New Report: Native Americans in Minneapolis, Part II — Public Comment Sought

From May 17-21, 1971, about 70 members of American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied the abandoned U.S. Naval Air Station in Minneapolis. AIM wanted to claim the surplus government property under the terms of the 1805 Treaty and use it for a school for American Indian children. Federal forces ultimately put an end to the takeover.

The city of Minneapolis just released a report which recounted this incident as one of many significant moments in the history of Native American communities in the city. The report’s key purpose is to identify “places, buildings, structures, people, and events that illustrate Native American life within Minneapolis.” (That is to say, the city wants to identify sites for possible preservation from development.)

A small group met to discuss Part I of the city report.
A small group met in late June to discuss Part I of the city report.

The report recommends the takeover site be evaluated “as a significant property for its association with an action of the locally and nationally significant American Indian Movement.” However, it is one of few sites specifically mentioned in the draft. Lists of other sites to be considered for evaluation are still being developed.

The city released Part I of the study June 22, covering precolonial times to the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War. It just released Part II today, covering the period from the Dakota exile (1863) to the present. Copies of Part I and Part II can be found here.

The City will host a public meeting to discuss Part II of the report and take a last round of public comments on Thursday, July 7, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., All My Relations Gallery, 1414 East Franklin Avenue.

Researchers put the report together on a relatively tight time frame. The authors said it should be a starting point for weaving together this history, not the final word.

The report spends a fair amount of time recapping significant federal policies that shaped U.S.-Native Americans in general. For instance, Part II opens with this summary:

[D]uring the late 1800s the federal government implemented a new policy of forced assimilation. According to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 no new treaties were to be entered into with tribes, stating that “hereafter no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledge or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty.” While this act did not invalidate existing treaties, the subsequent General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) of 1887 eroded those reservations that were established by past treaties.

The report also includes Minneapolis-specific information, such as recounting the schools created to preserve Native culture and language, and Native American community organizations, social supports, and businesses identified in public meetings.

Here are a few items that jumped out in a first scan of the report:

The report lists the boarding schools to which Minneapolis’ Native American communities have ties:

Carlisle Industrial Indian School, Pennsylvania (1879-1918)
Morris Industrial School for Indians, Minnesota (1887-1909)
Pipestone Indian School, Minnesota (1892-1953)
Flandreau Indian School, South Dakota (1892-present)
Wahpeton Indian School, South Dakota (1908-1966)
Hayward Indian School, Wisconsin (1901-1934)

A table on page 46 shows the historic trends of the Dakota population in Minnesota since the exile. The community was tiny in the immediate aftermath of the exile, some 176 in 1870 (thought this also could reflect an undercount). The Dakota population rebounded to 10, 327 by 1970, the report said.

The Society of American Indians, the first national American Indian rights organization created by and for American Indians, grew out of a group of Native American professionals who had survived boarding schools. It held its national convention here in 1919. Minneapolis had its own chapter. At its first meeting in 1919, Secretary Treasurer Dewitt Hare said:

“There is a general movement within American Indian circles to advocate the abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, and to attain recognition as a people fit to be full-fledged citizens of the United States. We believe that the Indian has not been justly treated, and we are going about in an orderly way to obtain a hearing on the question of the American Indian. It may sound strange to say this in the United States, but the fact of the matter is the Indian is seeking to obtain freedom”

In the 1950s, the federal government pursued a policy of terminating tribes and relocating Native Americans to urban centers, another effort at assimilation. “Between 1953 and 1964 over 100 tribes were terminated,” the report said. “While none of Minnesota’s tribal communities were terminated, the state’s Dakota communities came close to being terminated in 1955,” under a proposal from the Department of Interior.

The Upper Midwest American Indian Center (UMAIC) was the “first comprehensive service institution created by a Native American majority in Minneapolis to address the wide range of issues and difficulties facing the Native community. … As a central umbrella organization, UMAIC founded or actively supported many ground breaking programs including the first Indian Health Service, drumming and language classes, remedial education programs, arts and crafts workshops, legal services, temporary housing for new arrivals, sobriety programs and childhood educational and recreational programs.”

(Unfortunately for the sake of historic preservation, UMAIC’s first official office, 1718 North 3rd St., was torn down to make way for I-94.)

The draft report includes several interesting appendices. Appendix B is a glossary of Dakota and Ojibwe place names in the city. Appendix C is a wonderful map of the city with some of the original Dakota and Ojibwe place names and trails. It is copied below.


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