Take Back Women of Nations committee


Native community responds to cultural appropriation, violent board behavior and exclusion in Native Women's shelter

For immediate release 612.267.1682
April 29, 2009 -10A-CST
Minneapolis, Minnesota – “The board of directors for Women of Nations is now
almost all white and one of them said I was trying to hijack the organization, after
they removed the American Indian Executive Director. They tried returning tens
of thousands of dollars of grant money intended for Native women and children
at the Eagle’s Nest Shelter for American Indian culture activities, but it wasn’t
legal for them to do that according to the grant agreement. I don’t know how you
can hijack something that’s already been hijacked,” said Clyde Bellecourt, one of
the few remaining Native people on the board of directors of this Native Women’s
domestic Violence program, sexual assault service provider and shelter.
“You can’t turn away grant money for a Native American organization in this
economy. Our community needs all the support it can get. This board of
directors lied to my face, they tried to refuse to let another Elders speak in a
public meeting, and it looks like they plan to phase out the needs of the American
Indian people. They ‘decline’ to meet with the American Indian community face
to face.” The growing awareness in the Twin Cities Indian community about the
strange circumstances at Women of Nations is becoming news around the
country, online, on national and local radio, and in the Native Press. This story is
the subject of a forthcoming local investigative journalism piece.
“They passed a resolution for a letter dated April 22, 2009 responding to
concerns of the MUID group last week, admitting that they made a mistake and
that they would recruit from the Indian community for new board members. We
just found out that someone on the Women of Nations board took it upon himself
or herself to delete all of that language and withdrew the commitment to get
American Indian board candidates from the community. This was done without
proper board notice or approval. I have copy of the original resolution right here
and the promise they made. They’re no longer governed by our community and
now they’re hijacking this 25 year old organization. This American Indian
women’s organization was one of the first of its kind in the country.” The MUID
group is the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors, one of the oldest and largest
American Indian coordinating and advocacy bodies in the state of Minnesota.
Over 70 people attended two meetings in Minneapolis over a 4-day period this
past week. The level of outrage and concern has led to plans to have a
community march to the next board of directors meeting to demand their
resignation and restoration of Native control of the organization. One online
petition gathered nearly 100 signatures in the space of a few days, and another
petition created by women in the community with life-long commitments and
experience in the field of domestic violence are bringing an even more detailed
petition to statewide Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition
conference on the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation.
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Take Back Women of Nations Committee, April 28, 2009
What is the problem?
“Women of Nations (WON) was founded in 1982 by four women from the Native American
Community. We began as a Community Advocacy Program (CAP)-providing training, community
education, legal advocacy, a 24-hour crisis line, and culturally appropriate support for members of
the Native American community suffering domestic violence. In 1989, WON successfully lobbied
local and state officials: Start up funds were allocated for a battered women's shelter. In 1991,
WON opened its doors to all battered women and their children seeking safety from domestic
This board was originally elected by American Indian women volunteers who
represented the core membership. As the organization grew and matured, we were able
to bring on paid staff to provide all critical services, although not all the staff were Native
American. In recent years, more non-Native board members began to serve the
organization, but now the bylaws have been changed and the board seems to be making
an attempt to change the very identity of the organization and remove all traces of Native
American funding, culture programming and even staffing.
These are the facts:
1. Recently the Board has removed the shelter’s director and told the
community, falsely, that she resigned.
2. The WON Board has attempted to return STAR grant money meant for
culturally specific activities, thereby ending basic, culturally specific services
to American Indian women that were intended to make them and their
children feel more secure.
3. The current white-majority board, with representatives from major
corporations, has directed hostile accusations and attempted to silence Native
American community members supporting the original mission and purpose
of the organization.
4. One board member had to be physically restrained at a recent April 2009
board meeting, by his peers, during a violent outburst toward an Elder. This is
unsuitable behavior in any professional setting, in any Minnesota non-profit,
and most certainly in an organization committed to non-violence. The entire
white-led board is modeling blindness and ignorance about the meaning of
violent behavior inside the doors of an organization designed to prevent