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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 ...


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

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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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Friday, October 02 2015
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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.”    

Indigenous Peoples Day sweeps St. Paul City Council vote
Friday, September 04 2015
Written by Deanna Standingcloud,
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indigenous_peoples_day__saint_paul_mn_web.jpgColumbus Day became a national holiday in 1937, under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Italian lobbyists in America at the time wanted to honor Christopher Columbus as a heroic leader, claiming he “discovered a new world,” which would eventually become the most powerful nation on the planet. But as Indigenous people, that is not the experience nor the whole truth.

The truth is that Christopher Columbus was responsible for the extermination of Indigenous people in the present-day Caribbean. Through torture, slavery, rape, dismemberment and the transmission of fatal diseases, thousands upon thousands of Indigenous people perished.

Because of this, Native people feel deeply disenfranchised from the image of a man who committed such acts being honored and celebrated. Columbus Day as a holiday is seen by many in the Native community as an injustice, so Native and non-Native leaders took the initiative in educating the public about the true history of Columbus.

On Aug. 12, the City of Saint Paul passed in a unanimous seven to zero vote to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day, in place of Christopher Columbus Day. This resolution was adopted just over a year after the City of Minneapolis also proclaimed the same title.
Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce executive director, Joanne Whiterabbit (Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin) credits the Saint Paul Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission (HREEO) for taking the leadership role for bringing this resolution to the Mayor’s office to eventually be passed. “Saint Paul HREEO really did a lot of the leg work in getting the support of the Mayor Coleman’s office.” Whiterabbit assisted in the drafting of the resolution. After meeting with city officials, the resolution was endorsed by the Indian Affairs Council with the State of Minnesota, the oldest council nationwide to serve as a liaison between tribes and the state.
The Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) based in Minneapolis’ Cultural Corridor on Franklin Avenue had done much of the work with the City of Minneapolis to pass a resolution to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day in the spring of 2014. They had become part of the conversation to help with guiding the process to implement the same idea in the City of Saint Paul. NACDI was involved in hosting meetings and facilitate the discussion with elected officials of Saint Paul in their space.

Whiterabbit hopes that other cities in the state will follow suit. Looking to the future, there is a statewide Mayor’s convention of all the cities in Minnesota that takes place annually. Whiterabbit is hoping to present this idea of reclaiming our true history and replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day throughout the state and so Minnesota would be a national leader for other cities across the country to propose the same.

Danielle DeLong Adams (Ho-Chunk) is an educator in the Indian Education program in Saint Paul, Minnesota and also a community leader and a mother. She thought it was important for her own children to be present during the passing of Indigenous People’s Day.

She shared her experience about the being at the event with her family, “It was very powerful to see city officials actually changing history for my children and grandchildren.” She believed that continuing to recognizing Columbus Day is perpetuating false truths of the history of Indigenous people. The underlying racism against Native people is evident when unveiling the historic events that happened in the process of colonizing America. Delong-Adams believes this proclamation is a path to reclaiming our voices as Native people. She thanked the Saint Paul City Council members including Dai Thao for responding to the voice of the Native community so that Native youth can begin to take back their identities.

There is much work left to be done to reconcile and heal Native communities. What happened when Columbus arrived in 1492 cannot be undone but Native people can begin to rediscover their worldview and celebrate survival.

Minneapolis Fed launches its Center for Indian Country Development
Thursday, September 03 2015
Written by Lee egrestrom,
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The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis formally launched its Center for Indian Country Development (CIDC) in August, bringing together resources and stakeholders from tribal, federal and state governments with private sector efforts to promote economic development in Indian Country.

The Federal Reserve System is uniquely structured to work with all interests and government programs to promote economic growth, said Chris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation headquartered in Little Canada and a member of the center’s leadership council.

“I cringe when I hear someone refer to ‘Indian policy.’ There is only a policy for some government agency or program. The rest of us all deal with multiple and diverse policies, programs, treaties and laws,” Stainbrook said.
As a case in point, individual entrepreneurs face different challenges with capital formation, starting and expanding businesses than do tribes, added Al Paulson, president and founder of Marketplace Productions LLC, a St. Paul-based business services and consulting firm.

An enrolled citizen of the White Earth Nation, Paulson was a founder of the National Indian Business Association and the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce. The Fed, he said, is “ideally structured” to work with tribal leaders and with individual entrepreneurs of Native American descent. “I know how important that is because I’ve always walked in two worlds,” he said.

In announcing the launch of the center, Minneapolis Fed bank president Narayana Kocherlakota noted that the regional bank has been working in Indian Country for the past 25 years.

The new center will build on that experience, he said, while focusing on legal infrastructure development, improved access to capital for Native Americans, entrepreneurship and small business development, effective coordination and design of economic development programs, and related education and research.
“The center provides energy and coordination to Indian Country development initiatives across the Federal Reserve System and takes a lead role in forging Federal Reserve partnerships with other national and regional organizations,” he said in a statement.

Launching the center is something of a swan song for Kocherlakota. He is leaving the bank at the end of the year to return to academia at the University of Rochester.

The University of Chicago and Princeton University educated economist, however, has ties that anchor him to the region serviced by the bank. He spent much of his childhood in Winnipeg when his parents were on the faculty of the University of Manitoba, and he previously taught economics at the University of Minnesota and University of Iowa.

The bank earlier announced that was creating the center and that co-directors of CICD are Patrice Kunesch and veteran Minneapolis Fed executive Susan Woodrow.

Kunesch, of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe descent, is a former law professor at the University of South Dakota who in recent years served as undersecretary of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She previously served as deputy solicitor for Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior and as counsel for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in Connecticut.

Woodrow, meanwhile, is the executive officer for the Minneapolis Fed’s branch office in Helena, Mont. The bank is one of 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. Its Ninth Federal Reserve District includes Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, northwestern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

This region covers a huge portion of Indian Country. The center will work nationally for the Fed system from this base. Members of the newly named CIDC Leadership Council reflect that national scope.

Joining Stainbrook on the council were Dante Desiderio, executive director of the Native American Finance Officers Association, Washington, D.C.; Sarah DeWess, senior director of the First Nations Development Institute, Longmont, Colo.; Miriam Jorgensen, research director, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, University of Arizona; Elsie Meeks, board member for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines and chairperson, Lakota Funds, Kyle, S.D.; Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director, National Congress of American Indians, Washington, D.C.; John Phillips, executive director, First Americans Land-Grant Consortium, Alexandria, Va.; Jaime Pinkham, vice president of Native Nations Programs, Bush Foundation, St. Paul; Gerald Sherman, vice president, Bar K Management, Roscoe, Mont.; and Sarah Vogel, a Bismarck attorney and former North Dakota commissioner of agriculture.               

Legal, political actions continue to define tribal sovereignty
Friday, September 04 2015
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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A series of legal actions and political events in August, stretching from Minnesota and South Dakota to Arizona and Washington State, keep defining and adding precedence to tribal sovereignty rights and their standing before the courts.

At the time of this writing, the city of Duluth was still contemplating what additional, if any, further legal action it might take in a long-running dispute with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa over the Band’s Fond-du-Luth Casino in downtown Duluth.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in late July that the Band did not owe Duluth retroactive payments from a prior revenue sharing agreement that had been ruled illegal by the National Indian Gaming Commission. The key point of law involved the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that requires tribes to be sole proprietors of their gaming operations, said Henry M. Buffalo, Jr., a Twin Cities-based attorney for the Band.

At the same time, he said, Fond-du-Luth Casino is within a one-mile portion of land in Duluth ceded by the Chippewa Tribe of Minnesota in the 1854 treaty with the federal government for which Fond du Lac and other bands were granted continuous access.

These disputes help define and clarify specific points of law even when they are part of a broader context and can have greater consequences, Buffalo said.

With such disputes literally at its doorstep, the University of Minnesota-Duluth announced on August 13 it is starting a Tribal Sovereignty Institute with it American Indian Studies department. The institute has been evolving from three years of consultations with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the oldest such state council in the nation, and with the 11 federally recognized Indian communities.   

“Some of our faculty are already engaged in research partnerships, but having the Tribal Sovereignty Institute will facilitate more research that serves the needs of Native Nations,” Jill Doerfler, head of American Indian Studies, said in the UMD announcement.

The new institute will need to monitor evolving and unresolved issues from across the country. Thorny issues playing out in multiple states during August reveal specific challenges to law and public policy that fit like mosaic pieces in the broader sovereignty picture.

For instance: On Aug. 18, the Pennington County Commission in western South Dakota voted 3-2 to support, by not opposing, the transfer of three square miles of Pe’ Sla land into federal trust. This land is sacred within Lakota culture and has been gradually repurchased from private landowners by the Crow Creek, Rosebud and Standing Rock Sioux tribes in the Dakotas and by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota.

Tribes across the entire country are engaged in efforts to buy back land ceded in treaties or sold to private owners over the past century or more. In this case, moving the Pe’ Sla to federal trust status for the Lakota tribes removes the land from local taxation, which is an issue with the federal trust status of Fond-du-Luth Casino in Duluth.

The U.S. Department of Justice joined as a co-plaintiff in a suit brought by the Tulalip Tribes against Washington State and Snohomish County challenging the state and county efforts to tax non-Indian businesses on Indian land. A federal judge was to hear arguments on Aug. 21, but the outcome of this legal battle could have impacts on how tribes pursue future economic development in various parts of Indian Country.

How sweeping or narrow a legal resolution might be is open for wide debate, said Francesca Hillery, the Tulalip public affairs officer. At issue is a new city, called Quil Ceda Village created and built by the Tulalip Tribes near a heavily traveled freeway convenient to Seattle. With Bureau of Indian Affairs and Internal Revenue Service approval, Quil Ceda Village on Indian trust land is a second “federally created city,” after Washington, D.C.

That appears to be the case, a prominent Indian affairs attorney in Washington, D.C., told The Circle in late August. But not wanting to be too specific without further research, the attorney said tribes should look at other properties on trust lands to see if revenue-producing ventures there may share similar status with Quil Ceda and the District of Columbia.
While Quil Ceda is unique in many respects, the issue coming before the federal courts may be pretty limited, the Tulalip’s Hillery said. And that involves taxing authority.

The Tulalip lawsuit argues that “Congress has provided by statute that lands held in trust by the United States for the benefit of an Indian tribe or its members are not subject to state and local taxation.” That view is backed up by substantial case law, and is also part of the Duluth litigation.

A landmark case on that matter involves the Upper Midwest. The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1976 Bryan v. Itasca County decision overturned a Minnesota State Supreme Court decision by noting that public law (P.L. 280) did not give states authority to “impose taxes on reservation Indians.”

hat case originated with Itasca County attempting to collect property taxes on a mobile home privately owned by an enrolled member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe on the Leech Lake Reservation. It raised issues that differ from what the non-Indian retail enterprises are doing on Tulalip land and the issues involved with Fond-du-Luth Casino.    

Issues over what sovereign rights Indians have retained on ceded trust lands now privately owned, and on sacred ground sites, are still before the courts. More are headed that way. Among them are cases where tribes are fighting the location of pipelines for environmental reasons and over treaty rights to hunting, fishing and gathering (wild rice), as we see in Minnesota; and most vividly right now by the Navajo trying to protect sacred but private land in Arizona.

Legal issues in Arizona are still evolving but may involve protest activities rather than narrow points of law. A video in late August went viral showing Navajo opponents of a copper mind development chasing Sen. John McCain away from the Navajo Nation Museum at Window Rock, Ariz. Since McCain was the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, his prominence in the kerfuffle overshadowed the issues at stake outside the Southwest region.

Like the Pe’ Sla in South Dakota, considered sacred for its role in Lakota tribal creation, land to be developed as the world’s largest copper mine near Superior, Ariz., is considered sacred ground by Southwest tribes. Others fear environmental damage, especially to scarce water resources in the region. The Arizona Republic newspaper reported Capitol Hill police turned away members of the San Carlos Apache in July when they tried to protest at the office of Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

These challenges, anchored in issues of tribal sovereignty, encircle tribes and cultures in the Upper Midwest no matter how far away problems arise. They make fertile ground for the Tribal Sovereignty Institute taking shape at UMD.
The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council acknowledged as much in a July resolution pledging its support and that of Minnesota’s 11 tribal communities to work with UMD on education curriculum and research development. That resolution noted UMD faculty now associated with the institute has worked with MIAC staff in providing training on related history and government relationships to more than 1,000 Minnesota state employees in recent years.

Tadd Johnson, UMD’s director of graduate studies for the American Indian Studies department, said in the announcement that Minnesota tribes will mandate direction of the institute. “Their ideas drive the research that we do,” he said.


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