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Native American Month Parade Float Winner
Tuesday, May 09 2017
Written by The Circle,
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The Anishinaabe Academy won first place in the parade for the 2017 Minnesota American Indian Month Kick-Off celebration. Native-led organizations and groups were invited to make a float (anything pushed, pulled, carried, worn on the body, or put on a motorized vehicle) for this year’s parade. The winner of the float competition was announced during the feast at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

Comfort and hygiene still rule in second-gen Pauling family business
Tuesday, March 14 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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biffscompany.jpgIt would be hard to image anyone in the Twin Cities metropolitan area who hasn’t seen or used some of the 6,000 portable restroom units provided by Biffs Inc., of Shakopee, at construction sites, parks and special events. They are easily taken for granted unless you are somewhere where such a service is needed but is nowhere to be found.

Biffs Inc. is a 31-year-old, second-generation family business owned and operated by, siblings who purchased the company two years ago from their parents, Mike and Diana Pauling.

Although they are practically neighbors with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Paulings are Ojibwe descendants of White Earth Nation. Derek serves as president (CEO) and chief financial officer, Heather is vice president and chief operating officer.

So how did this family with Native American heritage get started in the portable restroom service industry? That, says Derek Pauling, could be a lesson for young people in the Native communities and everywhere in Minnesota.

While people are born into families and communities, there are still personal behaviors and traits to be honed that will prepare you for whatever business or occupation where opportunities may exist, he said.
“It can be little things, like following through on commitments,” he said. “If you say you are going to meet someone someplace, be there and do it.
“I learn something new every day. Wake up in the morning and have a goal, be positive. It might be a small goal, but follow through on your commitment. All this starts when you are a kid. You might have small achievements when you start, but it builds and over time you will be surprised by your accomplishments.”

That transcends different industries and occupations, he added. It is especially important in industries that thrive on doing business with repeat customers. “It’s like a marriage,” he said. “Transparency, honesty, follow through on commitments are all important.”

That, he said, prepares you for whatever life deals you and when opportunities come along. His father and the Pauling family entrance into the portable restroom industry are cases in point.   

Mike Pauling was in the Vietnam War where he was injured, and when he recovered someone was recruiting jobs for veterans. He went out to Satellite Industries in Plymouth thinking it had something to do with the space program.

That became a family joke. But the interview went well and the family patriarch went to work for Satellite, a portable toilet manufacturing and service company, for the next 10 years. Satellite now has global operations and is the world’s largest maker of portable restrooms.

The elder Pauling went off on his own in 1986 by finding partners to buy Biffs, a smaller portable restroom business with only 200 units and a couple of employees. He bought out the partners in 1997 when Derek graduated from the University of St. Thomas and came back to join the company.
Both Derek and Heather worked at Biffs while growing up and during summer months while going to college. Heather joined the firm as an employee in 1994 after graduating from the Minneapolis College of Arts and Design.

Along the way, Mike Pauling would also serve on the board of directors of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce.

Both generations of the Pauling family insist people at construction sites or at special events need services that provide for their health, welfare and dignity with restrooms. Biffs is focusing on that objective with a variety of new portable units that fit different settings and events. The company website shows the different models of portables now available.

Pumper, an industry trade magazine, has a complimentary profile on the company in its October 2015 edition that explains much about the industry and its products, logistics and technologies. That is available on the Biffs website under the News/Media column.

The company has grown with acquisitions over the years. The company now has 60 employees in the winter months and up to 85 in the summer when special events are more regularly scheduled.

Construction is year around in Minnesota. That produces about 50 percent of Biffs’ business, Derek said. Another 30 to 35 percent of business comes from parks and other heavily trafficked areas that don’t have permanent restrooms. The rest of the business comes from the growing field of special events, Derek said.

That category is tilted towards the warm weather months, but not exclusively so. In late February, for instance, the University of Minnesota’s student Equestrian Team hosted a multi-state horse show for collegiate teams at Idylwood Equestrian Center in rural Stillwater. Biffs had two portable units parked outside the main horse barn and indoor arena where the show competition was held.

“You can certainly count me as one of their (Biffs) satisfied customers,” said Jaime Ashley Benner, owner and head trainer at the century-old horse farm. The portable units were especially helpful with visiting teams from Wisconsin, North Dakota and Nebraska joining the Minnesota equestrians.
Still, that was one of the smaller special events served by Biffs. The largest in company history occurred Sept. 30 – Oct. 2 this past year when the Ryder Cup Matches golf competition was held at Hazeltine National Golf Club at Chaska.  

Biffs and the Paulings have posted a video, “Mission Impossible Sanitation,” on its web page recalling how 15 company drivers serviced 725 portable units, 133 sinks and five luxury toilet trailers at the golf club, pumping and hauling away 541,479 gallons of water and waste during those five days.

A potentially even larger event may be coming in 2018 when Minnesota hosts the Super Bowl. Pauling said contacts aren’t signed at this point, but all portable restroom providers will get action. If not directly tied with the game and NFL activities, providers of portables will service corporate receptions and related events.

To learn more about Biffs, see their website at:  

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

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 .

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