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Reusing, Restoring in Indian Country
Tuesday, October 11 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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deconstruction3.jpgThe abandoned Eagle View Motel at Cass Lake, on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, is coming down in pieces with useful materials stored for later use in building projects in northern Minnesota. Come November, another crew of workers from the Miigwech Aki Deconstruction Co. will do similar salvage work on the remodeled and expanded Grand Portage Lodge and Casino.

Miigwech Aki Deconstruction (“Thank you Earth” in Ojibwe) is a business and training unit of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center at Bemidji. Both the Leech Lake and Grand Portage Bands of Ojibwe contracted with the firm because the salvage work it does, leading to recycling and reusing building materials, is consistent with widely shared cultural goals throughout Native American communities.
The environmentally sensitive work would be reason enough, said Bryan Lussier, the Leech Lake compliance officer for the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO). But it is more than that, he added. Contracting with Miigwech Aki “is a form of reinvesting in the community. We want to keep trained, productive people up here.”

Chris Bedeau, director of the program for the Bemidji-based community development center, said 17 construction–deconstruction workers  went through four days of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and one day of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training before starting work on the Eagle View project in September. Most of the workers were residents of Leech Lake while at least one was from Red Lake and another was from Bois Forte, he said.

These workers are now certified from that training. That knowledge and talent is a benefit to the entire northern Minnesota area, said Leech Lake’s Lussier.
“This was the right fit,” he said. “We have worked with Chris and the Northwest Indian (Community Development) Center in the past, and we have many of the same objectives.”

Don’t forget local school elections
Tuesday, October 11 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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Presidential election year thunder is generated by the race for the White House but that should not distract Native families and community leaders from paying close attention to school board elections and school tax referendums.
“Voting is the best way to make your voices heard at any level, and especially close to home,” said Louise Matson, executive director at Division of Indian Work (DIW), an operating arm of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.
That is especially true this election year in Minneapolis, added Mary LaGarde, executive director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

The Nov. 8 ballot in Minneapolis has one at-large seat and three district seats – from western areas of the city – up for grabs on the nine-member Minneapolis Board of Education.

One race that is certain to attract attention among Native American residents pits Ira Jourdain, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation, against incumbent school board member Tracine Asberry in District 6 in the southwest area of the city.
Voters are also being asked to extend the existing property tax referendum that raises 13 percent of the Minneapolis Public Schools’ budget. This referendum would retain, not raise taxes from where they are now, and is equal to $1,604.31 per student.

In an Aug. 17 statement from the schools, education officials noted the existing referendum manages class sizes and provides supportive services for students. It funds 750 positions that include 591 classroom teachers, 82 academic and behavioral specialists, and 81 teachers and support staff for English language learners (ELL).
The election comes at a time of transition in Minneapolis schools. The newly-elected board will work with newly-hired superintendent Ed Graff who started with the current school year. Graff, a native of Bemidji, was formerly superintendent of schools at Anchorage, Alaska.

That change in leadership coincides with Minneapolis schools policy changes that are especially important to the Minneapolis Native American community. DIW’s Matson said the new school board is scheduled to approve or reject a revised Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Jan. 17 with the American Indian community.
Minneapolis became the first non-reservation public school system in the US to reach an agreement with Native groups on Indian education policies and programs with acceptance of the first MOA in 2006, which was updated in 2012.
Three committees are currently working on a 2017 revision, Matson said, that involve the Phillips Indian Educators Committee (PIE) and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) among partnering organizations.
The Minneapolis Indian Education program that functions under the MOA serves about 2,000 Minneapolis school students from 30 different tribal nations out of a total school district enrollment of about 36,000.

Missouri River threatened by DAPL
Friday, September 09 2016
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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dapl-protestors.jpgIt’s 2016, and the weight of American corporate interests has come to the Missouri River, the Mother River. This time, instead of the Seventh Cavalry, or the Indian police dispatched to assassinate Sitting Bull, it is Enbridge and Dakota Access Pipeline. In mid August, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II was arrested by state police, along with 27 others, for opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the meantime, North Dakota Governor Daplymyre called for more police support. Every major pipeline project in North America must cross Indigenous lands, Indian country. That is a problem.  

The road west of Fargo is rarely taken. In fact, most Americans just fly over North Dakota, never seeing it. Let me take you there.
 My head clears as I drive; my destination the homeland of the Hunkpapa Oceti, Standing Rock Reservation. It is early evening, the moon full. If you close your eyes you can remember the 50 million buffalo, the single largest migratory herd in the world. The pounding of their hooves would vibrate the Earth, and make the grass grow. There were once 250 species of grass. Today the buffalo are gone, replaced by 28 million cattle who require grain, water and hay. Many of the fields are now in a single GMO crop, full of so many pesticides that the monarch butterflies are being wiped out.

If you drive long enough you come to the Missouri River. Called Mnisose, a great swirling river by the Lakota, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is breathtaking.  

The Missouri River has a fixed place in the history and mythology of the Lakota and other Indigenous nations of the Northern Plains. In the time before Sitting Bull, the Missouri River was the epicenter of northern agriculture; the river bed so fertile, the territory was known as the fertile crescent of North America.

Now Enbridge and their partners are preparing to drill through the river bed. The pipeline has been permitted in sections from the west and from the east. The northern portion was moved away from the water supply of Bismarck, into the watershed of Standing Rock.  That’s unfortunate.

Measure twice, cut once: carpenters and Summit Academy students
Friday, September 09 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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summit-academy.jpgNo one wants to hear the word “Oops” uttered at a construction site. And not at healthcare and medical facilities, either.
So printed on a wall above blackboards in a carpentry classroom at Summit Academy OIC in North Minneapolis is the carpenters’ proverb: “Measure twice and cut once.” That also sums up what the adult students are doing with their lives, said Steve Shedivy, director of marketing.

Literally, the old adage means carpenters and construction workers should double check their measurements before sawing lumber or putting building materials into place. Figuratively, for everyone else, it simply means to prepare thoroughly before taking action.

Summit Academy (SAIOC) offers 20-week job training programs that ready students for apprenticeships and internships in the construction trades or in healthcare and medical-related career positions.
The program offerings vary during the year, Shedivy said.

Within the construction fields, training programs include electrician, heavy equipment operator, concrete form carpenter, residential carpentry and pre-apprentice construction/carpentry.

Healthcare programs are for community health workers, certified nursing assistants, medical administrative assistants and pharmacy technicians.

Using Minnesota state government projections, the school notes that there will be $6 billion in construction projects in the Twin Cities metro area by 2018. Nationally, the aging population is driving 5.6 million new healthcare jobs within the next four years.
For many students wishing to prepare for expanding job opportunities, a lack of a high school diploma is a large barrier to success. SAOIC has started a unique 10-week GED certificate program to precede the training programs.

Native American students are a small but growing percentage of SAOIC enrollment, Shedivy said, but could increase with the GED preparation program. Roughly half of the Native American population in Minnesota left school before graduating, according to various federal and state studies.

It’s still too new to determine how the 10-week GED preparation, tutoring and help with a personal study program will affect SA enrollment. There are technical training programs at Minnesota community colleges geared to similar career paths, but accessing those programs is not easy for adults without high school diplomas who want to go back to school.

Meanwhile, the logic of nonprofit training programs for recognized real world jobs would seem to be patently obvious. That isn’t the case in most parts of America.

Native Appointed to MNSupreme Court
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Jon Lurie,
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mckieg.jpgMinnesota’s newest supreme court justice is also the first Native American to serve as a member of the state’s highest judicial body.
Hennepin County Judge Anne McKeig, 49, wept as Governor Mark Dayton announced her appointment in late June.

“Today is a historic day, not only for myself and for my family but for all Native people. It underscores the importance of one person leading so that another can follow,” McKeig, who is a descendant of the White Earth Nation, said during the proceedings.

McKeig, 49, recollected watching the 1995 swearing-in ceremony of Robert Blaeser, the state’s first judge from White Earth, calling it an inspiration that set in motion her own career path.

“It is people like him who have led the way that have allowed for others like me to dare to dream,” she said of Blaeser, who served nearly twenty years in Hennepin County District Court.

Dayton said in choosing a new justice he looked for “excellence, for proven public service, for people who have demonstrated that they have compassion, that they understand that even if it is not directly out of their own experience, the plight of so many Minnesotans. Diversity is part of that but, again, that’s no substitute for experience and excellence.

OPOS Tours & Travel makes “Mni Sota” culture/history come alive
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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opos.jpgIt worked for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow back in 1855. It’s working again for OPOS (Our People, Our Story) Tours and Travel of Bloomington.
By blending some Dakota and Ojibwe culture together, with a little help from the Iroquois, Longfellow created a remarkable Great Lakes regional legend and a poetic classic that is still bringing tourists to Minnesota where they may also learn about Native American culture and history.

OPOS Tours and Travel is a restarted Twin Cities-based tour and travel agency previously known as T & T Native Tours, which was the first 100 percent Native owned travel business two decades ago. Reincarnated, it brings Longfellow’s epic “Song of Hiawatha” to life as part of its Metro Tours packages for visitors and for locals who want to know more about Native legend, culture and history in their own backyards.

About half of the groups that arrange OPOS tours are outsiders from out of state who simply want to enjoy and learn about Minnesota, said Sonja Tanner, founder and president. The other half are locals, including large groups of Native Americans, who want fun outings and to learn more about Native culture, she said.

Half-day metro tours include stops at Minnehaha Falls, the legendary home of Longfellow’s warrior Hiawatha, as well as the ancient Dakota settlement Kaposia in South St. Paul, Mounds Park burial grounds, Ft. Snelling Park Interpretive Center, Battle Creek Park and a touristy stop at Ancient Traders Market in the Longfellow area of south Minneapolis.

Tanner and daughter Ashley are members of the White Earth Nation and bring Ojibwe culture and traditions into the enterprise. Both are alumni of Bemidji State University.

Another OPOS partner is Chris Prescott, Shakopee Mdewankaton and descendent from a long established Dakota family. Prescott joined with Sonja Tanner to restart the business in October a year ago and was guided by two yearnings. He said, “I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he said. The other motive was equally personal. “I have always loved travel.”

He has traveled extensively around the world in what indigenous people in Australia might call “a walkabout.” The reception for Native American exhibitors he recently witnessed at an international travel fair in Germany reminded him that North American Native people and their cultures are of great interest to world travelers. Going forward, he said, the tour and travel company will seek to attract more of these travelers to Minnesota and its 11 Ojibwe and Dakota tribal communities.

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