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Peggy Flanagan elected to MNHouse of Reps
Thursday, January 07 2016
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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peggy_flanagan_headshot_sm.jpgWhen Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe) attended her first committee hearing at the State Capitol she remembers the feeling of dread that swept over her. She had arrived in the chamber to testify on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, of which she was the executive director. Her goal: to convince legislators to raise the minimum wage so that working families across Minnesota could put food on the table.

On the wall behind the panel of representatives hung a painting showing the aftermath of an 1862 battle, in which the bodies of felled Dakota warriors lay strewn about a field. It was a chilling reminder of the consequences of starvation, and a message, Flanagan says, that Native American people are not welcome in the halls of government.

As the newest member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Flanagan, 35, aims to change that. The longtime community organizer, who grew-up with her single mother in St. Louis Park (where she lives today with her husband and two-year-old daughter), says the time is now for the voices of Native people to be heard in St. Paul. The multi-talented politician, whose resume far outpaces her age, has used her voice for nearly two decades to push for change, sometimes in surprising ways.

JL: You recently sang the Star Spangled Banner at a Vikings-Packers game at TCF Stadium.
PF: I did. It was pretty awesome. Pretty scary. And the halftime show was really great; it was a bunch of powwow dancers and drummers. It was really fun to see so many Native people on the field. Frankly, the NFL needs to do all it can to try to honor Native folks.

JL: Do you think Native participation in pregame and halftime shows has an impact on the NFL’s willingness to change derogatory team names?
PF: The NFL, and Washington team owner Dan Snyder in particular, are motivated by money. Snyder’s dug-in in much the same way that we’ve seen people like Donald Trump do lately. But I think eventually it’s going to change as people see just how inhumane it is. By having Native folks be mascots we’re being portrayed as less than human and when you portray people as less than human beings it’s easy then, when it comes to making policy, to not treat folks in a way that provides what they need to thrive.

Carceral Colonialism: Imprisonment in Tribal Country
Thursday, December 03 2015
 
Written by By Alisha Volante, Brianna Wilson and Elena Hristova,
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incarceration_story_graph.jpgAmerican Indians make up a little more than 1% of the population in Minnesota, yet make up almost 10% of those incarcerated. To put that in perspective, white Minnesotans make up 83% of the population but only 47% of those incarcerated (prisonpolicy.org).

The U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. And Minnesota incarcerates a higher percentage of American Indians than any other ethnic group, yet often the incarceration conversation fails to address Native communities.

In an attempt to address this, undergraduates, graduate students, Professors Brenda Child (American Indian Studies), Kevin Murphy (American Studies/History) and Jean O’Brien (History/American Indian Studies) at the University of Minnesota have joined a nationwide mass incarceration interpretation project and, in Minnesota, our focus is American Indian incarceration.

Launching in April 2016, Humanities Action Lab (HAL), is presenting, States of Incarceration Project, exploring the past, present and future of incarcerated people in the U.S. The University of Minnesota will be among 20 universities in the US and France contributing to the traveling exhibit and website.

HAL’s pilot project, the Guantanamo Public Memory Project, was the first major collaborative effort to offer multiple perspectives on GTMO’s history and what it represents. Two years and 18 cities later, this project has reached more than 500,000 people through social media, the website, and face-to-face interaction with the exhibit. The exhibit is scheduled to travel to New York, California, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Minnesota (in 2018).

The University of Minnesota will be the only exhibit contributor to focus on mass incarceration and American Indian communities. Students are grappling with two overarching questions: Why are American Indians the most overrepresented incarcerated ethnic group in Minnesota, and what is the historical legacy of American Indian incarceration in Minnesota? Students are investigating broken treaties, colonial incarceration, boarding schools, and various iterations of technologies of state power and violence preceding the current incarceration disparities in the state.

Undergraduates are working on a range of projects under the theme of understanding mass incarceration of Native people as extensions of racism and settler colonialism. The projects include the following: a history of the Dakota 38, the largest mass execution in US history; the history of American Indian boarding schools in the upper Midwest and their legacy in relation to incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline; the history of allotments and broken treaties and their relationship to the concentration camp at Fort Snelling from 1862-1863; the history of Little Earth, a site of resistance to carceral practices, and of Native self-determination; and an evaluation of how the current Minnesota public school curriculum addresses (or fails to address) the Ft. Snelling concentration camp and the US-Dakota War.

Native retailers not dependent on holiday season
Thursday, December 03 2015
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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native_businss_web.jpgNative American retailers in Minnesota who sell arts, crafts, Native and local foods and other specialty products are not as dependent on the November-December peak gift buying and shopping season that are make-or-break times for most large retail chains and stores.

Other seasons have greater impacts on sales of niche market products, several retailers and suppliers of Native American products said. The end of the year holiday season is still important and can cap off a profitable year. But a burst of sales for the holidays doesn’t sustain small business people in niche markets.   

Stores such as Northland Visions in south Minneapolis need strong sales year around to maintain inventories of artworks from Native artists and to keep stocks of art supply materials it sells to hobby customers and artists, said store manager Greg Bellanger (Ojibwe).

“We don’t have a ‘Black Friday’ like the big chain stores,” added his mother Marilynn Bellanger. “We can’t operate all year and then become profitable on the day after Thanksgiving.”

The same is true for Spirit Bay Trading Company in Duluth. There, said company founder Terry Smith, the big shopping season is the summer tourism season when Midwesterners descend onDuluth’s Canal Park to play and stay cool by Lake Superior.

Randy Beaulieau is both a specialty retailer and a wild rice processor and supplier. The biggest season for his Autumn Harvest Ojibwe Wild Rice is the summer Farmers Market season in Minneapolis, he said, when he is an active retailer.

Tribal Enterprise Theory: Ground up development and decision-making
Tuesday, November 03 2015
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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The Koda Energy complex in Shakopee, a partnership between the fifth and sixth generation owners of  Rahr Malting Co. and the Shakopee Mdewakatanton Sioux Community (SMSC) citizens and the Rahr family were logical future business partners. They’ve been living as neighbors for most of the past 168 years in the Prior Lake and Shakopee communities southwest of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

Inevitable or not, the day for merging a community of interests into a business venture came in 2009 when the SMSC and Rahr Malting opened Koda Energy Partnership in the city of Shakopee. It is a biomass energy generation project using agricultural byproducts and agricultural crops to produce heat and electricity for the partners’ use. Surplus production is sold to the regional Xcel Energy utility.

This business venture illustrates both the theory behind tribal enterprise development and theory used by community economic developers and planners to rationalize community business investments in the United States and Canada. In both cases, local developments result from ground up decision-making.
“Koda Energy was an opportunity to partner with our long-standing neighbor Rahr Malting in Shakopee, produce green energy, and be a good steward of the earth,” said Keith Anderson, vice-chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and board chairman of the energy partnership.

Tribal and community development experts surveyed for this article stressed ground level recognition, not top down development.

“I do not generally believe in ‘boilerplate recommendations’ for economic development,” said Frank Pommersheim, a law professor at the University of South Dakota and tribal courts jurist in South Dakota. “It’s got to be bottom up with a focus on law, infrastructure and culture.”

Pommersheim’s 1995 book Braid of Feathers (University of California Press), in which he stresses the importance of Indians and non-Indians forging alliances based on respect at the local level, is especially helpful for Indian communities, said Patrice Kunesch and Susan Woodrow, co-directors of the newly formed Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“Every single tribe has a vision for its own community development … and its own challenges,” said Woodrow, the executive officer of the Minneapolis Fed’s branch office in Helena, Mont. “There is not a one-size-fits-all (formula).”

Kunesch, of Standing Rock Lakota descent and a former official at both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior, added that economic and community development starts with recognizing “opportunity, solutions and best practices.” This includes assessing community needs, costs of fuel, costs of food, costs of essential services, resources available, and the environment and being good stewards over resources.

This also means there are two layers for development, said Woodrow. The tribal enterprise response, or the subject of this article, is the first layer and is triggered by recognized needs. The second layer involves ways in which Indian communities assist and encourage individual entrepreneurship – the subject of future articles in The Circle.

From the mid-1990s onwards, community development involving all communities was largely an outgrowth of post-WWII industrialization, according to Greg Wise, an Extension community development expert at the University of Wisconsin. In a paper for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Extension Service personnel, Wise said the term “community development” has come to mean more than economic or industrial development. Rather, development has come to mean process concepts including “advancement, betterment, capacity building, empowerment, enhancement and nurturing.”

This makes defining the term development even more complex than defining what constitutes a community, Wise noted.

In that regard, the indigenous people of North America have an advantage over other community builders, said Michael Toye, executive director of the Canadian CED (Community Economic Development) Network based at Victoriaville, Quebec.

“The indigenous communities are probably among the best examples of distinct, defined communities that we have in North America,” he said, citing sovereign treaties, geography, language, culture and traditions, and political autonomy.   

Given such clear definitions in Indian Country, it is interesting to note that people worldwide are seeking a tribal approach in forming communities of interest to meet local needs and cope with the impacts of globalization.

Gert van Dijk, a Dutch economist and former president of COGECA, the Brussels umbrella arm of agricultural cooperatives in the European Union, made that point in a recent Dutch textbook that translates to “When the markets fail.” In it, he said, people “draw a circle” around their common interests and then form cooperatives (or other community-based enterprises) to meet those common needs or pursue common opportunities. This they do even when the members of these “new” communities may be diverse and share little else in common.

Observing tribal development here at home with broader community economic development theory, it appears four categories of tribal development and investment have emerged. The first and most obvious is in meeting community needs – grocery stores, services, gas stations – when local and regional markets have failed.

One step up would be developing tribal businesses that serve a broader community surrounding the Indian Nation. Often the objective would be achieving economies of scale and scope. But in cases where a service is provided for a country or region, or an enterprise serves as a broader community bank, retailer or recreation area, an element of being good neighbors plays a role along with realizing returns on investment.   

A third category would be tribal enterprises that add value to local activity. This would make tribal businesses and members more entrepreneurial in their activities and in their households. Van Dijk sees that as the role of most agricultural cooperatives as well, and it explains why there is a dual bottom line of both social and economic goals for community enterprises.

Finally, a fourth category is emerging in which tribal development leaders are pursuing perceived market opportunities and seek investments to diversify tribal portfolios. This is especially the goal where Indian communities are trying to lessen their dependence on gaming revenue.

“Those four categories make sense to me; I can think of examples of each of them with Tribal Councils and First Nations here in Canada,” said Canadian CED director Toye.

Going forward, the Minneapolis Fed’s Kunesch and Woodrow said they anticipate more tribal investments in agriculture, agribusiness, health and nutrition services, biomass and energy development, and anything that can be environmentally sound development of local resources. “I see biofuels as a real natural,” said Woodrow.

All these strategies and local recognition of opportunities play out with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

The Koda Energy partnership, as described by Anderson, connects with several themes mentioned above. So does Dacotah Roots, an organic recycling facility in which the SMSC community began turning organic waste materials into compost in 2011.

Area schools and local governments use the facility to dispose of organic wastes. And as part of its good neighbor strategy for its broader community, the SMSC community offers free yard waste drop off services each September and October for Scott County residents.

Art glorifying the conquest of Indians needs to leave state capitol
Tuesday, November 03 2015
 
Written by Scott Russell,
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Father Hennepin at St. Anthony Falls hangs in  the Governor’s Reception Room.Artwork in the Minnesota State Capitol shows American Indians being “civilized,” losing land to treaties, and being defeated in battle. The art tells a very slanted version of history; and portrays American Indians negatively. This artwork has long been a sore point, particularly given that it hangs in the building where laws are made.

However, the Minnesota State Capitol is undergoing a major renovation, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change. The state created an Art Subcommittee to make recommendations about the art. The Subcommittee includes two noted American Indian leaders: Gwen Westerman, Dakota, a University of Minnesota-Mankato professor, and Anton Treuer, Ojibwe, a Bemidji State University professor.

At a recent hearing, Westerman spoke about some of the art’s historical inaccuracies, and commented on how it showed Dakota people as “a faceless menace.” “Imagine,” Westerman said, “coming here and seeing yourself or your family members depicted in these paintings.”

The capitol art debate is similar to the debate about flying the Confederate Flag over the South Carolina statehouse. Both involve a battle over symbols. In the Minnesota context, the questions are: Do these paintings and symbols reflect the best of our heritage and values? What do we do with art and symbols that are unwelcoming and hurtful?

Here are brief descriptions of some of the most problematic art. None of this art has any historic interpretation.

The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi (Senate Chambers): The painting shows an Indian man and young woman and the spirit Manitou cornered at the Mississippi’s headwaters. They are surrounded on one side by “discoverers” and on the other by “civilizers.” Angelic beings guide the discoverers and civilizers, signifying divine intervention. The Indian couple looks afraid. The young woman is half naked, both offensive and a false representation of customs. The group of “civilizers” includes a priest with a cross, and behind the priest crouches a man restraining two angry dogs, signifying imminent threat.  

Father Hennepin Discovers the Falls at St. Anthony (Governor’s Reception Room): The painting shows Father Hennepin at the falls, renaming it after his patron saint. The term “discovers” is wrong. Hennepin stands in a position of authority, towering over the people sitting below him, when in fact he was a Dakota prisoner at the time. At right, the painting shows a half-naked Dakota woman carrying a heavy pack. Her lack of covering is historically inaccurate and offensive, an apparent effort to show her as uncivilized.

Treaty of Traverse des Sioux (Governor’s Reception Room): The Dakota ceded almost all of their land in this 1851 treaty. The painting depicts the negotiation as calm and fair. It was not.

Battle of Killdeer Mountain (3rd floor conference room): This 1864 battle, Minnesota troops had been sent far into Dakota Territory to punish Dakota people for the 1862 war and create access to western gold fields. The painting shows Minnesota troops firing on an Indian encampment. Many Dakota and Lakota under attack were not hostile to the U.S. and had nothing to do with the 1862 war.

Minnesota–Spirit of Government (House Chambers): This sculpture includes the saying: “The Trail of the Pioneer Bore the Footprints of Liberty.” Rep. Diane Loeffler, the Art Subcommittee tri-chair, has suggested removing those words.

At minimum, this art needs better interpretation so people know the history and symbolism. Better yet, some art should be moved to a museum.

The solution also needs to include adding new art that reflects our state’s current cultural diversity. Thousands of school children tour the capitol each year, students of all colors. There is little in the current art that tells children of color they belong in the capitol.

The good news is that the capitol renovation is creating space for new art. The Art Subcommittee created a statement of purpose for capitol art, which points in the right direction: “The purpose of art in the Minnesota State capitol is to tell Minnesota stories. Works of art in the Capitol should engage people in reflecting on our state’s history, understanding our government, recognizing the contributions of our diverse peoples, inspiring citizen engagement, [and] appreciating the varied landscapes of our state.”

Minnesota could consider approaches used by other states. For instance, the New Mexico State Capitol showcases works by contemporary New Mexico artists. Alaska created space to feature student art.

A group called Healing Minnesota Stories and art teacher Rachel Latuff collaborated to get Minnesota students creating alternative capitol art. [Full disclosure: I volunteer with this organization.] Three schools have participated so far, including Oshki Ogimaag, an Ojibwe Elementary Charter School in Grand Portage.

How would the presence of student art change the capitol’s atmosphere? Above is one example, artwork done last spring by Oshki sixth grader Ariana Poyirier of the Marten clan. Here is her artist statement: “Eagle Woman: My painting is of a transformation of eagle to girl/girl to eagle. The image has to do with my connection to the eagle. The eagle is important to me and to my community and a symbol of our culture. To me, my painting reminds me of my Grandma. Family is important in our culture. We are connected. Cedar and beadwork on the border … are also important to my culture. We drink cedar tea by boiling it in water. It is used for medicine. I put the beads around the girl because I do beadwork. This is a traditional craft in our culture. I am proud to be a Native American from Grand Portage and I am part of Minnesota.”

The Art Subcommittee will hold public hearings in Bemidji, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato, and the Twin Cities. Dates include: Rochester on Nov. 10, Rochester Area Foundation Community Room. North Minneapolis on Nov. 12, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Admin Building. Willmar on Nov. 16, Ridgewater College. And Mankato on Nov. 23, Ostrander Auditorium, Minnesota State University. For times, see: http://mn.gov/capitol-restoration/art. For more info, visit: http://mn.gov/admin/ capitol-restoration/about/preservation-commission/art/ for announcements.

Sign the petition asking the state to remove the most offensive art at: http://tinyurl.com/oz8xdzo.

Scott Russell volunteers with Healing Minnesota Stories.

­­THE CIRCLE 2.0 AT 35: “STORIES AROUND THE COMMUNITY FIRE”
Friday, October 02 2015
 
Written by Jim Lenfestey,
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first_issue_of_the_circle.jpgIn 1980 The Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC) received a grant from the Dayton-Hudson Foundation (Target Foundation today) to broaden communications to serve the growing Native American community. From that seed The Circle was born. Volume One, Number One emerged from a basement office at MAIC on March 1, 1980.

At the time of that first issue, the Twin Cities metropolitan area had 23,000 self-identified Native Americans. Today that number is over 37,000 in the 11 county metropolitan area, according to the 2010 census, more than half the total population of 60,931 identified Native Americans in the state.

For 35 years, The Circle has provided news and information unavailable anywhere else, Native voices speaking to and about one of the nation’s largest urban Native communities, becoming an independent 501c3 nonprofit corporation in 1995.

The Circle is the welcome mat and doorway into the activities and interests of the Native community. As author Louise Edrich remarked at a Circle event last spring, “ … when I looked around Minneapolis, hoping to move here, I saw that there was a newspaper called The Circle that represented the Native community. It was more than a coincidental sign; it was the signal of a vividly interesting, many-Nationed community of Native people. Over the years I think that I have read every single issue.”

  • “The Circle was the first door that opened to me in the urban American Indian community. It still feels like a home and a circle of relatives talking about what matters.”  – Heid Erdrich, Minneapolis, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe

Along the way The Circle garnered many awards, including Best Native American Monthly in Canada, and the US from the Native American Journalists’ Association, and Best Community Newspaper from the City Pages.
The roll call of The Circle editors is impressive: Lori Mollenhoff, Sandra King, Rob Greengrass, Juanita Espinosa, Gordon Regguinti, Mike Bassett, Ruth Denny, Mark Anthony Rollo, Joe Allen, Catherine Whipple, Alfred Walking Bull, and Catherine Whipple again.

In addition, many writers, photographers and artists were launched and supported on The Circle pages. For 25 years, until his recent retirement, Jim Northrup entertained readers with “Reservation Follies.” Columnist Kristine Shotley, AKA “Ricey Wild,” continues today with her hilarious tales from Rezberry; newcomer columnist Nick Metcalf shares his views of the “Rez-born, Urban Raised,”  Mark Trahant reports on business, Mordecai Spector on Native and environmental politics, and Winona LaDuke is a regular contributor, along with many others.

As important, The Circle has represented a strong, vibrant Native presence in the region, which needs and demands its own voice. For 35 years The Circle has been that voice, reinforced today by online resources at our website at thecirclenews.org. But the financial model that supported The Circle most of its life began declining about a decade ago.
From the beginning, advertising revenue supported The Circle. As the primary vehicle to reach the regional Native community, the paper averaged more than $10,000 a month in advertising income through the first two decades, enough to cover all expenses.

  • “THE CIRCLE is the common fire where the community shares our stories.” – David Cornouyer, St. Paul, Rosebud Sioux

The Internet revolution cratered that financial model, as the ease of Internet communication gobbled up much of the advertising revenue. The Circle advertising has fallen nearly 80 percent from the averages prior to 2000, although The Circle remains the premier means of reaching the Native community.

The Circle is in good company with this problem. Take my old employer, the StarTribune, where I served on the editorial board. The Cowles family sold the company for $1.4 billion in 1998. In 2006 the newspaper was sold for $530 million; in 2009 it filed for bankruptcy. Last year Glen Taylor purchased it for $100 million, one-fourteenth its value only 16 years before. That financial free fall is directly traceable to the decline of advertising revenue and the difficulty of raising comparable revenue from web-based information products.

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