Understand Native Minnesota grants campaign

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By Lee Egerstrom

Minnesota kindergarten through high school educators who want financial help for developing Native American content and securing materials for their classrooms have until Jan. 16 to make applications for new mini-grants through the Understand Native Minnesota campaign.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) has made $500,000 available for the Understand Native Minnesota mini-grant program for 2024. The program makes up to $2,000 available to educators for use in training or for classroom projects to gather and share accurate information about Native Minnesotans, past and present.

The grant program is available to all K-12 educators in Minnesota public, charter, tribal and private schools.

“You can’t understand our state without understanding the important contributions of Indigenous communities, today and throughout our history,” said Jo-Anne Stately, a senior vice president at Minneapolis Foundation, in announcing the mini-grant program.
“All students benefit when our schools reflect the full story of Minnesota,” she said.

That was the motivation for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community when it set aside $5 million in 2019 to launch the Understand Native Minnesota education program. It supports research, teaching resources, professional development and educational programming for educators and within Minnesota school programs.

Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, Secretary/ Treasurer at SMSC and chair of the Understand Native Minnesota effort, stressed the need for statewide understanding in the mini-grant announcement.

“If we are going to dramatically improve the position of Native people and tribal nations in the consciousness of our fellow Minnesotans, it naturally leads us to concentrate most of our efforts on the kids who will be tomorrow’s citizens, workers, voters and leaders,” she said.

Through its support of Understand Native Minnesota, SMSC is supporting “Native American narrative change in Minnesota’s public schools,” she added.

Broadly defined, the mini-grants can be used for classroom resources, materials and projects, professional development or curriculum and resource development, the announcement said.

The Minneapolis Foundation is administering the grant program. Applications are being reviewed by a committee of foundation staff members, members of the SMSC and Native education experts.

The foundation works to build strong communities and works in partnership with other groups, such as SMSC, in supporting shared goals.

The Understand Native Minnesota campaign stresses similar goals. The program explains SMSC objectives at: https://www.understandnativemn.org.

“The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and other tribes have made important progress in recent decades in rebuilding their communities and cultures, and, in the process, reshaping many non-Natives’ perceptions of Native Americans. However, most Minnesotans still have little or no in-depth understanding of the state’s tribes or Native history and culture.”

To counter this perceived lack of understanding, SMSC and Native education leaders push what they call “narrative change.” That means changing the public’s views of people through “education, awareness raising, and constructively overcoming misunderstandings and misperceptions.”

Perspective on this need comes from a study, “Restoring Our Place: An analysis of Native American resources used in Minnesota’s classrooms,” commissioned by SMSC in 2022. It was prepared and written by education consultant Odia Wood-Krueger, a Central Urban Métis Federation member in Saskatchewan and veteran educator in both Minnesota and in Canada.

Following that report, Understand Native Minnesota has subsequently held workshops for educators hosted at SMSC. It also launched a One-Read program in which Minnesota educators used the book Voices from Pejuhutazizi: Dakota Stories and Storytellers in their classrooms.

That book was written by Upper Sioux Indian Community members Teresa Peterson and Walter “Super” LaBatte Jr., published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. SMSC purchased and donated 20,000 copies of the book for educators to use in their classrooms.

While that revives Dakota history and culture lessons, or the Native “past” in Minnesota, the Understand Native Minnesota project also addresses Minnesotans’ lack of understanding of the Native “present” – such as the state’s 11 federally recognized sovereign tribes.

For instance, SMSC acknowledges on its website that it is a small federally recognized tribe. But it is the largest employer in Scott County through its enterprises, is the largest philanthropic benefactor in Indian Country nationally, is one of the largest charitable givers in Minnesota, has donated more than $350 million to organizations and causes, provided $500 million in economic development loans to other tribes, and contributes millions more dollars to regional governments and infrastructure. That means SMSC and other tribes are not just past history. They are the here and now.

More info about the grant are available at:  https://www.minneapolisfoundation.org/stories/community-issues/mini-grants-for-k-12-educators-teaching-native-american-content.