doco River sent a toxic sludge over villages, and changed the geography of a world.  The dam collapse cut off drinking water for a quarter of a million people and saturated waterways downstream with dense orange sediment. As the LA Times would report, “Nine people were killed, 19 … listed as missing and 500 people were displaced from their homes when the dams burst.”

The sheer volume of water and mining sludge disgorged by the dams across nearly three hundred miles is staggering: the equivalent of 25,000 Olympic swimming pools or the volume carried by about 187 oil tankers. The Brazilians compare the damage to the BP oil disaster, and the water has moved into the ocean – right into the nesting area for endangered sea turtles, and a delicate ecosystem. The mine, owned by Australian based BHP Billiton, the largest mining company in the world, (and the one which just sold a 60-year-old coal strip mine to the Navajo Nation in 2013) is projecting some clean up. 

Renowned Brazilian documentary photographer Sebastiao Salgado, whose foundation has been active in efforts to protect the Doce River, toured the area and submitted a $27 billion clean-up proposal to the government.  “Everything died. Now the river is a sterile canal filled with mud,” Salgado told reporters. When the mining company wanted to come back, Ailton Krenak told me,  “we blocked the road.”

They didn’t get the memo.

Last August saw a similarly disastrous failure in a tailings pond feeding into the Animas River in Southern Colorado. The amazing thing about this dam failure was that it was caused by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In this case, the EPA was looking into an aging mine tailing pond at the Gold King Mine near Silverton Colorado. The mine has been abandoned and is one of an astonishing 22,000 abandoned mines in the state meaning, unfortunately, there could be more to come. It seems that on August 5, EPA personnel along with workers for Environmental Restoration LLC (a  Missouri based  contractor ) caused the release of toxic wastewater when attempting to add a tap to the tailing pond for the mine. The workers accidentally destroyed the dam which held the pond back, and three million gallons of cadmium, arsenic and lead laced mine waste water and tailings gushed into (oddly named ) Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas River. The EPA was criticized for not warning Colorado and New Mexico until the day after the waste water spilled. The Navajo Nation, directly downstream, also did not receive the memo.

The Navajo Nation had a bit of time to prepare for the onslaught, in that terrifying way that you know your life is about to change dramatically. By August 7, the waste reached Aztec, New Mexico. The next day it reached Farmington, a major Navajo city, before the orange flood moved  into the San Juan River.
Reporters noted, “The heavy metals appeared to be settling to the bottom of the river because largely, they are insoluble unless the entire river becomes very acidic.”

Indigenous Peoples Protest at D12 Day of Action in Paris, France
Thursday, January 07 2016
Written by Dallas Goldtooth,
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pariscradleboardsm.jpgWhen the official UN climate negotiations took place in December in Paris, France, thousands of people took to the streets of Paris to protest. Holding red flowers, umbrellas and banners, they created red lines along the boulevard Avenue de la Grande Armée and other streets to state their opposition to climate-damaging fossil fuels. The red line symbolically points from the victims to the perpetrators of the climate crisis – the fossil fuel industry.
Indigenous Peoples were among those who took to the streets for an Indigenous Rights action on the closing day on Dec. 12th, hours before the final agreement was to be presented.

Representatives from Indigenous nations of Circumpolar, Amazon, South Pacific and North America joined for an early morning sunrise ceremony at the foot of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral. The ceremony was disrupted by Paris Police who came to the square and begun to remove banners.

We, Indigenous Peoples, are the redline. We have drawn that line with our bodies against the privatization of nature, to dirty fossil fuels and to climate change. We are the defenders of the world’s most biologically and culturally diverse regions. We will protect our sacred lands. Our knowledge has much of the solutions to climate change that humanity seeks. It’s only when they listen to our message that ecosystems of the world will be renewed,” said Tom Goldtooth (Dakota/Dine), Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, based in Bemidji, MN, U.S.A.

parisgroupsm.jpgThe morning prayer circle was moved down the street to the Pont des Arts, also known across the world as the ‘Love Lock Bridge’ where Indigenous Peoples staged a direct action. Their collective message was clear,  “People discuss ‘red lines’, we are the red line. We are the keepers of the land, protectors of animals, the seas, the air. We are the solution.”

“Our planet is hotter. The seas are rising. Our communities are facing reality that we may have to move, we have winter wildfires happening in the Arctic. We are out of time. Any solutions that do not talk about cutting emissions at the source, or keeping fossil fuels in the ground, are false solutions. We don’t have time to talk about carbon markets, carbon trading, REDD+ projects. We must act now,” said Goldtooth.

“The seas are rising, our communities have nowhere else to go,” said Sina Brown-Davis, a Maori activist.
At noon, Indigenous peoples joined in solidarity with the global D12 REDLINE action at Arc de Triomphe. At the front of action, Indigenous Peoples held a conference condemning the failed leadership of nation states for their exclusion of Indigenous rights and human rights in the operational text of the Paris agreement.

parisbridgesm.jpg“Here at the COP21 they are proposing false solutions to the climate crisis, they are proposing a commodification of the sacred, they want to put a price on the air we breathe. They want to go into other countries, displace our Indigenous brothers and sisters, so that they in the US can continue killing our people. We are the frontlines, we are the red lines,” said Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, North Dakota).

During the march, a traditional Ponca cradleboard was presented to the people of Paris. The cradleboard represents future generations and was carried by Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca Nation) who spoke at the march, “We come here with a present for Paris, we know what happened on November 13. We Indigenous people know how that feels to have someone kill the innocent ones. We offer this symbol in memory of lives lost, and we thank-you for hosting us on this sacred day.”

Over 50 Red Lines solidarity events were organized worldwide in North America, Europe, South Africa and Nepal.

Reprinted with permission of the Indigenous Environmental Network .

Indigenous Peoples Task Force launches $3.5 million capital campaign
Thursday, December 03 2015
Written by Catherine,
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iptf_building_pro_webj.jpgThe Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF) has launched a $3.5 million capital campaign to build a new Center for Art and Wellness, to be called Mikwanedun Audisookon. The Ojibwe name, chosen with the help of elders in the Native community, translates as “remember our teachings”.

Mikwanedun Audisookon will be located adjacent to IPTF’s existing offices and housing at East 24th Street and 13th Avenue South in the heart of the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis.
Built of indigenous-based building materials and utilizing renewable energy, the state-of-the-art facility will allow IPTF to consolidate its programs and expand its ability to improve the stability, health, cultural vitality, and economic growth of the Native American and South Minneapolis communities.

IPTF’s work is grounded in Native cultural and healing practices passed down through generations. Mikwanedun Audisookon will provide an urban sanctuary where body, mind and spirit can become whole.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is enthusiastic about Mikwanedun Audisookon, saying, “This beautiful new facility, in the heart of the Phillips Community, will honor our shared environment and strengthen the vital work of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force. It will also underscore the City’s stated commitment to promote the well-being of the American Indian and Indigenous community in Minneapolis.”

IPTF, formerly known as the American Indian AIDS Task Force, was the first organization in the nation to provide housing tailored to the needs of Native Americans living with HIV. Its successful development, Maynidoowahdak Odena, is a 14-unit permanent housing and supportive services program adjacent to the new Mikwanedun Audisookon site. With an operating budget of $1 million, and serving more than 1,500 youth and adults annually, IPTF has been an innovative provider of culturally appropriate health, education, housing and case management services for Native Americans for more than 25 years. IPTF weaves theater, experiential learning and traditional arts and crafts into its work, especially in programs designed for indigenous youth.

In addition to serving people with HIV/AIDS, IPTF’s culturally sensitive, experiential approach to HIV prevention, women’s health, tobacco cessation, and childhood diabetes are modeled across the state and nation. This same unique and highly efficacious approach will be applied to the new programming opportunities the Art and Wellness Center will provide. Under the leadership of Executive Director Sharon Day, (Ojibwe) IPTF has also emerged as a growing leader in the movement to protect and sustain land, water and indigenous seed resources.
Mikwanedun Audisookon will feature a light-filled lobby gallery that serves as a welcoming community gathering space. The center will expand opportunities for art programming and experiential learning and entrepreneurism, including:
· A studio/workshop for training and entrepreneurial development in traditional arts such as cedar box construction and black ash basket making.
· A commercial kitchen and garden which will include Native medicine and food plants, and provide training and the development of value added products based on traditional, healthy foods.
· An intimate theater space that will allow IPTF to expand on its successful Ikidowin Program, a youth theater initiative which educates youth on pregnancy prevention and other issues.
· An intimate gallery that will provide space for the exhibition of both traditional and contemporary art and craft.
The addition of the Mikwanedun Audisookon Center for Art and Wellness will also result in:
· Training and certification in green building technologies during the construction phase, utilizing compressed earth block (“CEB”), photovoltaic and geothermal energy, along with water quality best management practices.
· Improved community safety, economic stability and relationship building by welcoming youth and adults of all backgrounds.
· Increased value of adjacent property.
· Reduced crime from increased foot traffic to and from the Center for its trainings, programs and projects.
· Increased arts and cultural programming with hands-on creative opportunities for both youth and adults.
IPTF is allied with a number of community based organizations, including Minneapolis American Indian Center, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, Waite House, Indian Health Board, Guadalupe Alternative Programs, Open Arms, Native American Church, Little Earth of United Tribes, American Indian OIC, and Women’s Environmental Institute. In addition to local partners, IPTF collaborates state-wide with numerous Native agencies representing Minnesota’s eleven Tribal communities and nationally with HIV and environmental organizations.
Mikwanedun Audisookon Center for Art and Wellness will be the latest in a series of Native-driven development initiatives in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis; these developments include the Franklin Cultural Corridor featuring All My Relations Gallery, Pow Wow Grounds Café and the new indigenous-inspired mural at the Franklin Avenue LRT Station.
Exclusive development rights have been secured from the City of Minneapolis to build on the Phillips site. Total projected cost is $3.5 million with groundbreaking scheduled for spring, 2017 and construction completed by August, 2018.
For more info, email Sharon Day at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , or call 651-325-8077.

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