Ways Minnesota’s white churches need to use their power and faith

Anahkwud Mihgiizay, Ajiijak Dodem (Wendy Stone)

A guest blog by Anahkwud Mihgiizay, Ajiijak Dodem (Wendy Stone), a descendant of some of the continent’s original inhabitants, the Chippewa and Peoria peoples. (She also is a direct descendant of Gouveneur Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and framer of the US Constitution.) Originally from Michigan, she now lives in Minneapolis. Ms. Stone volunteers for the Great Lakes Peace Center, Mask Movement (a response to the coronavirus) and water protection, environmental, and human equality organizations.

Churches of Minnesota! It’s time to use your might and faith for real change, embracing your values of love and justice. Right now. This is your moment, if you have the courage to challenge yourself and your members.

You cannot “support the good police officers” by continuing to defend the very corrupt and dysfunctional systems created by and for the police. It’s time to acknowledge the basic truth: The system has shown us time and again that it’s utterly broken. George Floyd’s murder is just the latest exclamation point.

Here are concrete ways you can act. The ideas below were put forward by people of color, leading other people of color, who have devoted years to dismantling the laws that perpetuate the cycles of brutality and protests. These are tangible, effective ways you can leverage your congregation’s position and influence. Continue reading

Guest Blog: Kitchen Volunteers Needed for the Mendota Mdewakaton Pow Wow — Support Healing, Resistance and Love!

Joy Sorensen Navarre, long-time volunteer for the Mendota Mdewakaton Dakota Tribal Community Wacipi (Pow Wow), writes about her experience there and invites you to join and help.

Wacipi Means ‘We Dance’. It also means we work in the kitchen!

Every year I close my consulting business for three days to run the outdoor kitchen at the Mendota Mdewakaton Dakota Tribal Community traditional Wacipi or Pow Wow. My family laughs when they hear I’m running a kitchen, because at our house my husband cooks. I do it because the kitchen supports the Wacipi. The Wacipi is healing, resistance and love.

HMS blog readers know that state and federal law prohibited the Dakota from practicing religious ceremonies and cultural traditions for one hundred years, until 1978. Many Mendota Dakota grew up without the Wacipi—without dancing.

Eighteen years ago Bob Brown and other Mendota Dakota leaders re-started the Mendota Wacipi. For the first time in their life, Mendota Dakota elders danced. They danced with tears running down their faces. Tears of sorrow, of joy, of hope for their children. The Wacipi heals. If you come with an open heart, you will feel it, too. Continue reading

Guest Blog on “Scaffold”: A Sacred Call for Deconstructing Oppression

Karen Hering is a consulting literary minister for Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul and writes a blog called: “Writing to Wake the Soul.” She wrote a powerful reflection on the removal of “Scaffold” from the Walker Sculpture Garden. It is republished here by permission.

Taking It Down: A Sacred Call for Deconstructing Oppression

A crowd gathered for a Dakota healing ceremony.

On June 2, 2017, over 300 people gathered in downtown Minneapolis on the grounds of the Walker Art Museum’s redesigned sculpture garden, not quite finished and not yet opened, to witness the ceremonial deconstruction of an installation titled “Scaffold.” Designed by artist Sam Durant, “Scaffold” was modeled after a gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, the largest public execution in the history of the U.S.. A week before the planned reopening of the sculpture garden, the Walker engaged Dakota elders in a conversation about “Scaffold” and its possible impact on local audiences. Protests immediately called for its removal, and within one week, the Walker had postponed the garden’s reopening, participated in an independently mediated conversation with Dakota elders and the artist, and agreed to dismantle the installation in a public ceremony planned and led by Dakota elders.  Other posts on-line offer more information about the sculpture and its deconstruction.  

This reflection is based on my experience of the June 2 ceremony, with the hope of sharing the sorrow, the power and the call of that day’s events. The quotes are all from Sheldon Wolfchild’s opening words, delivered before the sacred ceremony began (which we were asked not to record out of respect). The wooden structure required four days to dismantle; the “Scaffold’s” understructure of steel and cement was then broken down by the Walker and also removed.  

Taking It Down: a sacred call for deconstructing oppression

June 2, 2017: It is a hot summer’s day. Sun high in the blue sky. A crowd of over 300 gathers, a drum beats, a song thrums. Sheldon Wolfchild, Dakota elder from the Lower Sioux Agency, addresses the crowd. He says:

This is a sacred process…. Let us remember what this historical truth has brought us.

Behind him a newly constructed wooden scaffold looms. Unlike the gallows built in Mankato in the dead of winter 155 years earlier, after which it is modeled, this one is solid and built to last. Its beams are treated to withstand all weather, its foundation is cement, its invisible supports made of steel. The photos of it published in the previous week do not begin to represent its ominous presence and menacing energy. Wolfchild continues:

This is a sacred process to dismantle negativity. Let us all work together in one prayer from the heart, not the mind, as our elders say. Continue reading

The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America

Sarah Deer Book CoverThe following first appeared in the blog News Day, written by Mary Turck, the former editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet (and a friend of mine). I recommend her blog. This post is reprinted with permission.

Sarah Deer’s powerful new book, The Beginning and End of Rape focuses on sexual violence in Native America. The beginning goes back to the European invasion, with rape used as a tool of genocide and conquest. Now, as then, when European American men rape Native women, U.S. legal systems help them escape punishment. In an eminently readable book, law professor and MacArthur genius grant winner Sarah Deer describes the historical trajectory of rape and rape laws, beginning with the historical connection between rape and conquest / genocide / white patriarchy and legal systems.

“[R]ape in the lives of Native women is not an epidemic of recent mysterious origin. Instead, rape is a fundamental result of colonialism, a history of violence reaching back centuries. An epidemic is a contagious disease; rape is a crime against humanity” (Introduction, x).

A series of U.S. laws made rape of Native American women easier and less likely to be prosecuted. Tribal courts have jurisdiction over Native Americans on tribal lands— but not jurisdiction over non-Native criminals. That means European Americans who rape women on tribal lands cannot be prosecuted in tribal courts. They could be arrested and prosecuted in federal courts, but that has not been a priority for federal prosecutors and courts. So they get a free pass. That’s part of the reason that Native American women suffer the highest rate of rape of any group in the country.

Beginning with her volunteer work as a rape crisis counselor during her undergraduate days, Deer hears and respects and re-tells the stories of women who have survived rape. Without minimizing the importance of each woman’s experience, she insists:

“Indigenous people across the world share a common experience—namely, intrusion on their lands and culture by an exterior, hostile outsider. Rape victims experience the same dynamic, but it is played out on their bodies and souls, rather than on the land. …

“All other challenges faced by tribal nations are linked to the history and trauma of rape” (Introduction.)

Deer traces the history of rape from colonial times to the man camps of North Dakota’s fracking fields.

As a lawyer, Deer traces the historical and legal complexity of “a patchwork of various federal and tribal laws that work in tandem to utterly obfuscate justice” (Chapter 3, p. 31). She traces the advances made by the Tribal Law and Order Act (2010) and the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, while recognizing their shortcomings.

As a Native American woman, Deer points out hopeful possibilities of restoration of tribal jurisdiction and writing tribal laws on rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse. She suggests theoretical approaches that could avoid the traditional patriarchal definitions of rape and move forward to “conceiving of rape as an unlawful ‘invasion’ of body, mind, and spirit” (Chapter 8, p. 114). That invasion is a crime against the individual woman and also against the community. While outlining possibilities for an indigenous jurisprudence of rape, Deer also warns against temptations to romanticize the possibility of “peacemaking” and restorative justice approaches.

While grounded in consideration of Native American issues and jurisprudence, The Beginning and End of Rape also has relevance and application in non-Native communities and an analysis that reaches beyond the legal framework.

Often books by lawyers and academics are hard for non-lawyers and non-academics to read. This one is not. Sarah Deer’s writing style is accessible and eloquent, as well as scholarly. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned in the connections between sexual violence and political life.

Sarah Deer is the co-director of the Indian Law Program at the Mitchell/Hamline School of Law.

Guest Blog: What Will Be Minnesota’s Legacy?

A part of White Earth sought for preservation.
The White Earth Nation is trying to purchase this land for long-term preservation.

By Chris Knopf

A “legacy” can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, a “legacy” can mean something valuable that is conveyed from the past or present for the betterment of the future.  On the other hand, a “legacy” can refer to a heavy burden on future generations, such as the legacy of discrimination and intolerance.

Within the next two weeks, the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Mark Dayton will determine Minnesota’s legacy with respect to the opportunity to protect the natural resources of our state. At issue is 2,000 acres of forests, prairie, and wetlands in northwest Minnesota, efforts by the White Earth Nation to protect it, and efforts by some state leaders to block Native American access to Legacy Funds to buy it. Continue reading