From the Editor's Desk: Rebuilding and Exercising Power
Tuesday, January 13 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgNative faces and issues came to the fore on the regional and national stage in 2014. Our concerns became part of a conversation that doesn't happen in meaningful ways. Whether we attempted to educate, rally or simply live from day to day, we found our power.

After her election in 2013, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges made good on her promises to the Indian community by fostering a political environment that led to the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day in the city, in place of Columbus Day. More than that, however, the exercise of the organizing power from within the community is what should be highlighted. The Native American Community Development Institute began the process in 2013 by surveying community members on what they'd like to see achieved and shepherded it through until the ultimate city council vote on April 25 and subsequent celebrations on Oct. 12.

Inextricably linked was also the growing attention to the Washington NFL team's racist mascot. On Nov. 2, thousands gathered in front of TCF Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus to once again protest the institutionalized prejudice and ignorance that accompanied the team when it played the Minnesota Vikings. The work of the protest began in two prongs through the well-established and prominent organization National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media that organized a formal rally at the stadium. The other wing of activism included a protest march through the streets of Minneapolis by a coalition of grassroots organizations including Idle No More-Twin Cities, AIM-Twin Cities, Protest Our Manoomin and the Minnesota Two Spirit Society, among several others.

Among those organizations rising within the community to raise awareness and education about LGBTQ Native issues was the Minnesota Two Spirit Society. While the group has had over 20 years of presence in one incarnation or another in the area, the society began reaching out to tribal communities to educate about the Two Spirit identity, fostering leadership on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota. Part of its goals for the upcoming year is to secure a non-profit status and provide mental health, social service and employment opportunities for Two Spirit individuals in the region. This presence in the community is an important method for reclaiming cultural roles concerning Two Spirit people in modern Native culture after colonization's attack on tradition sexual and gender identity in tribal communities.

The battles still continue for those tribal communities that see threats from proposed mining operations and pipelines in both Minnesota and South Dakota. Activists and advocates packed meeting rooms, capital buildings and airwaves to make their voices heard on the national stage. The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Chairman Cyril Scott characterized the U.S. House's vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline in November as an “act of war” on the tribe. Ultimately, the Senate failed to meet the required vote to approve the pipeline; which, garnered Crow Creek Sioux Tribal citizen Greg Grey Cloud an arrest by the Capitol police after he attempted to render an honor song in the Senate chamber gallery. After the Republican-controlled and pipeline-friendly 114th Congress was sworn in, President Barack Obama promised to veto any approval of the pipeline, though more out of respect for the approval process than any environmental or cultural affinities.

In more subtle ways, however, the less glamorous side of Native empowerment continued this year through cultural and language reclamation. Bdote Learning Center opened its doors in South Minneapolis to over 100 students in Kindergarten through fourth grade. As an Ojibwe and Dakota immersion school, English is a secondary priority as the teaching staff shapes the minds of Native youth by expressing and thinking in their native languages. Reclaiming a language and the culture that it represents is an enormous step in maintaining tribal values, identity and ultimately, sovereignty.

With all the accomplishments made in 2014, it's easy to rest on laurels and maintain a sense of entitlement on what's been achieved. But for the continued prosperity of Native communities, we need to continue effective work on issues that directly affect us. The longer we continue to remind mainstream culture that we are as vibrant and diverse a community as any other, we begin to build our bases of power and relevance. The more our lives and our contributions to society matter.

The risk we run in being complacent is that we regress to being a static caricature that becomes again a target for discrimination. We must do everything we can to remain a part of mainstream culture's conversation, beyond poverty, beyond disadvantage and beyond annual or seasonal observances. As we build that presence, our lives testify to our humanity.

And that humanity is not so easily dismissed around the country. That humanity empowers us to ensure that Native lives do matter, just as Black lives matter.

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