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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.

Mni Wakan: Water is Sacred
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Jon Lurie,
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jonluriestory_2.jpgSitting alongside his family in ceremonies, Wakinyan LaPointe has heard the warnings for as long as he can remember. Lately, the dire messages have become increasingly urgent: Water must be preserved and protected. Unless that is done, all life on Earth is in danger.

“Everything we are – our languages, our ways of life, our ceremonies, are all dependent on water,” says the 26-year-old Sicangu Lakota. “Without water there is no life.”

Wakinyan and his brother Thorne, 25, are college students and community organizers. They have been instrumental for years in Minnesota-based water events such as the Healthy Nations river scouting expeditions, Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering, the Four Directions Water Walk, and Mde Maka Ska Community Conversations.

But after the recent death of an Indigenous rights leader in Honduras, the two men felt a greater sense of urgency to act on behalf of water, and the world’s Indigenous populations.

Berta Caceres, who had successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam project at the Río Gualcarque – a river sacred to her Lenca people – was slain in her home last March. More than a dozen environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras since 2014, according to Global Witness, which makes it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for activists protecting forests and rivers

Along with their father LeMoine, mother Nancy Bordeaux, and sister Tiana, the LaPointe brothers conceived a plan to invite Indigenous leaders from around the world to Minnesota – the font of much of the Earth’s fresh water – for a summit, which they are calling Mni Wakan: A Decade of Water.

Thorne and Wakinyan put their heads together and wrote a summons to the world’s Indigenous leaders. It came in the form of a formal statement, or in the lingo of the United Nations, an “intervention” on water.
“The statement, a broad interpretation of the water crisis this world is experiencing, reiterated our Lakota values: Mni Wakan: water is sacred; Mni Pejuta: water is medicine; and Mni Wiconi: Water is Life,” says Wakinyan. “In our Lakota way, it is our responsibility to strengthen our relationship with water. The statement was intended to acknowledge that relationship and place it in everyone’s minds. In the process of so doing, we invited indigenous peoples, and the appropriate UN representatives, to come to Mni Wakan: Decade of Water. This will be an indigenous led, indigenous centered, water summit, which we are planning for April of 2017.”

Prairie Island Makes Evacuation Plans
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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prairieisland2.jpgThe Prairie Island Indian Community appears to be the first Native American community to buy land and make emergency evacuation and relocation plans under the threat of living next door to nuclear power plant reactors and stored radioactive fuels.

The PIIC Tribal Council announced in March that it had purchased 112 acres of land east of St. Paul for possible future development. This was a precautionary action in the event of a nuclear event with either the power plant or continuing radioactive waste storage at Prairie Island.

On June 6, PIIC applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the newly acquired land placed in federal trust in the event the community must vacate its ancestral island homeland.  

The importance of this step became obvious on June 3 when the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia ruled that spent fuel rods from the power plant may remain indefinitely on the island – unless the federal government finds a suitable depository somewhere else that no one wants.

Tribal Council President Shelly Buck said the community and its allies among states, utilities and environmental groups in ongoing litigation are unaware of any other tribal entity that has taken such steps from a nuclear threat.

Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Washington, D.C., said other tribal entities across the country are close enough to nuclear plants and hazardous sites to be concerned for safety. “But none are as close as Prairie Island,” he said, noting that the power plants and stored fuel waste are only 600 yards from PIIC homes and businesses.

There are tribes in Arizona and tribes concerned for water safety and salmon fisheries in Washington state that are too close for comfort, he said. No other group is literally “living next door” to a site that could become another Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011) nuclear disasters.

PIIC’s Buck said that the Community doesn’t plan to completely relocate. “Prairie Island remains our ancestral homeland and a location with significant spiritual meaning; that will never change.”

At the same time, she said, Prairie Island doesn’t have room to grow and expand “with a nuclear neighbor, so finding safe, usable land for future use is a priority.”

American Indians Respond to Washington Post R-word Poll
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Jon Lurie,
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redskins.jpgNative Americans are responding with incredulity to a Washington Post poll published last month which suggests a majority of Indigenous people are not bothered by the team name and mascot of Washington’s NFL football team.

The poll surveyed 504 Native Americans, 44 percent of whom said they were an enrolled member of a Native American tribe. The results claim that 90 percent of Native Americans are not bothered by the term “Redskins.” A further 340 Native Americans were also surveyed on whether they thought the term was disrespectful: 73 percent said they did not.

The Washington Post asserted that the survey was conducted in order to gather the opinions of “actual stakeholders.” From coast to coast, however, Native people and the organizations that represent them expressed their displeasure over the poll, the methods used to conduct it, and its results.

Many took to social media in May to express their unhappiness over the poll’s miniscule sample size using the hashtag #IAmNativeIWasNotAsked.

Twitter user Jacqueline Keeler (@jfkeeler) wrote: “A poll is not going to stop 5 decades of protest – nothing will until Native people are shown as more than mascots.”

Robyn Lawson (@robynwins111) tweeted: “I am Cree, Metis, Mohawk & I despise that name as much now as I did when I was called one as a child.”

Kenzie Allen (@cerena) wrote: All I can see here is [more] colonial take, take, take. But our cultures do belong to us, no matter what.”

Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, said in an interview published by Fusion News: “The survey doesn’t recognize the psychological impacts these racist names and imagery have on American Indian and Alaska Natives. It is not respectful to who we are as Native people. This poll still doesn’t make it right.”

Change the Mascot, a grassroots campaign based in the Oneida Nation which has long advocated for discontinuing the use of derogatory team names released a statement the day after the poll’s release.  “The results of this poll confirm a reality that is encouraging but hardly surprising: Native Americans are resilient and have not allowed the NFL’s decades-long denigration of us to define our own self-image. However, that proud resilience does not give the NFL a license to continue marketing, promoting, and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur – one that tells people outside of our community to view us as mascots.

Native Health in Indian Country
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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nativehealthart.jpgBack in 1986, tribal leaders at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota recognized difficulties their members were having in accessing medicines. They started a pharmacy to provide free and low-cost medicines for their members in Cloquet.

It didn’t take long for the Band to recognize its model for operating a pharmacy was working, but Native Americans in Minnesota shared the same problems in both rural and urban settings.

Nine years ago, in 2007, Fond du Lac Human Services Division opened Mashkiki Waakaaigan Pharmacy in the American Indian Cultural Corridor on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It serves the Native American population of Hennepin (Minneapolis) and Ramsey (St. Paul) counties.

Tiffany Elton, FDL Human Services’ pharmacy coordinator, said the Minneapolis branch now has about 7,000 regular clients, or customers. FDL’s pharmacy services at both Cloquet and in Duluth serving Carlton and St. Louis counties have more than 6,000 Native American clients combined.

“There was clearly a need,” Elton said. “Our tribal leaders took some risks, but it worked out.”      

Those actions by Fond du Lac fills prescription needs for people already in the health care pipeline. In another ground-up action, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community at Prior Lake launched a Mobile Unit in 2007 that brings free medical, dental and vision care screening and services to American Indian populations throughout the state.

One recent day when the huge medical unit was parked near Mashkiki Waakaaigan Pharmacy in Minneapolis, the traveling SMSC medical staff was providing free mammogram examinations.

Dan Hockinson, the mobile coordinator, said on past visits around the state the teams have called for ambulance service and performed resuscitation techniques on patients who were in dire need of medical care.   
The mobile unit is part of SMSC’s wellness services providing comprehensive health care for community members, SMSC employees and families, and for all other Native Americans living in Scott County on the southwest side of the Twin Cities.

The mobile unit does different types of screening and provides different medical services on its traveling schedule around Minnesota, Hockinson said. In some cases, patients are sent to area or tribal hospital and clinics. In less remote areas, patients are encouraged to see their own or find doctors to treat their needs.

Comedian Ralphie May Blames “Ignorance” on US Education
Thursday, May 05 2016
Written by Jon Lurie,
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ralphie_may_racist_comments.jpg“Humor,” said the Greek writer Taki, “is a reminder that no matter how high the throne one sits on, one sits on one’s bottom.” Comedian Ralphie May, the star of multiple Comedy Central and Netflix specials, was living proof of this last month.  A firestorm erupted across Indian Country in response to a 44-second audio clip of a May performance that surfaced April 5 on YouTube. A joke contained in the outtake came off as a rant against Native Americans, as it relied upon a litany of profanity-laced stereotypes for its set-up.

May describes Native Americans as “a bunch of unemployed alcoholics in need of haircuts” who have “never made it to the Bronze Age,” which is why white settlers took their land with “smallpox blankets and a bag of beads.”

May’s career has been riding high since he won runner-up in 2003 on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. But the response to the YouTube clip, which American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder Clyde Bellecourt called “The most racist thing I’ve ever heard,” forced May to reflect on some of the material which gave rise to his success.

The comedian started posting defiantly on Twitter shortly after the clip began circulating. One of May’s tweets read: “Afraid, I will not be. Shamed, I will not be. Apologize, I will not. I am a man that stands on his own.” Another read: “I make jokes about whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Arabs, gays. None are PC but at the end of it they all show how hatred is stupid.”

May – a white American whose comedy stabs at just about everyone, himself included – said the clip had been edited and stripped of context that would have clarified his intent. In an interview with Indian Country Today last month, the comedian claimed to have Cherokee ancestry.

Meant to quell the controversy, May’s comments only drew more attention to it. One day after the clip was released on YouTube, it had been viewed more than 10,000 times, and the fallout was just beginning.

Public criticism of May focused on the Sanford Center in Bemidji where the 44-year old from Chattanooga, Tenn. was schedule to perform April 9. The event center addressed the matter on Facebook – first by saying they do not necessarily condone the views of their performers, and later by apologizing for booking May to perform. The Sanford Center said it would not cancel the show, citing a legal contract with May. One day after it issued its apology, however, Bemidji city manager Nate Mathews directed the Sanford Center to cancel May’s performance and refund tickets to customers “due to concerns about the appropriateness of what the comedy material could contain.”

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