Three days before “Thanksgiving,” a squatters camp of unhoused Indigenous women in South Minneapolis is closing following the property owner’s demand to leave.
Camp Nenoocaasi (Ojibwe for hummingbird) had provided a safe space for Indigenous women since Sept. 19. It was located on the site of an abandoned Speedway gas station at East 25th Street and Bloomington Avenue South. It was serving 30-35 women.
The camp got notice last week it needed to leave on Monday, said Erica Whitaker, one of the camp’s volunteers.
Rather than be forcibly removed, volunteers began packing up tents and other supplies this morning.
“We don’t have anywhere to go right now,” Whitaker said. “I acknowledge and understand property rights. But these women, this is their land to begin with.”
A representative for Speedway was not immediately available for comment.
Since the camp opened, city and county staff have been helping women connect with housing resources and benefits, Whitaker said, expressing gratitude. But not every placement option works for every resident.
“Everybody has a different story,” Whitaker said. “Everybody has different trauma.”
One former camp resident got placed in a group setting; it was traumatizing because of her past group home experiences, Whitaker said. Women who have survived assault rightly fear getting placed in a shelter known for having assault issues.
The fact that these women preferred to live in tents on an abandoned gas station in the November cold speaks volumes about the lack of housing options where they feel safe. It also lays bare the need for more appropriate services for Indigenous women to heal from historical and ongoing trauma.
Closing the camp brings trauma, as it perpetuates Indigenous peoples’ experience of forced relocation.
The camp was serving very vulnerable women.
“I had a resident come to me last night and said, ‘I would already be dead if this weren’t here. And I am afraid for tomorrow because my ex is out to kill me,'” Whitaker recalled. The woman told her she was even afraid to go out of camp just to buy cigarettes.
Whitaker didn’t know what to say: “All I said is: ‘We are going to do our best to try to be somewhere. Come and find us.'”
If anyone has an empty lot to offer, especially in the Phillips neighborhood, contact Whitaker at: Communitiesforabettertc@gmail.com or call 616-299-2489.