Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibwe at the University of Minnesota-Bemidji, succinctly explained why community conversations around race lose momentum.
On one hand, those conversation can feel self-congratulatory, more a pat-on-the-back event, he said. That can be frustrating for people who came hoping to dig in on difficult topics around race and the racism that exist today. On the other hand, if the conversation gets too intense, some people get uncomfortable and just walk away.
Treuer has been trying a third way through a model called Courageous Conversations. And on a recent night, about 50 people, mostly white, mostly older, turned out for a conversation called “What does reconciliation look like?” at Bemidji’s First Lutheran Church.
The Courageous Conversations model is about engaging in difficult conversations but in a way that respects people’s stories, Treuer said.
“This isn’t about beating people up for the sins of their ancestors,” Treuer said. “We all landed here in an imperfect world and we don’t get a blank canvas to start painting. But at the same time, paint we must if we want to have a different picture.” …
We can’t get to “Healed” and skip “Healing.” We can’t get to “Reconciled” and skip all the Reconciling.” Ultimately we are going to have to do some heavy lifting: Everybody.
Treuer has been holding these conversations since at least 2014, (see this Bemidji Pioneer story). Last fall, Bemidji Truth and Reconciliation partnered with Peacemaker Resources to announce a year-long series of community dialogues titled: “Building the Bridge: Taking Courageous Action on Racial Reconciliation,” (see this Bemidji Pioneer story.)
This work is a powerful witness in the north woods, where tensions can run high around treaty rights and race relations. Treuer recalled a tribal boycott of Bemidji businesses back in the 1960s following a racial incident.
Other conflicts range from fishing rights to the recent and controversial proposal to expand a tar sands crude oil pipeline through areas where the Ojibwe have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather.
The Bemidji community has seen strides forward, too. These include the rededication of the Chief Bemidji statue and efforts to incorporate Ojibwe language into city signs.
This is long-term and difficult work that starts with relationship building. The Bemidji Truth and Reconciliation events are no different than the work we at Healing Minnesota Stories are trying to do — create dialogue, understanding and healing between Native and non-Native people, particularly in the context of our religious communities. This work deserves both recognition and support.
For more information, here are the Bemidji Truth and Reconciliation’s website and Facebook page.