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Super Bowl awards Legacy Grant to Twin CitiesNative Lacrosse
Tuesday, May 09 2017
Written by The Circle,
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To commemorate the MNSBHC Legacy Fund grant dedication, Twin Cities Native Lacrosse hosted an event at Corcoran Park with the members of the first all-female, all-Native lacrosse team.In April, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee (MNSBHC) Legacy Fund awarded Twin  Cities Native Lacrosse (TCNL) a $50,000 grant to help fund the organization’s efforts to provide Native American youth in the Twin Cities with free field time, league registration, lacrosse equipment, and transportation.

The grant is part of the 52 Weeks of Giving campaign, a year-long effort to make Super Bowl LII a statewide event by awarding 52 communities with grants that will help improve the health and wellness of young people in Minnesota.  

TCNL is a small, non-profit organization founded in 2014 to promote exercise and healthy life ways by engaging  Native American youth and families in both traditional Dakota/Ojibwe style-lacrosse and modern-style lacrosse.

TCNL instills cultural values and knowledge around the game of lacrosse as well as provides free access to lacrosse equipment, transportation to practices and games, and participation in competitive league play. Highlights for this summer include travel to compete in the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto, Canada, an  Olympics-style competition for Native American/ First Nations youth from the U.S. and Canada.

To commemorate the MNSBHC Legacy Fund grant dedication, Twin Cities Native Lacrosse hosted an event at Corcoran Park with the members of the first all-female, all-Native lacrosse team, where community leaders, families, and youth participated in a traditional lacrosse game.

“We see many instances in our young athletes where the price of participation in sports like lacrosse prevents kids from playing,” said John Hunter, Director and Coach, Twin Cities Native Lacrosse. “Our organization was founded to remove that burden from these young people to help them stay active and learn lifelong lessons about the roots of this sport and Native American culture. This grant will help us continue our efforts to provide children with better access to the sport in our community.”

Twin Cities Native Lacrosse’s core coaching approach focuses on Native American value around kinship responsibilities and honoring the game. Participating families are not required to have Native American ancestry to join a team, only a desire to learn lacrosse and values rooted in traditional teachings. The organization accepts any young person who wants to play, prioritizing athletes from underserved families and neighborhoods; it emphasizes the importance of equity in sport by encouraging girls as well as boys of all ages to play lacrosse.

“Twin Cities Native Lacrosse is doing an excellent job working with Native youth to increase physical activity and to continue the tradition of this sport that means so much to the history and culture of Minnesota,” said Dana Nelson, Vice President of Legacy and Community Partnerships for the MNSBHC Legacy Fund. 

For more information about Twin Cities Native Lacrosse, visit .

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

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