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history of owamni yomni.jpg A History of Owamni Yomni

As the St. Anthony Lock closes by Congressional order, The Circle's Jon Lurie offers a history of this important Dakota cultural site. Read more ...


mark trahant.jpg GUEST COLUMNIST: Trahant Reports

Mark Trahant offers his thoughts on the upcoming Republican presidential candidates and their potential impact on Indian Country.

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The Arts

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A Goldilocks show at Bockley Gallery

A summer show follows the tradition of group shows that adhere to the Goldilocks principle — not too big, not too small, but just right. Read more ... 

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Tribal Enterprise Theory: Ground up development and decision-making
Tuesday, November 03 2015
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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The Koda Energy complex in Shakopee, a partnership between the fifth and sixth generation owners of  Rahr Malting Co. and the Shakopee Mdewakatanton Sioux Community (SMSC) citizens and the Rahr family were logical future business partners. They’ve been living as neighbors for most of the past 168 years in the Prior Lake and Shakopee communities southwest of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

Inevitable or not, the day for merging a community of interests into a business venture came in 2009 when the SMSC and Rahr Malting opened Koda Energy Partnership in the city of Shakopee. It is a biomass energy generation project using agricultural byproducts and agricultural crops to produce heat and electricity for the partners’ use. Surplus production is sold to the regional Xcel Energy utility.

This business venture illustrates both the theory behind tribal enterprise development and theory used by community economic developers and planners to rationalize community business investments in the United States and Canada. In both cases, local developments result from ground up decision-making.
“Koda Energy was an opportunity to partner with our long-standing neighbor Rahr Malting in Shakopee, produce green energy, and be a good steward of the earth,” said Keith Anderson, vice-chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and board chairman of the energy partnership.

Tribal and community development experts surveyed for this article stressed ground level recognition, not top down development.

“I do not generally believe in ‘boilerplate recommendations’ for economic development,” said Frank Pommersheim, a law professor at the University of South Dakota and tribal courts jurist in South Dakota. “It’s got to be bottom up with a focus on law, infrastructure and culture.”

Pommersheim’s 1995 book Braid of Feathers (University of California Press), in which he stresses the importance of Indians and non-Indians forging alliances based on respect at the local level, is especially helpful for Indian communities, said Patrice Kunesch and Susan Woodrow, co-directors of the newly formed Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“Every single tribe has a vision for its own community development … and its own challenges,” said Woodrow, the executive officer of the Minneapolis Fed’s branch office in Helena, Mont. “There is not a one-size-fits-all (formula).”

Kunesch, of Standing Rock Lakota descent and a former official at both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior, added that economic and community development starts with recognizing “opportunity, solutions and best practices.” This includes assessing community needs, costs of fuel, costs of food, costs of essential services, resources available, and the environment and being good stewards over resources.

This also means there are two layers for development, said Woodrow. The tribal enterprise response, or the subject of this article, is the first layer and is triggered by recognized needs. The second layer involves ways in which Indian communities assist and encourage individual entrepreneurship – the subject of future articles in The Circle.

From the mid-1990s onwards, community development involving all communities was largely an outgrowth of post-WWII industrialization, according to Greg Wise, an Extension community development expert at the University of Wisconsin. In a paper for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Extension Service personnel, Wise said the term “community development” has come to mean more than economic or industrial development. Rather, development has come to mean process concepts including “advancement, betterment, capacity building, empowerment, enhancement and nurturing.”

This makes defining the term development even more complex than defining what constitutes a community, Wise noted.

In that regard, the indigenous people of North America have an advantage over other community builders, said Michael Toye, executive director of the Canadian CED (Community Economic Development) Network based at Victoriaville, Quebec.

“The indigenous communities are probably among the best examples of distinct, defined communities that we have in North America,” he said, citing sovereign treaties, geography, language, culture and traditions, and political autonomy.   

Given such clear definitions in Indian Country, it is interesting to note that people worldwide are seeking a tribal approach in forming communities of interest to meet local needs and cope with the impacts of globalization.

Gert van Dijk, a Dutch economist and former president of COGECA, the Brussels umbrella arm of agricultural cooperatives in the European Union, made that point in a recent Dutch textbook that translates to “When the markets fail.” In it, he said, people “draw a circle” around their common interests and then form cooperatives (or other community-based enterprises) to meet those common needs or pursue common opportunities. This they do even when the members of these “new” communities may be diverse and share little else in common.

Observing tribal development here at home with broader community economic development theory, it appears four categories of tribal development and investment have emerged. The first and most obvious is in meeting community needs – grocery stores, services, gas stations – when local and regional markets have failed.

One step up would be developing tribal businesses that serve a broader community surrounding the Indian Nation. Often the objective would be achieving economies of scale and scope. But in cases where a service is provided for a country or region, or an enterprise serves as a broader community bank, retailer or recreation area, an element of being good neighbors plays a role along with realizing returns on investment.   

A third category would be tribal enterprises that add value to local activity. This would make tribal businesses and members more entrepreneurial in their activities and in their households. Van Dijk sees that as the role of most agricultural cooperatives as well, and it explains why there is a dual bottom line of both social and economic goals for community enterprises.

Finally, a fourth category is emerging in which tribal development leaders are pursuing perceived market opportunities and seek investments to diversify tribal portfolios. This is especially the goal where Indian communities are trying to lessen their dependence on gaming revenue.

“Those four categories make sense to me; I can think of examples of each of them with Tribal Councils and First Nations here in Canada,” said Canadian CED director Toye.

Going forward, the Minneapolis Fed’s Kunesch and Woodrow said they anticipate more tribal investments in agriculture, agribusiness, health and nutrition services, biomass and energy development, and anything that can be environmentally sound development of local resources. “I see biofuels as a real natural,” said Woodrow.

All these strategies and local recognition of opportunities play out with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

The Koda Energy partnership, as described by Anderson, connects with several themes mentioned above. So does Dacotah Roots, an organic recycling facility in which the SMSC community began turning organic waste materials into compost in 2011.

Area schools and local governments use the facility to dispose of organic wastes. And as part of its good neighbor strategy for its broader community, the SMSC community offers free yard waste drop off services each September and October for Scott County residents.

Art glorifying the conquest of Indians needs to leave state capitol
Tuesday, November 03 2015
Written by Scott Russell,
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Father Hennepin at St. Anthony Falls hangs in  the Governor’s Reception Room.Artwork in the Minnesota State Capitol shows American Indians being “civilized,” losing land to treaties, and being defeated in battle. The art tells a very slanted version of history; and portrays American Indians negatively. This artwork has long been a sore point, particularly given that it hangs in the building where laws are made.

However, the Minnesota State Capitol is undergoing a major renovation, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change. The state created an Art Subcommittee to make recommendations about the art. The Subcommittee includes two noted American Indian leaders: Gwen Westerman, Dakota, a University of Minnesota-Mankato professor, and Anton Treuer, Ojibwe, a Bemidji State University professor.

At a recent hearing, Westerman spoke about some of the art’s historical inaccuracies, and commented on how it showed Dakota people as “a faceless menace.” “Imagine,” Westerman said, “coming here and seeing yourself or your family members depicted in these paintings.”

The capitol art debate is similar to the debate about flying the Confederate Flag over the South Carolina statehouse. Both involve a battle over symbols. In the Minnesota context, the questions are: Do these paintings and symbols reflect the best of our heritage and values? What do we do with art and symbols that are unwelcoming and hurtful?

Here are brief descriptions of some of the most problematic art. None of this art has any historic interpretation.

The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi (Senate Chambers): The painting shows an Indian man and young woman and the spirit Manitou cornered at the Mississippi’s headwaters. They are surrounded on one side by “discoverers” and on the other by “civilizers.” Angelic beings guide the discoverers and civilizers, signifying divine intervention. The Indian couple looks afraid. The young woman is half naked, both offensive and a false representation of customs. The group of “civilizers” includes a priest with a cross, and behind the priest crouches a man restraining two angry dogs, signifying imminent threat.  

Father Hennepin Discovers the Falls at St. Anthony (Governor’s Reception Room): The painting shows Father Hennepin at the falls, renaming it after his patron saint. The term “discovers” is wrong. Hennepin stands in a position of authority, towering over the people sitting below him, when in fact he was a Dakota prisoner at the time. At right, the painting shows a half-naked Dakota woman carrying a heavy pack. Her lack of covering is historically inaccurate and offensive, an apparent effort to show her as uncivilized.

Treaty of Traverse des Sioux (Governor’s Reception Room): The Dakota ceded almost all of their land in this 1851 treaty. The painting depicts the negotiation as calm and fair. It was not.

Battle of Killdeer Mountain (3rd floor conference room): This 1864 battle, Minnesota troops had been sent far into Dakota Territory to punish Dakota people for the 1862 war and create access to western gold fields. The painting shows Minnesota troops firing on an Indian encampment. Many Dakota and Lakota under attack were not hostile to the U.S. and had nothing to do with the 1862 war.

Minnesota–Spirit of Government (House Chambers): This sculpture includes the saying: “The Trail of the Pioneer Bore the Footprints of Liberty.” Rep. Diane Loeffler, the Art Subcommittee tri-chair, has suggested removing those words.

At minimum, this art needs better interpretation so people know the history and symbolism. Better yet, some art should be moved to a museum.

The solution also needs to include adding new art that reflects our state’s current cultural diversity. Thousands of school children tour the capitol each year, students of all colors. There is little in the current art that tells children of color they belong in the capitol.

The good news is that the capitol renovation is creating space for new art. The Art Subcommittee created a statement of purpose for capitol art, which points in the right direction: “The purpose of art in the Minnesota State capitol is to tell Minnesota stories. Works of art in the Capitol should engage people in reflecting on our state’s history, understanding our government, recognizing the contributions of our diverse peoples, inspiring citizen engagement, [and] appreciating the varied landscapes of our state.”

Minnesota could consider approaches used by other states. For instance, the New Mexico State Capitol showcases works by contemporary New Mexico artists. Alaska created space to feature student art.

A group called Healing Minnesota Stories and art teacher Rachel Latuff collaborated to get Minnesota students creating alternative capitol art. [Full disclosure: I volunteer with this organization.] Three schools have participated so far, including Oshki Ogimaag, an Ojibwe Elementary Charter School in Grand Portage.

How would the presence of student art change the capitol’s atmosphere? Above is one example, artwork done last spring by Oshki sixth grader Ariana Poyirier of the Marten clan. Here is her artist statement: “Eagle Woman: My painting is of a transformation of eagle to girl/girl to eagle. The image has to do with my connection to the eagle. The eagle is important to me and to my community and a symbol of our culture. To me, my painting reminds me of my Grandma. Family is important in our culture. We are connected. Cedar and beadwork on the border … are also important to my culture. We drink cedar tea by boiling it in water. It is used for medicine. I put the beads around the girl because I do beadwork. This is a traditional craft in our culture. I am proud to be a Native American from Grand Portage and I am part of Minnesota.”

The Art Subcommittee will hold public hearings in Bemidji, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato, and the Twin Cities. Dates include: Rochester on Nov. 10, Rochester Area Foundation Community Room. North Minneapolis on Nov. 12, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Admin Building. Willmar on Nov. 16, Ridgewater College. And Mankato on Nov. 23, Ostrander Auditorium, Minnesota State University. For times, see: For more info, visit: capitol-restoration/about/preservation-commission/art/ for announcements.

Sign the petition asking the state to remove the most offensive art at:

Scott Russell volunteers with Healing Minnesota Stories.

The Circle Fundraiser 2015
Friday, October 30 2015
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Friday, October 02 2015
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The Circle needs your help in deciding what direction we take in the coming years. Please fill out our READER SURVEY . We want to hear what you have to say!

Friday, October 02 2015
Written by Jim Lenfestey,
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first_issue_of_the_circle.jpgIn 1980 The Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC) received a grant from the Dayton-Hudson Foundation (Target Foundation today) to broaden communications to serve the growing Native American community. From that seed The Circle was born. Volume One, Number One emerged from a basement office at MAIC on March 1, 1980.

At the time of that first issue, the Twin Cities metropolitan area had 23,000 self-identified Native Americans. Today that number is over 37,000 in the 11 county metropolitan area, according to the 2010 census, more than half the total population of 60,931 identified Native Americans in the state.

For 35 years, The Circle has provided news and information unavailable anywhere else, Native voices speaking to and about one of the nation’s largest urban Native communities, becoming an independent 501c3 nonprofit corporation in 1995.

The Circle is the welcome mat and doorway into the activities and interests of the Native community. As author Louise Edrich remarked at a Circle event last spring, “ … when I looked around Minneapolis, hoping to move here, I saw that there was a newspaper called The Circle that represented the Native community. It was more than a coincidental sign; it was the signal of a vividly interesting, many-Nationed community of Native people. Over the years I think that I have read every single issue.”

  • “The Circle was the first door that opened to me in the urban American Indian community. It still feels like a home and a circle of relatives talking about what matters.”  – Heid Erdrich, Minneapolis, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe

Along the way The Circle garnered many awards, including Best Native American Monthly in Canada, and the US from the Native American Journalists’ Association, and Best Community Newspaper from the City Pages.
The roll call of The Circle editors is impressive: Lori Mollenhoff, Sandra King, Rob Greengrass, Juanita Espinosa, Gordon Regguinti, Mike Bassett, Ruth Denny, Mark Anthony Rollo, Joe Allen, Catherine Whipple, Alfred Walking Bull, and Catherine Whipple again.

In addition, many writers, photographers and artists were launched and supported on The Circle pages. For 25 years, until his recent retirement, Jim Northrup entertained readers with “Reservation Follies.” Columnist Kristine Shotley, AKA “Ricey Wild,” continues today with her hilarious tales from Rezberry; newcomer columnist Nick Metcalf shares his views of the “Rez-born, Urban Raised,”  Mark Trahant reports on business, Mordecai Spector on Native and environmental politics, and Winona LaDuke is a regular contributor, along with many others.

As important, The Circle has represented a strong, vibrant Native presence in the region, which needs and demands its own voice. For 35 years The Circle has been that voice, reinforced today by online resources at our website at But the financial model that supported The Circle most of its life began declining about a decade ago.
From the beginning, advertising revenue supported The Circle. As the primary vehicle to reach the regional Native community, the paper averaged more than $10,000 a month in advertising income through the first two decades, enough to cover all expenses.

  • “THE CIRCLE is the common fire where the community shares our stories.” – David Cornouyer, St. Paul, Rosebud Sioux

The Internet revolution cratered that financial model, as the ease of Internet communication gobbled up much of the advertising revenue. The Circle advertising has fallen nearly 80 percent from the averages prior to 2000, although The Circle remains the premier means of reaching the Native community.

The Circle is in good company with this problem. Take my old employer, the StarTribune, where I served on the editorial board. The Cowles family sold the company for $1.4 billion in 1998. In 2006 the newspaper was sold for $530 million; in 2009 it filed for bankruptcy. Last year Glen Taylor purchased it for $100 million, one-fourteenth its value only 16 years before. That financial free fall is directly traceable to the decline of advertising revenue and the difficulty of raising comparable revenue from web-based information products.

“Multiplying” Ojibwe language at Bemidji stores, offices, schools
Friday, October 02 2015
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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dual-language-directory-sign.jpgWhen tourists and other visitors stop by the Harmony Co-op food store in Bemidji, they find doodooshaaboo (milk) in the dairy case, bakwezhigan (bread) in the bakery department, and a variety of locally grown vegetables and fruit offerings in the editegin (produce) department.

They are likely to pick up some zhiiwaagamizigan (maple syrup) and manoomin (wild rice) on the way out of the store before heading to tourist cabins or dropping in on friends and relatives in the woods and lake country of northern Minnesota.

It’s been 10 years since a few Bemidji businesses began an effort to make their city more welcoming to surrounding indigenous communities by putting dual language signs in English and Ojibwe on public restrooms, greetings (boozhoo) on entrances, and miigwech (thank you) at cash registers and doorways. As of Sept. 15, when the Beltrami County Commissioners and Court-house joined in, there are now 180 Bemidji stores, offices, schools, medical facilities and service providers with bilingual signage.

By some estimates, more than 250 facilities throughout the Bemidji and headwaters of the Mississippi River area have posted bilingual signs. Nearby school districts have posted dual language signs in their schools, and state departments have joined in with highway signs and around Lake Itasca State Park.     

What started as a “good neighbor” gesture for Bemidji people to embrace citizens of the nearby Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake nations is clearly having an economic impact, said Michael Meuers, a Bemidji public relations specialist who was a founder of the Bemidji Ojibwe Language Project. “People shop where they feel welcome,’ he said. “It has to be good for tourism.”

Colleen Bakken, general manager of Harmony Co-op, said the dual signage attracts tourists and appeals to customer-members of the natural foods cooperative from Bemidji as well. The store carries products from Native Harvest, a tribal foods venture that supports nonprofit projects at the White Earth Nation, and Red Lake Nation Foods as well as from area farmers. “We want people to know where their food comes from and what we’ve learned from our indigenous people,” she said.

The tourism advantage was apparent to Noemi Aylesworth when she operated the Cabin Coffee House until 2013. She was among the first Bemidji business owners to adopt bilingual signage. Tourists kept taking her menus, she said, “so I just started printing up copies and put them by the cash register. They (tourists) would take them, and they would come back. We would see them again.”   

No one has yet done an economic study on what bilingual signage may be doing for the Bemidji area economy or for tourism in northern Minnesota in general. But there are complex – and pretty pricey - tools for making such measurements.

When an economic activity or even a simple event of some kind causes an expansion of the economy within a community, region, state or industry sector, economists call the greater benefit of the dollars “the multiplier effect.”
In 2012, for instance, the National Endowment for the Arts studied the multiplier effects of demand for arts and culture in the U.S. economy and found that every $1 increase in demand generated $1.69 in total output. Every job created by demand for the arts created 1.62 additional periphery jobs.

Su Ye, an economist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, did a similar study in 2010 for the Minnesota Legislature that found Minnesota farmers produced $16 billion in economic output in 2008, and food processors and marketers produced $26 billion from those farm products for a total direct output impact of $42 billion. But with indirect output adding $24 billion more, and another $8 billion gained from “induced” economic activity, the entire Minnesota food and agriculture sector produced $75 billion for the state’s economy in the 2008 year studied.

Those examples are cited here because Harmony Co-op, Cabin Coffee House, other Bemidji food service providers, the White Earth and Red Lake food production and processing companies, and area service and hospitality purveyors are all part of either the arts and culture and related tourism industry, or the food and ag sector.      

It would be an enormous undertaking for Bemidji State University or other economists to do the research and devise input-output models necessary to measure multiplier effect gains from bilingual signs for the Bemidji area economy. 
But they are real enough. Meuers, who is with the Bemidji community group Shared Vision that promotes cultural understanding among Native Americans, non-Natives and diverse area ethnic groups, said he’s received inquiries about the Ojibwe Language Project from other cities and organizations around the nation.

Bemidji State University, and especially its Ojibwe language professor Anton Treuer, have helped Shared Vision and the language project with translations. Indigenous language programs at reservation communities and at academic institutions are doing similar work in other languages. What’s going on with the Bemidji community, however, still looks unique.

There’s a word for it that is neither Dakotah nor Ojibwe, said Tammy Decoteau from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota. “Fabulous. It’s fabulous,” she said.

Decoteau is director of the Dakotah Language Institute, Agency Village, S.D. She said the Santee Sioux Nation does a good job with dual signage at its Ohiya Casino and Resort at Niobrara, Neb. The Ho-Chunk Nation does the same at hospitality industry sites in Wisconsin. Undoubtedly, other nations and language groups have done similar signage on their properties.

For the traveler or tourist in Indian Country, dual signage can be charming. At the same time, it encourages respect and is welcoming, said Decouteau.

A couple of years back, she recalls, a group of people from the Dakotas attended an indigenous language conference at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Pulling into a McDonald’s restaurant in Duluth, a person at the counter greeted them with a “boozhoo.” When they paid for their food and left, they were sent on their way with a “miigwech.”
“It wasn’t our language,” Decoteau said. “But it sure made us feel welcome. We kept going back there at least once each day for the next three days.”    

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