StoryCorps is Coming to Town: Seeks to Amplify Marginalized Voices; Owámni Falling Water Festival This Saturday

As part of MPR’s 50th anniversary, the national StoryCorps program will be coming to the Twin Cities area from September 7 to October 6 to record our stories — the humerus, the tragic, and the inspiring. StoryCorps mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

StoryCorps is committed to reach out and involve people from diverse backgrounds in the project. (See 2016 MPR story: For StoryCorps, seeking more diverse participation laid foundation for growth.) To that end, StoryCorps sent an advance team to St. Paul earlier this month to ask for help from local organization that work with marginalized communities. It is giving them an opportunity to sign up for slots before opening registration to the general public. If your organization is interested, contact Felix Lopez at

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Growing Scrutiny of Public Art, Next Up: Edward Cornwallis

The sun is setting on the Edward Cornwallis statue.

Public art is getting long overdue scrutiny, from Confederate statues in Louisiana to historical paintings in the Minnesota State Capitol to the Scaffold sculpture controversy at the Walker Art Center. This is more than a few isolated incidents, it feels more like a movement.

This fact hit me square on while visiting Nova Scotia earlier this month. I wasn’t expecting any public art controversies, but there it was. I picked up a copy of the Globe and Mail and one of the first headlines I read said: Halifax mayor speaks out against protesters’ plan to remove Cornwallis statue. It was a familiar story:

Tensions over how Halifax honours its contentious founder are growing as a plan to topple the statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown park circulates on social media.

A Facebook event called “Removing Cornwallis” invites people to a protest Saturday to “peacefully remove” the large bronze statue from atop a large stone pedestal.

This is not a far-away story. This is our story, too. It’s one more facet of the Doctrine of Discovery and the European mindset towards indigenous peoples that spans our continent.

Cornwallis is controversial for the same reason that Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s first Governor, is controversial. Both men were agents of empire, forcing indigenous peoples from their lands. Both used brutal tactics. Cornwallis issued a proclamation promising a bounty for the scalp of every Mi’kmaq (also called Mi’kmaw, the First Nations people of Nova Scotia). Similarly, Ramsey put a bounty on Dakota scalps after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

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Lessons from Canada: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

To Canada’s credit, it created a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, a two-year, $53.8 million effort listen to families’ stories and get to root causes of the violence.

This effort is well beyond anything tried in the United States and we could learn a lot from this example, both from its ambitious scope and its shortcomings. The process has been rocky.

Native women and girls disproportionately suffer from violence, according to the Inquiry’s website.

Aboriginal women in Canada report rates of violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, 3.5 times higher than non-Aboriginal women.

Young Aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence. Between 1997 and 2000, the rate of homicide for Aboriginal women was almost seven times higher than the rate for non-Aboriginal women.

The Inquiry has three goals: 1. Finding the truth, 2. Honouring the truth, and 3) Giving life to the truth as a path to healing.

The Canadian government began this work with a lengthy community process to decide on the design and scope of the Inquiry. The Inquiry officially began Sept. 1, led by five commissioners, all with First Nations roots and/or a history of First Nation’s advocacy.

The process is in trouble. This month, one of the commissioners resigned, according to a July 11 story in the Globe and Mail. Soon after, “the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), which had intervenor status at the inquiry, sent an open letter to commissioners saying it could not support the format and approach.”

What can the United States learn from this? For one, this work is incredibly difficult and brings up pain and trauma that takes incredible skill to navigate. A second and related point is that the process is key — the means and ends are inseparable. The respect, communication, and ceremonies used to start the healing process are the healing process.

This work cannot be rushed. Trying to put a timeline on the process (in this case, two years) to get to a “final report” of some kind might work against the very healing that is sought. It prioritizes “finishing” over listening and relationships. This violence has been going on for hundreds of years; it will take a long and sustained effort to find healing.    Continue reading

Registration Open for Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples’ Decade of Water Summit

Registration is open through Friday, July 21, for the Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples’ Decade of Water Summit. The two-day summit, August 1-2 (Tuesday and Wednesday) will be held at First Universalist Church, 3400 Dupont Ave. S. in Minneapolis. (“Mni Ki Wakan” means “Water is Sacred” in Dakota.)

For more information, see the event Facebook Page and the Mni Ki Wakan World Flyer.

Click here to register. The cost for individual registration is $150 ($100 for students). They also offer group rates.

The summit grew out of humble beginnings, starting about a decade ago with Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering. More recently, the LaPointe family held community conversations around the restoration of the name Bde Maka Ska (White Earth Lake) to Lake Calhoun, and what that could mean for the broader culture. The idea for the summit emerged from that dialogue.

The summit will be “an indigenous youth-centered and indigenous peoples-oriented call for continued and deepened action.” According to the Facebook Page:

Across the world’s vast regions of rainforests, deserts, mountains, oceans, lakes, and river ways, flowing below ground and above, the vision of the Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples Decade of Water Summit seeks to co-create a collective indigenous-designed map and transformative world agenda for the future. The 10-year international indigenous water summit will bring and elevate the collective wisdom, intelligence, and futurities of indigenous peoples in the world narrative. In following the life-giving spirit of water, we will enliven a more transformative and ecologically sustainable future. Because when the inherent rights of all life are respected and protected, so too, can Mother Earth be recognized as the one true home of all life.

Organizers plan to make it an annual event for the next decade.

Organizers also plan a pre-summit walk around Mde Maka Ska on Monday, July 31st, starting at 7 a.m., meeting near South Thomas Beach, 3700 Thomas Ave. S. See the flyer (above) for more details on the event.

Here is a link for a contact form for event organizers if you have questions.

Indian Health Services in a Crisis, No Help Coming

Lost in much of the debate over repealing ObamaCare is the atrocious state of Indian health care in this nation, care the federal government is required by treaty to provide to Native nations. Two recent articles paint a disturbing picture.

First was a front-page Wall Street Journal story headlined “Federal Care Fails Tribes: U.S. health system for Native Americans is on the brink due to neglect and underfunding,” July 8-9.  (It is behind a paywall.) It starts with a few anecdotes of extreme failures in Indian Health Services (IHS) facilities. (IHS is the federal agency charged with providing medical care to more than 2 million members of Native nations.) In one case, an IHS hospital discharged a 57-year old Pine Ridge man with a bronchitis diagnosis; he died five hours later from heart failure. An IHS hospital in Nebraska called a “Code Blue” when a patient stopped breathing only to find the emergency supply cart was empty.

The story continues:

In some of the nation’s poorest places, the government health service charged with treating Native Americans failed to meet minimum U.S. standards for medical facilities, turned away gravely ill patients, and caused unnecessary deaths, according to federal regulators, agency documents, and interviews.

The reports have led to calls for stronger Congressional oversight, yet it doesn’t appear that help is on the way, according to a July 14 article in Indian Country Today. It recounts an exchange between Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, a member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and IHS Acting Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, Zuni. Tester pressed Weahkee about whether President Trump’s proposed FY2018 budget increases or decreases funding for IHS. Weahkee would not get a direct answer. Tester’s response: “If you guys don’t advocate for a budget how the hell are we supposed to fix it?”

The Indian Country Today story explained that the administration’s proposed budget cuts $300 million from IHS. (According to the IHS website, its FY 2017 budget for health care services was about $6 billion. A $300 million cut would be about 5 percent cut, plus failing to keep up with medical inflation.)

IHS already is in crisis. Combine the proposed IHS budget cuts with proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and it could have “a devastating impact on Indian health,” the story said.

Walker’s Latest Controversy with Native American Community Members: How Will it Embrace the Moment?

Jimmie Durham (Visual Artist, Berlin/Rome) Wikimedia Commons.

The Walker Art Center is once again getting questioned about its ability, or inability, to engage with Native artists and Native communities.

This time it involves the exhibit: “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World,” which opened June 22. MPR’s story: Walker faces new Native art controversy, says Durham identifies as Cherokee heritage, a fact disputed by enrolled members of the Cherokee nation. “… his critics say he is not Native, and is hurting artists who are.”

Issues of identity and “who is Indian” raise thorny questions. It’s easy to get sidelined in those questions and ignore the bigger one. The issue here is the same as with Scaffold.  Does the Walker have inclusive and representative staffing in place — and the ability to listen to Native voices and collaborate with Native artists on these issues?

I am less interested in whether or not Durham is Cherokee as I am with how the Walker engages in the conversation about whether or not Durham is Cherokee — including various  Native perspectives on that question. Will the Walker seize this moment for a more robust engagement with Native artists, elders, and communities? Will it continue to engage after the Durham exhibit leaves, or will the conversation disappear like invisible ink? Continue reading

One More Reason Why We Don’t Need More Canadian Tar Sands Crude Pumped Through Minnesota

A story in today’s New York Times offers one more reason for Minnesota regulators to reject a proposed expansion of a Canadian tar sands crude oil pipeline through the northern part of the state. The proposal is called Enbridge Line 3, which would run 337 miles from the North Dakota border to the Wisconsin border, passing near or through many Minnesota lakes and rivers.

The Times story, “Oil Exports, Illegal for Decades, Now Fuel a Texas Port Boom,” makes it crystal clear that we don’t need this pipeline for U.S. or Minnesota energy security. It says:

For 40 years it was virtually impossible to sell American oil to any country except Canada because of an export ban that was a bedrock of United States energy policy. The Obama administration slowly loosened the ban and Congress finally ended it in late 2015 in a compromise that also extended tax credits for renewable energy.

Oil exports grew slowly through most of 2016, but this year there has been a surge reaching 1.3 million barrels a day — roughly 15 percent of domestic production — which even at today’s depressed prices is worth more than $1.5 billion a month.

Enbridge Line 3 violates treaties with the Anishinaabe. The pipeline will cut through the Mississippi headwaters and prime wild rice areas. Tar sands oil production is highly polluting, generating large amounts of air pollution and contaminating large amounts of fresh water in Canada. Tar sand oil spills are difficult to clean up because the crude is very heavy and sinks in water.

There are lots of good environmental reasons to reject the project. All that, and we don’t need the oil for our domestic consumption. We already import more crude oil than we need. One of the approvals Line 3 needs from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is a “Certificate of Need.” It seems pretty clear we don’t need more oil.

Politically, the driving force for more oil imports is not energy policy, but jobs.

According to the Times story:

Much of Texas has been in an economic slump in recent years, having lost about 100,000 oil jobs since late 2014, when the price of oil fell from over $100 a barrel to less than $50. But because of the exports, the job losses have been stemmed and there is the promise of new jobs to come. Oil executives said that if weren’t for exports, so much oil would be stockpiled in already flush domestic inventories that the American benchmark price would be $10 to $20 below the current $45 a barrel, making most new drilling uneconomical.

That is to say, we have an oil glut. We should use this window of relative energy independence to push more renewable sources.

Here is the Sierra Club’s Fact Sheet on Line 3 and Energy Security.

Read the full New York Times story here.