Pushback Against “Bde Maka Ska” Latest Example of White Privilege

The Star Tribune ran a disturbing Op/Ed Monday titled: I asked 350 people who live along or near Lake Calhoun about renaming it — The breakdown is 20 percent for and 80 percent against. Equally interesting are the reasons.

The author is critical of the proposed name change from Lake Calhoun to its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska (or Mde Maka Ska). Here are four examples of how the Op/Ed embodies white privilege.

#1: White voices matter most: The author, a CEO of  a venture capital group, starts out by telling us he talked to his “Lake Calhoun” neighbors to gauge their feelings about the name Bde Maka Ska. As he describes it, he polled  “virtually every homeowner who lives directly along Lake Calhoun, plus another couple hundred neighbors who live within a few blocks.”

The result? Some 80 percent were for keeping the name Lake Calhoun. The underlying premise here is that the voices that matter most are those who live closest to the Lake, those who are predominantly wealthy and white. They see themselves as entitled to preferential treatment. Did the author think it was important to talk to anyone but his immediate neighbors, say some Dakota people? Apparently not. Apparently their opinions do not matter.

The author says his neighbors “were overwhelmingly disgusted that public officials were spending all of this time and energy on the lake renaming issue when there are so many other pressing problems facing the community that need to be addressed.” This world view ignores the fact that people in other parts of the city might have different pressing issues which are equally valid for the city’s consideration. Continue reading

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Media Called Out on Claim Las Vegas Was Deadliest Shooting in U.S. History

The mass media was quick to label the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The alternative media and others have been quick to challenge that claim, noting that it fails to take into account the mass killings of people of color, such as the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 that left 150 to 300 Lakota men, women and children dead.

This is not to diminish the tragedy of what happened on Sunday and the tremendous grief and suffering that the attack caused. But it is important to remember our past and not ignore other significant massacres that have left communities scarred for generations. It is especially important because many of these massacres happened to communities of color; failing to tell their stories, and their sufferings, only reinforces the narrative that their lives do not matter.

Christina Woods, who is Anishinaabe, posted the following image and comment on her Facebook page.

Image may contain: one or more people, horse and text

The media claims the Las Vegas shooting was the biggest in our HISTORY. Not true… what kind of citizens forget their own massacres? The kind that practice several form of bias. …

Don’t let the media white wash any of this!

The publication The Root provided examples of the other mass executions that have been ignored. The article was headlined: Las Vegas Is Only the Deadliest Shooting in US History Because They Don’t Count Black Lives.

It recounted several other massacres that tend not to make it into the history books or get remembered in media accounts of shootings and massacres:

“Bombing of Black Wall Street” Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921

In the early 1900s, blacks in Tulsa had developed a thriving business sector, called Black Wall Street. That success angered white residents, the article said. Tulsans “accused a black man of raping a girl and attacked the area.” The article continued:

While white citizens used dynamite and planes to bomb the city, leaving more than 8,000 people homeless, eyewitness accounts charge that the vast majority of the people killed (estimates range from 80 to 300) died because the city’s law-enforcement officers deputized every able-bodied white man and handed out weapons from the city’s armory.

Continue reading

Only 10 Days Left to Comment on Tar Sands Pipeline EIS; What We Learned from the Bemidji Hearing

Hundreds packed the Sanford Center in Bemidji.

The latest round of public meetings to speak out against a proposed tar sands crude oil pipline through northern Minnesota are over, but you can still make your voice heard until July 10!

The project is called Enbridge Line 3, and it runs from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin, crossing the length of northern Minnesota and passing near some of our cleanest lakes and rivers.The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission isn’t expected to vote on the project until early 2018, but this is a critical step. The Minnesota Department of Commerce issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) which will shape the debate. The DEIS is deeply flawed. Commerce needs to hear from citizens like you just how bad it is.

Here are four quick points that show how bad a proposal it is. Any one of these should be a deal killer.

  1. Tar sands mining is doing incredible damage in Canada and adding to climate change. Tar sands mining generates as much air pollution as the city of Toronto. It has created 300 billion gallons of toxic tailing ponds with mercury, arsenic and benzene (and growing). Canada’s First Nations people are bearing a disproportionate pain from this pollution.
  2. The new Minnesota route crosses the Mississippi Headwater region. What more needs to be said?
  3. The proposed pipeline crosses lands where the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather. The draft EIS all but admits the proposal violates these treaty rights.
  4. Minnesota does not benefit from this project. Our state’s petroleum use is on the decline. The U.S. already imports more crude oil than it needs. These new pipelines support foreign exports.

Here are ways you can still make a difference. Please share with your friends.

  • Check out Stop Line 3 for action items.
  • Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter has a sign-on letter.
  • Sierra Club youth leaders have organized a letter writing event at the Birchwood on Saturday, July 8th from 3-5 p.m. Facebook announcement here.
  • You also can comment directly by emailing Pipeline.Comments@state.mn.us.  (Include the docket numbers, CN-14-916 and PPL-15-137, in your comments when emailing them in directly.)

This proposal has drawn strong public reaction. The last of 22 public meetings was held June 22 in Bemidji. It was another jam-packed hearing room, another strong showing by those opposed to the proposed Line 3 expansion, and another time the Department of Commerce had to extend the hearing to give more people a chance to speak.

Each hearing generates new insights. Here is what we learned from Bemidji. Continue reading

Reflections on “Scaffold”: Artistic Freedom, the Son of Sam, and Repentance

“Scaffold” sculpture was removed from the Walker Sculpture Garden.

The Walker Art Center made the right decision when it agreed to remove Scaffold from its new Sculpture Garden, yet for some thorny questions of artistic freedom remain.

We get stuck in this debate when we see the decision to remove Scaffold as a referendum on artistic freedom. That polarizes people. Yes, we deeply value artistic freedom, yet we hold other deep values, too, like fairness and inclusion. When values don’t line up on a particular decision, we have a difficult choice to make.

So here’s the question: In the case of Scaffold, how would those of us who agree with removing the sculpture describe our deeper values, those that in this case override our value for artistic freedom?

Continue reading

Gingrich Plays the “Scalp” Card, the Metaphor that Wouldn’t Die

Have you ever seen a picture of an Indian getting scalped by a settler or soldier? We know it happened a lot. Why don’t we ever see that image or read about it?

That question came to mind reading a story from The Hill, headlined: Gingrich: Somebody probably going to jail over Russia investigation. In the story, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich compared those investigating the Russian ties in the Trump administration to an “Indian hunting party.”

“This is like watching an old-fashioned Western movie. This is an Indian hunting party,” Gingrich said. “They’re out looking for a couple scalps, and they’re not going to go home until they get some.”

It’s a 19th Century metaphor that won’t go away. His career grinding to a halt, I guess former House Speaker Gingrich is trying to stay in the spotlight by being controversial. But what a bizarre image to conjure up. It denigrates Native Americans as savage. It makes the investigators asking tough questions seem savage. It makes high-powered politicians under investigation seem like helpless, brutalized victims.

The use of the “Scalps” metaphor requires a quick Public Service Announcement on the matter. This was not a uniquely Native American practice. In fact, it was the settlers’ free enterprise idea of paying for scalps that accelerated the practice. Continue reading

DAPL Court Ruling a Mixed Bag: Reveals Deeply Flawed Environmental Justice Review, but Weak on Treaty Rights

A recent court ruling on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is stunning for what is reveals about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted its so called “environmental analysis” of the project.

The June 14 decision by U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg will require the Corps to go back and do the analysis correctly. He left open the possibility that the court could shut down the pipeline until these issues are resolved. That decision will come at a later hearing.

The court ruling says the Corps analysis “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice.” Read more deeply into the decision, and it raises questions about whether the Corps is simply oblivious to the concept of environment justice or whether its staff willfully slanted the review to get the outcome it wanted.

(In a related matter, the Trump administration has proposed eliminating the Environmental Justice Program altogether and making deep cuts to other civil rights services. See this CNN story.)

According to the court decision on DAPL: “The purpose of an environmental justice analysis is to determine whether a project will have a disproportionately adverse effect on minority and low income populations.”

The problem with the Corps’ environmental justice analysis boils down to this: It drew such a tiny circle defining the project’s impact area that it excluded the Standing Rock Nation from consideration.

That’s right. The Corps’ environmental justice analysis only looked at the impact on a predominantly white community mostly upstream from where DAPL crossed under Lake Oahe. It did not consider the impact on the Lakota people of the Standing Rock Nation just downstream from the crossing — the community that would be impacted by any spill. Continue reading

MnDOT Project Desecrates Native Graves, One More Example of Native Invisibility

Here’s another tragic example where Native lives and history are invisible to key decision-makers: The Minnesota Department of Transportation thoughtlessly unearthed Anishinaabe graves as part of its Mission Creek Bridge project in Duluth. Just like officials at the Walker Art Center and the controversy over Scaffold, MnDOT is now scrambling to offer a profound apology. Here it is, reported by Minnesota Public Radio:

“No question, disturbing the sacred burial sites was an incredibly horrific event,” MnDOT Commissioner Charles A. Zelle told a meeting at the Fond du Lac Community Church last night. “We do take responsibility. … We’re just beginning to understand the pain and the anger that comes from a disruption that we could have avoided.”

According to the Duluth News Tribune report on the community meeting:

[People wanted to know] how and why, after five years of planning, the [Fond du Lac] band was not consulted and no flags were raised, considering the historic nature of the area in Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood where highway construction was taking place.

The agency said its process did not include working with the band, and that process had failed.”

Just like Walker’s decision to erect a sculpture replicating the scaffold used to hang 38 Dakota men — one of the most tragic days in Dakota history — no one at MnDOT thought to consult with affected Native communities. There wasn’t any policy in place to even raise the question.

This issue is bigger than the Walker; it is bigger than MnDOT. It reflects our state’s lack of education about Minnesota’s first peoples and their history — and our institutional cultures that are comfortable remaining ignorant.