Down to the wire for Native nonprofit funding at MN Legislature

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By Lee Egerstrom

Minnesotans have come to expect time will run out before the Minnesota Legislature gets its work done, requiring special sessions, but urban Native nonprofit organizations with funding requests before the lawmakers are still hopeful that this year will be different.

The regular session of the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 23. Bills authorizing public support and appropriations are supposed to clear committees well before then. That includes 12 project requests promoted by Twin Cities urban Native nonprofits groups seeking $83.3 million in state funding.

The requests, lumped together by a 16-member Urban Indigenous Legacy Initiative (UILI) collaborative organization, were making headway by late April in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Less so in the Minnesota Senate.

Nonetheless, a leader in the Native American collaborative effort said he is “greatly encouraged” by progress to date. Joe Hobot, PhD (Hunkpapa Lakota), president and chief executive at American Indian OIC and also chair of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) group, told The Circle the challenge ahead is to match House success in the Senate.

“We know this will require a considerable effort, but (we) are heartened by our steadfast allies and champions in the Senate – notably Sen. Mary Kunesh, Sen. Sandy Pappas and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion,” Hobot said. Kunesh, a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe descendant, is from New Brighton; Pappas is from St. Paul, Champion is from Minneapolis. All are Democrats. Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, is the chief sponsor in the House.

While speculating on legislative success in any state is risky, it is especially tough in divided Minnesota. The Minnesota House is controlled by Democrats; the Senate by Republicans. Adding to the political divide is pressure from this being another election year for state officials.

The UILI was formed by urban Native nonprofit groups to coordinate their efforts and lessen competition for public support. The joint proposal to the Legislature this year is called Clyde Bellecourt Urban Indigenous Initiative in honor of the Native community leader and founder of several urban Twin Cities organizations. Bellecourt died Jan. 11 this year.

This year’s 12 funding requests are for both new and continuing building programs. They include continuing projects such as $5 million for renovation, expansion and repairs at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, $4.4 million for new facilities for MIGIZI following destruction after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and $2.2 million to improve facilities and emergency shelters at Ain Dah Yung Center locations in St. Paul.

New construction projects would include $35.4 million for a new campus and building for AIOIC and its education and employment training programs in Minneapolis, $12 million for Native American Community Clinic to construct a new building for respite housing in the American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis, $6.2 million for American Indian Community Center to develop Montessori and other family services center location in St. Paul, $6 million for American Indian Development Center to design an inpatient opioid treatment facility in either Minneapolis or St. Paul, and $2.5 million for the Indigenous Peoples Task Force to buy land and construct a multiservice center in the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Other projects proposed for funding include $4.2 million for the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resources Center to renovate a Native women and families housing building in Minneapolis, $2.5 million for the Division of Indian Work to build a facility in south Minneapolis, $2.2 million for Little Earth of United Tribes to renovate and repair its Minneapolis facilities for housing and programs, and $1.4 million for the Lower Phalen Creek Project in St. Paul to build the Wakan Tipi Center in the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.