MIGIZI youth center reopens after burning in Floyd unrest

A large crowd attends the grand opening for MIGIZI.

By Nicole Ki / MPR News

Around 500 people gathered on October 5th to celebrate the grand opening of MIGIZI, a Native American youth center based in south Minneapolis that burned down during the unrest around the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.

“I think it really speaks to kind of this idea that we, you know, like the phoenix, right, like rising from the ashes,” said Binesikwe Means, lead media instructor at MIGIZI Communications. “That’s how we always spoke about it and talked about it.”

The ceremony took place at MIGIZI’s new, larger space at 1845 E. Lake St., which is less than a mile down Lake Street from the old location. The grand opening began with a prayer from community members and included performances from Little Earth drummers and jingle dancers to bless the center.

“This shows the resilience and the strength of the Native American community,” said Mayor Jacob Frey. “The fact that there are so many young people that will be walking through these doors, to learn and to grow, to get mentorship and to make friends, I think shows not just where we’ve come from, but where we’re going. And so this truly is a proud moment.”

Jingle dancers, from left, Nina Berglund, Holly Henning and Lesley Shabaiash stand outside the new MIGIZI location in south Minneapolis during the grand opening. (All photos by Brooklynn Kascel / MPR News.)

Students at the center, like Cameron Toal, said they were excited that the space is finally open.

“I meet a lot of people here and I make a lot of friends and stuff like that,” said Toal. “And that to me is just like it means community to me.”

Bringing back MIGIZI after the fire
Since losing the building, MIGIZI has had to operate out of a temporary location.
“During our time in the temporary space, we didn’t have room for all of our programs,” said Means. “It was really hard to envision expanding and growing numbers because we were so limited in space.”

MIGIZI has been around since 1974 and has existed in multiple locations over the years. It does programming on green tech, media storytelling and language and culture for youth ages 14 to 20.

The new location, which is nearly double the size of the burned-down location, has been open to students since July and added a teen tech center that’s equipped with computers, camera equipment and a studio to produce music and creative art.

“With this building and all of the beautiful spaces that we’ve really created together, I think with the new buzz of an influx of students, we’ve just really enjoyed and really felt this building come alive of all the possibilities that can happen for our community, for our programs and for the organization,” said Means.

In 2020, MIGIZI had been working out of its recently renovated center for eight months when the unrest broke out. It was one of the only buildings in that part of Lake Street that was untouched for the first couple days, but it eventually burned after a neighboring fire spread.

“It was unfortunate to lose the building,” said Means. “But we are also very proud of all the community members that showed up. The American Indian Movement came through and really helped us protect and secure our building and I think it speaks to the power of community, that we were the only business on that block that wasn’t looted, wasn’t broken into.”

Little Earth drummers, from left, Nation Wright, Vincent Dionne, Crow Bellecourt and Zack Red Bear perform during the grand opening.

MIGIZI deputy director Lisa Skjefte said the community helped salvage artwork and archive materials from the fire.

“It was really important to save the old digital, the old film, the old tapes, and we have so many stories, a collection of stories of American Indian perspective, and news and media going back to the 1970s,” said Skjefte.

The center’s comeback is funded by $6.6 million raised in donations from across the country. It’s located just two blocks from South High School, where MIGIZI recruits Native students from their All Nations program, an academic program for American Indian students.

To bring the space to life, Means said it was important to ask for student input on what the center should look like. And she’s looking forward to seeing how the students use the new space.

“We’re just really excited for all of the different pieces that are coming through, how our program is growing and expanding in this new space, and how we can continue to keep the legacy of the original MIGIZI alive, this idea of raising the next generation of storytellers,” said Means.