Ojibwe Push PUC to Delay Key Line 3 Vote Until Historic Properties Review is Done

In a show of unity, five bands of  the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) nation filed a joint motion to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) seeking delay on a key vote on the Line 3 pipeline until the proper historic properties review is done.

The Fond du Lac, Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, White Earth and Red Lake bands filed their joint motion Jan. 2 seeking the delay until a proper historic properties review is complete.

In December, the PUC found the environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline “inadequate” and ordered changes to the document. However, the changes it ordered were very modest. Indigenous and environmental groups see much deeper flaws in the EIS.

The Aninishinaabe legal brief says the law requires the EIS to include a thorough historical properties review, currently missing from the document. It describe the work on historical properties so far as “so inadequate that it could be used as a ‘what not to do’ example in future guidance.” It continues:

The lead state agency, the Department of Commerce … has all but ignored its obligations under state historic preservation law. The DOC has disregarded the explicit advice and direction of the State Historic Preservation Office (“SHPO”) and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (“MIAC”) The DOC has ignored the guidance of its own tribal liaison — who was hired for the express purpose of coordinating with the tribes on the Project.

The brief offers an example of why this kind of review is important.

As the Commission [PUC] knows, in 2017, the state Department of Transportation failed to conduct full historic-properties review and consult with tribal governments in the area of the Highway 23 road and bridge project in Duluth. The result was destruction of a tribal burial site. There is no substitute for full and timely historic evaluation. (page 4)

Click here for the full Legal Brief.

Enbridge Line 3: White Earth Spirit Camp Forms; Upcoming Events

New Honor the Earth map on Enbridge Line 3.

A spirit camp has opened on the White Earth Reservation to carry on the water protectors’ traditions started at Standing Rock.  The camp is working to stop the Enbridge Line 3 proposal as well as promote unity among camps across the country doing the important work of protecting Mother Earth, according to William Paulson, Executive Director of the Oshkaabewisag Community Cooperative.

The camp is called MikinaakMinis-Turtle Island, and it has a Facebook page. Asked if the camp needed any support, Paulson asked only that people like and share the Facebook page and “be involved in the moment. Contact your elected officials and talk to them about this.”

Enbridge has an old and failing Line 3 (the black line on the map). Enbridge proposes to abandon that line in the ground and install a new, larger pipeline along a new route (the red line on the map.) That new route runs 337 miles across Minnesota, crosses the Mississippi headwaters and endangers clean lakes, rivers and wild rice beds, and all for nothing. Minnesota’s fossil fuel demand is actually declining.

Paulson said Enbridge Line 3 also crosses what is known as the “1855 Treaty area” (light green shaded area on the map). The Anishinaabe retain rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice in this area. Enbridge and the state “are not discussing it on a government-to-government basis,” he said. [Enbridge is] trying to buy people off and go through.” The threat to the Mississippi’s headwaters is “unacceptable,” Paulson said.

According to the Facebook page, the camp is: “A support haven on beautiful land for community, culture, and traveling ambassadors for Mother Earth. Water is Life.” Paulson provided additional information about the camp in an email: Continue reading

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

This Day in History: How Minnesota Politicians Helped Cheat White Earth Out Timber

The Steenerson Act of 1904 was a Trojan Horse for Minnesota’s Anishinaabe people. It looked like a gift and it ended up being a trap to get access to the tribe’s valuable timber. The act was named for its author, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Halvor Steenerson of Crookston. It was passed on this day in history, April 28, 1904.

Here’s how Minnesota’s leading politicians connived to help their buddies in the timber industry. Continue reading

Fort Snelling Bearing Witness Retreat Planned for November; Update on White Earth Environmental Project

Fort Snelling 1844 (Photo from Wikipedia)
Fort Snelling 1844 (Wikipedia)

Fort Snelling is an important symbol of the domination and genocide the Dakota and other Native American peoples suffered at the hands of the U.S. government and white settlers. It is a history that needs to be remembered, mourned, and repaired.

Clouds in Water Zen Center is planning a “Fort Snelling Bearing Witness Retreat” this Fall for those interested in learning more about this history and seeking skillful ways to respond to the ongoing impact of historic trauma. The Retreat is open to people of any religious tradition. Healing Minnesota Stories is supporting this important work. Continue reading

March 1 Caucus: Support Tribes Access to Legacy Funding; ‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog’ Author to Speak

Regardless of who you are supporting for president, please consider proposing the following resolution supporting Minnesota tribes access to Legacy funding at your DFL precinct caucuses.

The resolution is titled: “The DFL supports equal access of American Indian nations in Minnesota to Legacy Amendment funds, while protecting their hunting, fishing, and other treaty rights.” This proposal comes from our friend, Chris Knopf, who provided the following background and supporting materials.

First, here is a Dec. 15 Star Tribune editorial that lays out the problem. Continue reading

Vizenor Resigns; Native Take on Benghazi; Treaty of Fort McIntosh; Time Lapse Map: Indian Land Loss

Vizenor Resigns as White Earth Chair Over Reform Dispute
MPR reported that White Earth Chair Erma Vizenor resigned her post Wednesday over ongoing constitutional reform disputes. Earlier  MPR coverage provided context, and was summarized in our Dec. 27 post.
A new White Earth constitution drafted by Vizenor and the tribal council would have drastically shifted the government structure and changed requirements for tribal membership. When implementation stalled, Vizenor wrote a federal official in the hopes of moving things along, a move critics said overstepped her authority.

Vizenor said critics were just trying to stop reforms.

“The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has no separation of powers,” she said. “It’s open to corruption. We need change, but they don’t want to lose power.”

A Native Take on Benghazi — and The Pride of the Chinook Nation

Continue reading

Local Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee Ceremony; Canadian TRC Issues Final Report; Power Struggle on White Earth

Healing Minnesota Stories/SPIN encourage you to attend the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Communities’ observance of Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee: Toward Indigenous and Global Healing.

The event is: Tuesday, Dec. 29, 12:00 noon at the Dupuis House, (northwest corner of D Street and Hwy 13, on site of Sibley House), 1357 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Mendota, (map). A pot luck will follow at 2 p.m.

This event responds to the Call for Healing on the occasion of the 125th Memorial Ceremony at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, and the 25th Reunion of the Chief Big Foot Band Memorial Ride. This will be the Inaugural Global Ceremony to End Massacre. Communities around the globe are joining at noon in their own time zones with prayers and pledges to end massacres around the world.

Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Releases Final Report

On Dec. 15, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report, including its 94 Calls to Action. Recommendations range from No. 1, detailing how to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in the Canadian child welfare system, to No. 94, changing the Canadian citizenship oath. Here’s the proposed new oath:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen. [emphasis added]

Recommendation 58 read:

We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

At a news conference the day after the report’s release, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would seek such a formal apology from the Pope. The CBC report gives more details on Trudeau’s comments.

Power Struggle on the White Earth Reservation

MPR reported Dec. 23 that “A power struggle over constitutional reform on the White Earth Reservation could cost longtime tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor her job.”

A new White Earth constitution drafted by Vizenor and the tribal council would have drastically shifted the government structure and changed requirements for tribal membership. When implementation stalled, Vizenor wrote a federal official in the hopes of moving things along, a move critics said overstepped her authority.

Vizenor said critics were just trying to stop reforms.

“The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has no separation of powers,” she said. “It’s open to corruption. We need change, but they don’t want to lose power.”

White Earth Conservation Project Gains Traction; This Day in History: Minneapolis City Council’s “Dakota” Resolution

Today’s Star Tribune editorial “Lessard-Sams council should sustain momentum on White Earth project” came out in strong support of efforts to conserve 2,000 acres of wetlands, forest and prairie on what is now privately held land on the White Earth Reservation.

Part of the White Earth preservation project.
Part of the White Earth preservation project.

The Lessard-Sams council has recommended funding for this project in the past, only to get shot down in the legislature. Before getting into the politics of it, some quick history.

It’s important to know that only about 10 percent of the White Earth Reservation is in Indian hands. U.S. government assimilation policies in the 19th Century included efforts to break up communally held tribal lands. Through a policy known as “allotment,” the government took tribal lands and divided it among individual Indians. Among other things, that made it easier for settlers and business interests to buy it. One glaring example of how White Earth was cheated out of land by the timber industry is found in the article Ransom Powell and the Tragedy of White Earth in Minnesota History, and in our June 30 blog.)

The Potlach Company owns land on the White Earth Reservation and it wants to sell a chunk of it. (I don’t know the history of how it acquired this parcel.) According to the Strib editorial, the Lessard-Sams council has voted twice to approve $2.2 million to buy about 2,000 acres from Potlach for preservation. White Earth would buy the land and transfer it to a federal trust. The editorial explains that the project was included in a 2015 omnibus bill, but funding got stripped out at the end of the session.

A dubious explanation given — that the project would take the land off property rolls, an objection that hasn’t halted other projects that do the same — raised regrettable questions about bias toward American Indian communities.

In fact, Clearwater County where this project is located would only lose about $16,000 in property tax from the sale, a drop in the bucket of its overall budget. The White Earth project is back in the funding queue for 2016 and the push back against it already has begun.

Thanks to the Strib for a great editorial. Read the full version online.Thanks, too, to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation which has been supporting this project.

This Day in History: Minneapolis City Council “Year of the Dakota” Resolution

On this day in history three years ago, the Minneapolis City Council passed The Year of the Dakota resolution. This was on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Dakota-U.S. War. The resolution designated December 26, 2012 to December 26, 2013 as “The Year of the Dakota: Remembering, Honoring, and Truth Telling.”

In addition to the special year-long designation, the City Council made longer term commitments. The resolution said:

Be It Further Resolved that the City of Minneapolis works to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian community, including Dakota People.
Be It Further Resolved that these efforts during the years 2012 and 2013 will mark the beginning of future dialogues and efforts to rectify the wrongs that were perpetrated during, and since, the year 1862, a tragic and traumatic event for the Dakota People of Minnesota.
As is the way with resolutions, they are easier to make than to follow. In 2014, the Minneapolis City Council did pass a resolution recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, another important symbolic gesture. The question remains: How well is the City of Minneapolis doing at following its resolution to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian community, and make efforts to rectify wrongs?
Comments welcomed.


The Art We See But Don’t Really See; This Day in History: The Cherokee Removal Census

Knute Nelson
Knute Nelson (Courtesy/Photo Phiend)

I’ve walked up and down the Minnesota State Capitol steps hundreds of times as a state employee, reporter, and visitor. I had some vague awareness of the statue there honoring some 19th Century leader, but I never really paid attention. I am paying attention now.

Fast forward to Friday. I had the pleasure of attending a fundraising breakfast for The Circle newspaper at All Nations Church. Winona LaDuke was the keynote speaker. I spoke to her briefly after the event, talking about some of the controversy around art in the Capitol and Healing Minnesota Stories’ work in this area. She was most fired up about the Knute Nelson statue, honoring a man who stole Ojibwe land. I was taken aback. Knute’s statue was not on my radar. Healing Minnesota Stories doesn’t include Knute’s statue in our presentation.

Now I had read about “The Nelson Act” but I had never put two and two together, that the Nelson of the Nelson Act was the guy on the pedestal in front of the state Capitol.

I am sure you could stop people on the Capitol steps and few if any could identify Knute Nelson and fewer would know what he did. Here’s the story of the man with one of the most prominent statue sites at our state Capitol.

Knute Nelson was a U.S. Representative, Senator and Governor for Minnesota. He is the namesake of the Nelson Act: “An act for the relief and civilization of the Chippewa Indians in the State of Minnesota.” It passed January 24, 1889.

According to Wikipedia:

[The Nelson Act was intended] to relocate all the Anishinaabe [Chippewa] people in Minnesota to the White Earth Indian Reservation in the western part of the state, and to expropriate the vacated reservations for sale to European Americans. … These actions were illegal and violated the treaties which the US had made with the tribes, but the government proceeded anyway.

Like the federal Dawes Act passed two years earlier, the Nelson Act divided communally-owned tribal lands into individual plots for Chippewa households. The process, called “allotment,” was to encourage subsistence farming and assimilation. Perhaps most importantly, allotment made it easier for European settlers to buy Indian-owned property.

The Nelson Act passed just seven years after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862. While the Ojibwe had nothing to do with the 1862 war, Minnesota white residents wanted to reduce Indian-controlled lands and push them west.

Some Ojibwe didn’t relocate to White Earth. For instance, the Rad Lake band was able to keep the southern portion of its reservation next to the lake. The Sandy Lake Band in Aitkin County was not so lucky. Members had stayed neutral in the 1862 war, but Wikiepdia says they still were pressured to move. Some did stay in Sandy Lake with their individual land allotments, but they were in the minority now. “[F]orced land-sales illegally erased the Reservation off the maps,” Wikipedia said.

A couple of questions arise.

One: Why do we still have this massive statue to Knute Nelson on the front steps of the Capitol when for all practical purposes, no one knows who he is or what he did?

Two: Let’s say we did a really good job of interpreting this statue and telling this story, would this still be a man we would want to honor with such an important space?

Three: How can we still tell this important part of Minnesota history without giving the impression that we think these were honorable acts? Could the statue be moved to another location?

My theory: While almost no one could identify Knute, any effort to de-Knute the Capitol steps would raise an uproar. Still, my vote is to move the statue and find new more inspiring and inviting art for the Capitol’s front door.

This Day in History: The Cherokee Removal Census

Like the Nelson Act which ignored treaty rights and taking Indian land, the Cherokee Removal Census is part of a larger story of the government ignoring the law and taking Indian land — this time, on a national level.

Let’s start with the background. According to a National Archives report:

From 1831 to 1840, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and Cherokees were forced to migrate to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), in a process then called “Indian Removal,” but now better known as “The Trail of Tears.” This was done despite a decision of the United States Supreme Court in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), in which the Indian Removal Act was declared unconstitutional. President Jackson ignored this ruling and was said to have remarked, “Justice Marshall has rendered his decision, now see how he enforces it.”

During the fall of 1835, the Superintendent of Cherokee Removal, Benjamin F. Curry, appointed officials to count all Cherokees residing in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama–their historic homelands. The Census would determine the number of Indians and value of their property in preparing for their removal.

The final census, submitted on this day in history, December 12, 1835, is contained in a large, leather-bound volume, 66 pages long. It is chilling to think of such an official document, carrying out an unconstitutional act, having people “removed,” and in many cases, killed in the process. The Census listed 16,542 Cherokees and 201 intermarried whites. They owned 1,592 black slaves. The Census was taken in advance of the Treaty of New Echota, “negotiated and signed by a small faction of Cherokee tribal members, not the tribal leadership,” according to Wikipedia.

The Trail of Tears refers to a series of forced removals of Native American peoples following the Indian Removal Act of 1830; this Cherokee relocation was one part of that series. According to Wikipedia’s Trail of Tears entry: “The relocated peoples suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route, and more than ten thousand died before reaching their various destinations.”