Minneapolis Recognizes Indigenous Peoples Day


mpls recognizes indigenous peoples day 3.jpgMarking a milestone in tribal

relations, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously on April 25

to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October,

effectively replacing Columbus Day on the civic calendar.

The gesture by the city government

speaks to years of struggle for recognition and equity by members of

the city’s Native American population. As one of the cities with a

high Native population in the country and birthplace of the American

Indian Movement, it hasn’t been until recently that city officials

embraced its indigenous history. In 2012 on the sesquicentennial of

the Dakota War, efforts began to understand the state’s history from

a Native perspective.

To that end, momentum has been

building in the community – focused through the Native American

Community Development Institute – to address issues of equity and

justice. The organization, led by Jay Bad Heart Bull

(Oglala/Hunkpapa) and Daniel Yang (Anishinabe) utilized its political

and human capital to build a dialogue with city leaders, beginning

with last year’s mayoral election.

Then mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges

committed to taking Native issues seriously at the city level during

her campaign in the summer and fall of last year. Along with Council

Rep. Alondra Cano (Ward 9) and policy aide Ashley Fairbanks

(Anishinabe), the effort went into full force last month when the

resolution to change the name of the holiday was drafted.

Members of the Native community filled

the city council chambers while Clyde Bellecourt, American Indian

Movement co-founder, Bill Means, International Indian Treaty Council,

and Deanna Standing Cloud, Red Lake Nation, addressed the city


“I’m here to take a stand so my

daughter Breanna and my son Nigozis are able to grow up in a city

where they feel safe, respected and honored. Replacing Columbus Day

with Indigenous Peoples Day in the city of Minneapolis would show my

children that it’s never too late for healing and reconciliation to

occur between communities and throughout Turtle Island,” Standing

Cloud said.

mpls recognizes indigenous peoples day 2.jpgBad Heart Bull was quick to give

credit for this generation’s position influencing policy. In an

interview last month he said, “NACDI was the catalyst in working

with the community, but it builds on decades of work from other

organizations, groups and thousands of activists that have worked to

push this … It’s the Bellecourts, the grandmas, the youth groups,

Little Red Schoolhouse, Heart of the Earth. We’re just lucky stand on

the shoulders of all of these great leaders, activists and advocates

in our community. We feel like we would be doing a disservice if we

didn’t try to push even further and build on top of that foundation

that the laid for us young folk.”

On the morning of the vote, government

officials and hundreds of community members gathered in City Hall to

pay their respects not only to the efforts of those civic leaders to

address the issue, but to the shared history that led to the day.

“We get to acknowledge that – not

just history – but a living, breathing relationship, a living,

breathing community that is at the heart of the city of Minneapolis.

I want to thank the community for organizing, I want to thank the

community for insisting on its own behalf that we are one

Minneapolis, we are one city, that we are one people and we should

acknowledge that – officially and formally – as a city,” Hodges


As the Congressional representative

for Minnesota’s Fifth District, encompassing much of the city, Rep.

Keith Ellison acknowledged the history and his admiration for Native


“I remember standing at the docks of

northern Minnesota and Wisconsin as Native fishermen were trying to

just extend their right to hunt and fish per agreement and were being

contested by hostile crowds,” he said. “The very foundation of

the United States, the theoretical concept of it, offered to our

nation by the Iroquois Confederacy, as we were told growing up, ‘Oh,

this is from the Greeks.’ We weren’t told about the Iroquois

Confederacy, but we learned about it. And now that we have

established Indigenous Peoples Day, every child – whether that

child is Native, or whether that child is not – will learn the

truth about where America really, really comes from.”

In his speech to the city council,

Means made note of the shift in attitude toward the Native community

during his lifetime. “It’s kind of refreshing to come and be

invited to this chamber because usually we have a drum outside, three

or four-hundred people marching … and so this marks a great change

in our relationship to be able to come to this legislative body with

an idea that has come to fruition: the recognition of indigenous


Touching on an identity widely known

throughout tribal communities but generally unknown to mainstream

America, Means expounded, “We too, as indigenous peoples, have a

creation story to tell. We too have a language, a culture, a

government that governs our people. This is the beginning of the

recognition of those contributions to the United States and indeed

here, to Minneapolis.”

Ellison briefly spoke about his

experience in learning history from an outsider’s perspective. “This

is so important because it’s difficult to imagine if you’re from a

mainstream experience, how it feels to sit in a classroom and be told

‘Oh yeah, well you know, there was this darkness and then Columbus

came and then there was light.’”

For her part, Standing Cloud, 35,

described what it was like for someone of her generation to have

grown up with the legend behind Columbus. “I remember feeling lied

to and really deceived and then after working through it for awhile,

it wears on you. It affects a kid’s self-esteem – everybody’s

self-esteem – because you’re celebrating a man that murdered

millions of your relatives and then, there’s a national holiday for

him,” she said.

“It’s kind of confusing for

indigenous children to work through that and resolve that because

there’s no protocol and no institutions are going to help anybody

reconcile that. So I guess that it’s a little challenging for young

people trying to find their identity.”

mpls recognizes indigenous peoples day.jpgIn the summation of the complexity of

identity in the state of Minnesota, Council President Barbara Johnson

(Ward 4) wove a rich history of her own family’s ancestors as they

watched history unfold in Minneapolis.

“One of my relatives who came from

France was a man named Joseph Renville and he had a son, the son had

a Lakota wife. Joseph was a fur trader, he had a post, he translated

the Bible from English to Lakota and he has a remarkable history in

this state. He married into Little Crow’s family,” she said.

“Joseph had a brother named Victor

Renville and he was – in this brutal history – scalped by Ojibwe

people. Victor’s son – Gabriel – was raised by Joseph. Gabriel

was an integral part in the Dakota Conflict. He worked against his

relatives, who were Little Crow’s family, and defended some of the

settlers who were involved in the conflict. Gabriel went with a

number of Renvilles to Fort Snelling and spent that very, very cold

winter there and their names are reflected on a plaque there.”

Johnson continued, “I represent

people that have Italian history and some are offended by this

change, this recognition, but I think it’s about all of us moving

forward and understanding the strength that we have because of all

the different groups that have impacted this community long ago and

today … I think on the second Monday of October, we’ll all be

reminded about the challenges that we have, but also the joint

successes that we have as a community.”

While the resolution is only binding

on city government, communications and policy, it also encourages

city businesses, organizations and public entities to recognize

Indigenous Peoples Day. According to Bad Heart Bull, the next step is

to approach the city of Saint Paul to consider a similar resolution

with a long-term goal of doing the same at the state level.


Top: Bill Means, International Indian Treaty

Council co-founder, found it refreshing to be part of a group of

Native American activists who were invited into the city council

chambers. “Usually we have a drum outside, three or four-hundred

people marching.”

Middle: Deanna Standing Cloud triumphantly

holds her copy of the City of Minneapolis Indigenous Peoples Day

resolution, passed unanimously by the council and signed by Mayor

Betsy Hodges.

Bottom: Drum group Ringing Shield celebrated

the passage of Indigenous Peoples Day in the rotunda of city hall

along with scores of Native American community members with a round