For over a decade, the prescription pain killer and heroine abuse crisis has had a hold on communities across the U-S. Opioid overdoses tripled between 2000 and 2015.
In 2015, Minnesota had more American Indians dying from overdoses than any - other -state.
That same year, well over half of pregnant Native women gave birth to babies with opioids in their systems.
Many American Indians in Minnesota are wrestling with how best to help people heal from the addiction AND the historical trauma at the root of this crisis.
Reporter Melissa Townsend explores the unique nature of addiction in Native communities, and how it is - or isn’t - shaping a response to the current crisis.
Hey, Melissa here. I just wanted to say all those stats that Marie just read are important. They are meant to convey that this is a crisis in Minnesota’s Indian country. That said, there’s often a lot of bad news about Minnesota’s Indian country in general - and it can make people feel hopeless and tune out. Well, don’t tune out — because in this story there is a lot of hope. Ok, let’s get started.
SECTION 1 - FROM ALCOHOL TO OPIOIDS
Of course there was heroine and other opioids in the 1960s and 70s, but back then most American Indians struggling with addiction — drank.
DAVID: I don’t think there ’s anyone my age that hasn’t been left sitting in a car outside a bar somewhere in Mpls or up on the rez…
David Saice is an Ojibwe man from Minneapolis. As a kid he lived in a housing project on the north side with his parents and his siblings.
DAVID: You know your ma and dad are going out and they have friends that are going out. so they pile you in the car and everyone sits in the car …[2-3 kids] …and they go into the bar and get… a bunch of chips and pops and bring it back out and say we’ll be back out in a little while.
He says back then, there were a bunch of Indian bars in South Minneapolis along this one section of Franklin Avenue.
DAVID: You walk by a car and see a bunch of kids in it, you think nothing of it. they just keep going. … it was a diff. time.
These days, David still lives in Minneapolis, but those bars are gone, and those kids are gone.
And now when David thinks about alcohol and drug addiction, he thinks about prescription pain killers and heroine…
DAVID: Personally i’d say at least 30 people i know …are on pain meds bc they are in pain constantly. a loT of them have went through surgeries and you know, prescribed pain meds …
[purple rain cut]
David works in the maintenance department at the county morgue. On the day we talked he was getting phone calls from friends asking if Prince had been brought in. The musician had been found dead that morning. We’ve since learned — he died from an overdose of opioid pain medication.
SECTION 2 - WHERE WE ARE NOW & HOW WE GOT HERE
JOHNSON: Purdue Pharma is one of the most profitable companies…90% of their revenue comes from one drug — OxyContin.
Dr. Christopher Johnson, is an emergency room physician in a suburban Minneapolis hospital. He serves on the Minnesota Medical Association’s Opiate Task Force.
In the 1990s a pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma set out on an unprecedented marketing campaign to sell their new opioid pain killer called OxyContin.
They paid doctors, medical school professors and other leaders in the medical industry to advocate for OxyContin — and to say that it wasn’t addictive.
JOHNSON: They said opiates were less than 1% addictive
Oxycontin shot to the top of the list of pain killers prescribed for things like back pain and joint pain.
The campaign increased prescriptions for all opioid pain killers.
In the 20 years between 1991 and 2011 prescriptions for opioid pain killers tripled.
Now we know that was all wrong.
JOHNSON: 4:16 … it’ s bad medicine, it’s bad science.
In 2007 Purdue Pharma was found guilty in a court of law for their manipulative tactics.
JOHNSON: They were found culpable for misleading info for de-emphasizing the risks of addiction by cherry picking science … suggest that opiates were not that addictive.
But that did not stop the tide of opioid prescriptions and addiction…
AL JAZEERA AMERICA : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkkF9M9h3XA&list=PLW4wRvrGlUYmFTPnQP7CkVsxFDNFhDqcD&index=2
PBS NEWSHOUR: WOMEN AND BABIES: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbeVhMye9NQ&list=PLW4wRvrGlUYmFTPnQP7CkVsxFDNFhDqcD&index=47
CBS THIS MORNING: CDC ASKS DOCS TO BACK OFF OPIOIDS — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR2_2njgQ9k&index=60&list=PLW4wRvrGlUYmFTPnQP7CkVsxFDNFhDqcD
Even as the nation is hit hard by this, it’s disproportionally harder on Native communities.
SHARYL: Addiction is a spirit …that thrives on chaos and pain and fear and it’s had a strangle hold on this community for a long time …and it is using weak and wounded people to attack …
Sharyl Whitehawk has been an addictions counselor in Native communities in Minnesota for over 16 years.
Early on in her career her mentor Dennis Hisgun gave her this perspective.
SHARYL: If you’re doing a good job, that spirit of chaos is going to be threatened by you, going to attack you, you know you’re doing a good job when that starts happening bc you have become a threat.
Sharyl and others HAVE become a threat.
Generations of Native who struggled with alcohol and drug abuse have gotten sober.
But the current opioid addictions crisis seems to be a whole new level of chaos.
Nationally, the dominant non-Native culture is focused on medically assisted treatment or M-A-T. — that’s where clients are given methadone or Suboxone or another opioid to meet their cravings.
But many American Indians are concerned that - because of their specific culture and history - M-A-T programs shouldn’t be the sole focus for Native people.
SECTION 3 - NATIVES SPECIFICALLY - A Caveat
Before we go much further, we need to talk.
There is this awful stereotype in the world — the drunken indian.
The idea that all American Indians are addicts.
Talking about Natives and addiction, can make it seem like we’re reinforcing that racist and hurtful stereotype.
So let’s get a few thing straight — number one…
REZNIKOFF: There is no genetic — something about being Native biologically - no…
Dr. Charlie Reznikoff is an addictions doctor at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis Minnesota.
REZNIKOFF: Opiates don’t care what your race is - white or black, native or what you are - they are equally cause addiction in everyone.
There is a genetic predisposition to addiction among family members — but not among specific races or cultural groups.
REZNIKOFF: If you have had another addiction - to alcohol or tobacco - you are more likely at risk to opioids.
REZNIKOFF: If you have had a traumatic childhood, a violent childhood - you are more vulnerable as well.
Many believe THIS is part of the reason addiction rates are higher in Native communities.
Now, many people of all backgrounds have stories of abuse and neglect.
These are traumatic events - the clinical acronym is ACES - adverse childhood experiences.
American Indians in the United State are a diverse bunch, but there is a unique, shared history that you might say - is full of ACES.
It’s commonly called historical trauma.
ANTONY: My name is Antony Stately.
Antony Stately is an expert on historical trauma.
SECTION 4 -STATELY STORY
He lives in Shakopee Minnesota with his Dakota partner and his twin sons.
The boys are 9 years old.
Antony says they do well in school, they go to cultural events, they have long hair, they play hockey and lacrosse.
He thinks about them as he begins to talk about his own childhood in an Indian Boarding School in Chamberlain South Dakota.
ANTONY: My mother, mother, father, their parents, great grandparents, I’m 4th generation boarding school survivor.
Indian families across North America were forced to send their children to boarding schools.
Officially the boarding school era was between 1860 and the 1920s, but some Natives went to boarding school into the 1990s.
Antony spent his first years in Minneapolis. He was 6 and a 1/2 when he was sent away.
ANTONY: Some horrible things happened to me in boarding school, like they happened to lots of diff. people, many many tribal communities and individuals — sexual abuse, physical abuse.
ANTONY: This memory stands out for me when i was there. I was 10 yrs old at the time, I decide not to go to church. I was going to pretend to be sick and stay in my dorm. Well… because I didn’t show up for church, they made an example out of me the next week at church. The shaved all my hair off and they pranced me out in front of everyone at church, down the center aisle, all the kids were laughing and it was pretty clear without saying the words — this is what will happen to you if you decide to do what you want to do instead of conforming.
Antony says he was angry and resentful for being sent away to this horrible place.
In his teenage years, he became addicted to alcohol and drugs.
ANTONY: When I was 15 or 16, i got into a very very, one of the biggest fights i ever had with my mother. Now i had great respect for my mother, never raised my hand or any of those sorts of things. But we were arguing about something and i got angry and i yelled at her and i was crying and i said i want to know why you sent me to that place. That place was horrible. Do you have any idea what they did to me.
Well, of course i had no way of knowing that she probably did have tremendous knowledge of what they did to me, she went to boarding school and probably experiences the same things. It’s just something we never talked about.
As he’s talking he sometimes taps a water bottle cap on the table.
ANTONY: She was crying - there was alcohol involved, I might even have been drunk when this was happening. But what she said to me was I had not choice. She broke down in tears, I had no choice. She told me about this story about how Hennepin County welfare basically said, if you can’t take care of your children… We’re going to take them away from you.
His parents weren’t together at the time, and his mom was broke.
ANTONY: Essentially my mom said - i sent you to St. Joe’s - you and your brothers and sisters because i knew that if i got you taken away from me, i’d never get you back.
Antony says this was a pivotal moment.
ANTONY: As soon as I understood all these things that had happened to me as a child and all these things that were happening to my family, I could let go of how angry i was at her
And things began to shift.
ANTONY: Of course it wasn’t instantaneous - i didn’t get sober the next day! [laughter] but the point being is that it created this seed of self-awareness where i started to understand the impact on my family and my community.
SECTION 5 - STATELY ON HISTORICAL TRAUMA
Now, Antony Stately is 53 years old and he is Dr. Antony Stately…
a clinical psychologist specializing in multi-cultural community clinical psychology.
He works in tribal communities and lectures around the country about the connection between addiction, genocide, and what it takes for Native communities to heal.
ANTONY: Volcanoes, tsunamis, earth quakes -we have really good ways of understanding that right — acts of god. [just thinking that too - laughs] There isn’t a people on Earth that don’t have some creation story that helps us understand things like the big flood and those kinds of things.
What is different about those things from massacres and genocide and those kinds of things is that historically traumatic events are rooted in processes that are man-made, they are with intent to de-humanize, and intent to harm and intent to kill.
Antony says there’s no clear story about these events.
And the pain and loss and trauma is often handed down through generations in the form of addiction and violence and dis-ease.
ANTONY: When we have entire families and entire communities who are walking around still stuck in that place of mourning and specifically … in that anger, it makes us ripe for addiction. bc addiction is essentially about escaping something that make us uncomfortable.
When it comes to the current opioid crisis Antony says - we need to save people from overdose deaths. If that means using medically assisted treatment, he supports it.
But in the end American Indians need to be able to grieve and heal the soul wound created by generations of historical trauma.
[music up and then fades]
SECTION 6 - CULTURALLY SPECIFIC ABSTINENCE MODEL
Another perspective on the opioid crisis in Indian country comes from a movement that started in the 1970s and 80s.
Elwin Benton was a leader in this movement. He is Ojibwe.
He says, back in the 70s and 80s, American Indians were not faring well in state hospitals and white facilities.
ELWIN: … they were very uncomfortable and most of them did not complete treatment and back then they had a therapeutic me lieu which consisted of hard confrontation…sit them in a chair and cuss them out and make them feel lower than well crap [LAUGHS]
In response, pockets of American Indians across the country were creating culturally specific treatment programs.
The idea was that the historical and ongoing oppression of Natives in this country called for a specialized kind of addictions treatment.
ELWIN: Some medicine people in the SW appeared before the American Psychiatric Council and provided them with what they are doing and then were able to demonstrate that they had just as much success as psychiatrists who were working with american indians,… and so they start using what we call Native practitioners.
Elwin and others brought this knowledge to northern Minnesota and in 1977, they built MashKawisen.
They say it was the first Native owned treatment center in the United States.
[frog sounds in]
It’s here in the middle of the woods in Sawyer Minnesota. Near the Leech lake and Fond Du Lac bands of Ojibwe.
The sounds of the surroundings drift in through the windows.
The is a sweat lodge in back and the pow wow grounds are next to the parking lot.
[frogs sounds out]
It’s an inpatient treatment program —
Staff here don’t believe in medically assisted treatment for opioid addicts.
Here, they believe addicts need to be abstinent from all drugs ands alcohol —
and they need to dive deep into their traditional cultural healing practices.
Studies prove spirituality - as in an active belief in a higher power - helps achieve sobriety.
At Mashkawisen, clients use traditional medicines - sage, sweet grass, cedar, tobacco
[weave drum in]
They join in circle around the drum to find the heartbeat… to get centered… to build sober relationships with other Natives.
SHARYL: The dominant culture would say we’re hoaky, crazy or weird… but …
Sharyl Whitehawk agrees with Mashkawisen’s traditional spiritual approach. AGAIN, SHE is an Ojibwe addictions counselor in Minneapolis.
SHARYL: We knew that the unseen world was as real as the seen world. we did not doubt that we did not have negative feelings about that. we knew that, we trusted that. one of our greatest resources. that if you have a dream, or a hunch or see a sign, … that they were real and we could trust them and because of that it was a strength for us.
She says American Indians who haven’t grow up with tradition still respond to the traditional teaching and ceremonies.
SHARYL: It’s like there’s a cellular memory - when you hear it, you know it for a truth and it’s ringing for you.
SECTION 7 - DAVID SAICE AND TRADITIONAL SPIRITUALITY
This is what worked for David Saice.
He was that young boy with pop and chips in the backseat of the car - parked in front of the bar - on Franklin Avenue.
As a kid, it didn’t take long for David to do what he saw his parent doing.
DAVID: Probably about 8 yrs old when i had my first drink of alcohol.
As a teenager in the 70’s, he drank and did speed. He sold drugs too. Got in trouble.
He also got in a lot of fights.
DAVID: I was proud of who i was as a Native. … You gonna call me a drunken Indian, you’re going to see what it feels like to get beat.
One of these fights actually started David on his path to sobriety.
DAVID: I was about 20 and i ended up messing up my hand… i went to swing at someone and went through a light fixture and then the light so i cut some nerves in my hand and some stitches. They weren’t sure if i was going to get use back or not.
His sister talked him into going to a ceremony…
DAVID: Which I didn’t believe in at the time - I was still drinking and what not. They had everything set up in a house in St. Paul. The lights were completely turned out, you could barely see your hand in front of your face.
I talked to a couple of different elders about that and they said a long time ago before white people came here they used to have ceremonies in the day time and you could see the spirits coming in and everyone knew what was going on and there was no issue. but with the Europeans coming in here, everything had to be kept quiet cause they wold come take people away and lock them up.
In the U-S, traditional Native spiritual practices were outlawed until 1978.
Some whites called it devil worship.
Natives didn't do their ceremonies or talk about them in public.
You actually rarely hear a story like David’s. But they are many out there.
DAVID: All the windows had covers on them. I sat back in a chair, my head touched the wall. I could see lights coming in from the ceiling.. it looked almost like fireflies. they were singing some ceremony songs and people were praying. I could hear these gourds going around the room and I kept thinking how is this guy doing this without stepping on kids bc there were kids sleeping all over the floor.
That rattling sound of the dried seeds in the gourds… he was trying to track it as it moved around the room.
DAVID: And then they kept getting louder and louder from behind me, but my head was against the wall. and pretty soon my head got pushed away from the wall and they went up and down my right arm. And a week later i got all use of my hand back.
David says - that was it.
DAVID: A light came on for me. this is the way i’m going to live my life the rest of my life. quit drugs, alcohol, everything.
He found a traditional spiritual practitioner that he trusted and he’s been on the road ever since.
He credits his 34 years of sobriety to his traditional spirituality.
But you know what — he says it’s not for everyone.
He hasn’t even introduced his grown children to traditional teachings.
He says that would be too much like how the Catholic Church forced religion onto the reservations.
He wants people to be free to make their own choices.
That goes for medically assisted treatment too — if an opioid addict want s to be on Methadone or some other drug to be OK.
Sharyl Whitehawk has a different opinion.
SECTION 8 - SHARYL - GET TO THE ROOT CAUSES
SHARYL: It’s a struggle for me …
Again, Sharyl is Ojibwe. And she is an alcohol and drug counselor in Minneapolis.
SHARYL: I believe Methadone and Suboxone were created for short term use — supposed to assist people in a gradual detox… and then … - we have to get to these unresolved traumas and reasons that people relapse or switch addiction.
Sharyl Whitehawk speaks from experience.
Awful things happened to her as a kid, but she speaks about it candidly, calmly…
SHARYL: There was this one Sunday morning where i was really hungover and i had been at a party the night before, i had been raped. and it was just another horror on top of the rest of them. i was trying to plan the perfect suicide bc i couldn't take it anymore.
The horrors started for Sharyl when she was a baby living with her parents and her siblings in Wisconsin.
SHARYL: I have generations of people in my family who come from alcoholism and family violence and that’s what i was born into. it was not a safe place to be a little girl. There was drinking all around me, there was violence all around me of all kinds…(:22)
According to the National Violence Against Women Survey in 2000, more than half of American Indian women are raped at least once in their lifetime.
When Sharyl was 11, she got drunk for the first time.
SHARYL: 57:56 …it grabbed me by the throat bc it was the first time the depression and anxiety and pain and fear and terror and shame and all of it went away. And i drank as much as i could as often as i could until something stopped me.
She drank so much, by the time she was 16 years old, the alcohol was destroying her body.
SHARYL: 58:52 … i couldn't keep food down and i was bleeding from everywhere …doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. they sent me to the mayo clinic and that was the first time the doc shut the door and asked — do you drink alcohol?
SHARYL: 59:31 i said yes, … he said you have destroyed your entire digestive system and you are going to die.
It took another year or two until that Sunday morning in front of the church.
[music weaves in]
SHARYL: It was summertime … and the people inside were singing a song - i had never felt safe in my life, someone watching over me, taking care of me and they were singing a song …, it was God talking saying i will never forget you my people - i hold you in the palm of my hand, i will never forget my own. and for some reason - i had no experience with god, religion, spirituality - and i stopped in my tracks and for the first time I felt God. I felt creator. And then god was talking to me. and saying every painful thing that is happening to you is getting at you through alcohol. Get it out of your life and you are going to be OK.
She says it was like a little light inside her was lit.
Sharyl had no money for any kind of inpatient or outpatient treatment. She was 17 years old. So she went to AA.
SHARYL: The first time i walked in there was a much of old white guys in there and i thought what am i going to have in common with these guys— female, young, brown, laughs - but you know what — you got to give a meeting 3 tries before you can quit. So i said OK, I’ll sit down. they were full of wisdom and they were so kind and gentle to me. a few crusty ones, but a few who were so cool.
She went cold turkey and stopped drinking.
But without the drinking — Sharyl still had a problem.
The violence in her childhood had created a cycle.
First, something awful and violent would happen - this is the trigger…
And Sharyl — would get quiet…
SHARYL: Be invisible, check out, comply, do whatever they say and you’re going to get hurt no matter what but if you fight back you’re going to get hurt worse or maybe you might die.
And then she’d drink to go numb.
When she got sober - she was still around a lot of violence - still around the triggers.
So something awful and violent would happen, and she would stay quiet, but she didn’t drink to — so she was just be left there with all those horrible feelings.
Over time she worked with traditional spiritual elders and she worked with therapists and then she found…
SHARYL: This one lady, i call her the angel lady, she was an experiential and shame based therapist - something that was totally different - -she had me doing these hoaky, weird little things… laughs ..
Sharyl says the Angel lady taught her how to reparent herself.
SHARYL: It was really hard… she had me look for a picture of myself bc i couldn’t quite remember when my first sexual abuse started and she said look for a picture and you’ll know it… i put some tobacco out and got all these pics from my mom and this picture just stood out to me and i said this was it.
The Angel lady told Sharyl to buy a doll and sew the picture on its little belly.
SHARYL: She said that’s you, the little you that never got held and protected and told that everything was going to be ok and all that stuff. and everyday i want you to spend time with her …and tell her now you are strong and now you are wise and now you know how to take care of us and you’ll be safe. do that for month and come back.
Well i felt so dumb doing it at first but it was really powerful. now i can do it without the doll. now if something triggers me i immediately have that picture of myself in my mind and I in a spiritual way i wrap myself around her and i tell her all those things and we are OK.
Sharyl has worked for decades through Alcoholics Anonymous, different therapies and the White Bison program - an indigenous version of the 12 steps. She says the process gave her a totally new sense of peace and power in her life.
SHARYL:[laughs] … my life is really good now.
She wants that for every woman and man struggling with addiction.
She feels in the long term - drugs offered in medically assisted treatment — help people numb themselves from the horrible feelings that come from their triggers.
To heal, she says — you need to get off all the drugs, get in touch with your feelings and …set yourself on a whole new path.
SHARYL: We are all born for a higher purpose. the whole reasons that you are here is — it’s no accident, there is something you are meant to do. … if you just keep doing the next right thing … creator has a purpose for you.
[music out or in]
SECTION 9 - ENDING PART 1
I like how you sum this up for us. I like the way you’re guiding the listener. It’s really working.
You dear listener now have a pretty good lay of the land - a broad Native perspective on addiction and treatment.
Many American Indians are concerned that medically assisted treatment programs with methadone and suboxone do not tend to the underlying trauma feeding the addiction.
People are not healing.
But the fear of overdose and death has driven others to embrace medically assisted treatment.
AMY: I respect and honor culture and community i think it’s critical. but right now those children are dying in the streets, in the bushes… in the alleyways..
How will the wisdom gained over generations be used in this current crisis?
More on that in the next half hour.
You are listening to a special edition of Minnesota Native News.
Reporter Melissa Townsend explores what we know about addiction in the Native community, and how that wisdom is shaping a response to the current crisis.
SECTION 10 - OPIOID FREAK OUT
In the 70’s and 80’s alcohol was the primary drug of choice among American Indians struggling with addiction.
Actually, it still is the most common drug of choice among all people, Natives included…
Opioids - prescription pain killers, heroine and the like - are getting all this attention because their use has risen so dramatically over the past 10 years.
and so have deaths from overdoses
The U-S, overdose death tripled between 2000 and 2014.
There’s one other thing, with many illicit drugs, men use more than women, but not with opioids… Women and men are using them equally - that includes pregnant women.
Which means babies are being effected even before they’re even born.
And that’s got many people saying the work that helped countless Natives break their addiction to alcohol and other drugs - it’s not enough to fight the chaos of opioid addiction.
AMY: This opioid animal is different from anything we’ve ever dealt with before. That receptor in the brain is demanding that opioid.
More and more attention is being turned to medically assisted treatment or M-A-T. That’s when a person struggling with opioid addiction is given methadone or suboxone or another opioid to meet their cravings. these are called maintenance drugs.
SECTION 11 - M-A-T TUTORIAL
REZNIKOFF: I’ve recently heard 5-6k people are in methadone treatment, a couple thousand in sub treatment.
This is Dr. Charlie Reznikoff. He works at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. He specializes in addictions medicine at its opioid treatment facility.
He is non-Native.
This is the clinic where he works. He’s walking me through the routine when a client who comes in for her dose of methadone.
REZNIKOFF: They check in, get a number. When their number comes up they come back to…
There are 16 methadone and Suboxone clinics in the state.
And they serve 65-hundred clients.
There are also 130 doctors with a special license to prescribe suboxone. They don’t have to be affiliated with a treatment clinic like this one.
And the state does not collect information on how many patients they serve.
REZNIKOFF: Then they come back here and they meet with a nurse and the nurse does a brief evaluation, confirms their identify etc, see how things are going. They dispense a methadone dose. And then some patients have privileges where they can take medicine home with them so at that point they pick up their medicine to go home with.
Dr. Reznikoff’s clinic primarily dispenses methadone because…
REZ: 17:35 …methadone is pennies —
But it can be hard to figure out the right dose because it’s a powerful drug.
REZNIKOFF: there is a risk a person gets too high a dose and their sleepy all day…
Suboxone is the brand name for Bupenorphine.
It’s making headlines as a better alternative to methadone,
It’s not as strong as methadone so it’s easier to dose.
but its more expensive…
REZNIKOFF: Bupenorphine is $8 as much has 10 for a single dose.
He says studies show both suboxone and methadone are effective in saving lives, reducing incarceration, and reducing infections like Hep C and HIV.
Also, they stay in your system for a long time. You can take them just once a day. And they reportedly block other opioids.
Last thing — Dr. Reznikoff says all the studies show both bupenorphine - or suboxone - and methadone are safe for long term use.
In fact, when a person tapers off she puts herself at risk.
Because if she relapses …
REZNIKOFF: Statistically that’s a risk for OD and death.
But some people do taper off.
Alright, got all that? Good.
SECTION 12 - RULE 25
[sound of walking up stairs]
No matter what kind of treatment you end up with — you start in a place like this.
I’m at the Indian Health Board in south Minneapolis. I have an appointment with Richard Wright, a drug and alcohol counselor here. He’s Ojibwe, from Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
Generally, when a person decides to - or is forced by the courts to - seek treatment, they start with a Rule 25.
In Minnesota, it’s required for anyone needing public assistance to pay for treatment.
It’s a comprehensive report detailing the person’s life and drug use history. It can take about 2 hours to complete. The counselor, in this case Richard, uses it to recommend a treatment plan.
Sometimes you have to wait 2 weeks between the time you decide to get treatment and the time you can get an appointment to do this.
There just aren’t enough counselors to meet demand.
As you might imagine, some people drop out in that time.
[sound of meeting with Richard]
Richard Wright’s office is cozy, there’s soft lighting and carpeted floors, there’s a braid of sweet grass hanging on the wall. There are no windows.
RICHARD: The first thing I would do is introduce myself, and say my name is Richard and on my rez they call me Crow. that’s my indian name, and i ask them if they have an indian name and i would ask them, what name can i use with you …
The Rule 25 report is computerized, the curser blinks, waiting for answers.
None of these questions are included in the report.
RICHARD: What tribe are you? Did you grow up on the rez? Are you aware of the cultural practices of your tribe and what are some of the ways that you heal?
Richard asks the client about herself and what drugs she uses…
RICHARD: A lot of them, they are fearful of this instrument and rightly so. if we take an american indian woman who is pregnant - everything she tells me is going to lead to the removal of her baby, so she is going to try to deceive me as much as she can [laughs] and i’m watching her do that and i feel sorry for her.
Richard has worked in chemical health with American Indians since 1989.
He believes in traditional medicines.
RICHARD: This here is the fourth medicine. It’s called sweet grass because you can smell it - its sweet smelling. [me] If we light it and we burn it, and it spreads in the room, then all the bad spirits will be asked to leave. If i’m treating a person then i would want to know if they were familiar with this ritual and did they want to use it in their healing…
He believes dealing with addiction is one step in a healing process …
and that healing takes intensive, tailored support…
He believes abstinence from drugs and alcohol is the goal.
That’s what he believes, but his job - when it comes to an opioid addict - is to recommend a treatment plan.
RICHARD: What i’m trained to do is send them to a methadone clinic.
He’s got some problems with that.
SECTION 13 - MAT CRITICISM
You often hear criticisms of methadone clinics and more broadly - medically assisted treatment programs.
People say — you’re just replacing one drug for another or it’s a free high.
They also say it doesn’t lead to healing the unresolved trauma that drives the addiction in the first place.
It’s also putting more drugs on the streets — addicts can get high off suboxone and methadone so the drugs get diverted and they’re sold illegally.
In some cases these drugs have actually become people’s first drug of choice.
Richard is concerned about all those things — but he’s got another beef.
For him, given the history that got us to this point — a business that runs off of addicted Indians… that’s… unsettling.
RICHARD: Methadone programs are industry programs. Yea, it’s making a lot of money.
Some Methadone clinics in Minnesota have upwards of a thousand patients.
Intensive residential treatment programs are reimbursed for only 16 patients at a time.
Methadone clinics serve more people and thus generate more revenue.
Plus the state reimburses treatment programs on a per day, per person basis — so a methadone patient can be on the drug for the long term — many many days.
A residential treatment programs lasts only 30, 60 or 90 days.
Richard Wright says methadone and suboxone clinics have a financial incentive to keep people on the drugs.
So he offers his clients some advice…
RICHARD: I always tell my people who come in here. i say you don’t have to be on this forever. talk to you doctor. when you get to the methadone clinic, tell your doctor that you don’t want to be on this forever…..
Or better yet - he’d like them to go cold turkey.
Richard and Sharyl Whitehawk say there is a case to be made for getting off the drugs and getting intensive help.
SHARYL: I have a daughter who became addicted to Oxy after a really terrible car accident and she had to detox cold turkey. It was horrible. Excruciating. She said mom, — that horror of what that felt like to detox is my greatest relapse prevention tool.
RICHARD: It’s manageable. It’s doable. You go through a lot of pain but in 6-7 days it’s gone.
But there is one big exception.
In 2015 over half of American Indian newborn babies in Minnesota were dependent on opioids.
Even Richard who favors the cold turkey approach says pregnant women addicted to opioids need to use methadone or suboxone - at least for a while.
That is what Ashley did.
SECTION 14 - ASHLEY/PREGNANT WOMEN
[AMBI SOUND: Child trips over cord and cries… child calmed down, laughing, talking with mom]
Ashley lives with her 2 year old daughter Maddie in south Minneapolis. She is Ojibwe.
Those are not their real names because Ashley asked me not to use those.
ASHLEY: She had to be in the hospital for 2 weeks bc they said she was showing signs of withdrawal. They had her on a real small dose of morphine. they said she was doing great, it was just her first couple of days. bc she was crying a lot.
Ashley’s from Minneapolis. She lived there until she was 7. Then here mom died. Her dad wasn’t totally in the picture, her grandma couldn’t take care of Ashley and her brother, so she went to live with her Aunt in Canada.
ASHLEY: It was good up there … I grew up traditional so I know my culture…
She got into a relationship with a boy who quickly became abusive… she fled Canada knowing he wasn’t allowed into the United States.
Back in Minneapolis, she says she lost connection with her traditional teachings.
Eventually she started taking pills.
ASHLEY: I was 19 at the time. I was hanging around with my oldest brother. They were already into the Oxy’s when they were big back then.
Oxy is OxyContin. Thanks!
ASHLEY: I I was doing vics and perks, not addicted, just doing them for fun.
Vics are Vicodin and percs are Percocet. Thanks again!
ASHLEY: I liked how it brought me up when i was feeling down.
It was around that time she met another young man.
ASHLEY: I had met my daughter’s dad… [daughter talks] we started off talking and kicking it - it was supposed to be a one night stand it didn't turn into that.
She ended up getting pregnant right away. She didn’t know it until she was having a miscarriage.
ASHLEY: That’s when I started with the oxys. i went from vics, to perks to oxys.
She got arrested a few times, was in and out of drug court and treatment centers. She’d quit pills for a while and then picked them up again.
She wasn’t really paying attention to birth control or that sort of thing.
And then there came a turning point that changed her life.
ASHLEY: In 2011 i got pregnant with my son. i carried him until i was 25 weeks pregnant. I thought I was going to be ok, just quit cold turkey. I didn't tell my midwife that I was using. she asked and i said no.
Ashley’s midwife is Amy Langenfeld. She works at Indian Health Board in Minneapolis. She is non-Native.
AMY: With most drugs we want you to stop all drugs and alcohol in pregnancy. If you read parenting mags and such they are going to tell you not to even eat baloney, cold cuts, soft cheese… But the concept of opioids is opposite of that.
Amy says it’s the withdrawals that really hurt the baby.
AMY: It’s cuts the oxygen to the fetus and significantly increases the risk of death and damage to that baby.
But at the time Ashley was too scared to tell Amy about the pills.
This is a nice echo of Richard’s sadness over working with pregnant women.
ASHLEY: I thought she was going to call someone on me. I was paranoid bc i was already on the run, i was pregnant, I was using. in my eyes i just look like this bad person so I didn’t say anything about it.
And midwife Amy — knows this — she’s worked with a lot of women in Ashley’s shoes.
AMY: The first thing i do is validate their bravery. They just came into a white woman they don’t know and told them something that historically would have gotten their baby taken away. I get them connected to a methadone clinic, as a pregnant woman they go to the front of the line. and it’s a long line…
A dose of Methadone lasts 27 hours. As long a you take one dose a day - there are generally no withdrawals.
Ashley didn’t know any of this.
Nice use of music here
She had already quit the pills and suffered through the withdrawals.
She thought she was doing the right thing. But…
ASHLEY: I was going in to go see if i was having a boy or a girl …the day before the appointment i felt my son moving around, but not moving around as much. As soon as she put the thing on, you couldn’t see his heart beat — he was already gone.
They induced labor and Ashley gave birth - to her son - the next day.
She’s not sure if her withdrawals are what ended his life. Its an unanswered question in her mind.
ASHLEY: I felt guilty… i don’t know if it was me or natural causes but… In my mind I thought this is a lesson. i didn’t know what the lesson was at the time…
Ashley relapsed back into using pills.
And then — she found out she was pregnant again.
ASHLEY: And I was like oh god - here we go again. I was just scared. I instantly called my midwife and i told her - i was pregnant and i was crying. i was like i don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lose the baby, i don’t know if i should just have an abortion -… so at the time Amy was like OK we can get you in. I was in there the very next day. she knew i was using and …she … she helped me get through the weekend. ..
Ashley sort of stops talking here. she looks like she’s 1000 miles away. I ask her what she’s thinking about.
ASHLEY: My son - just trying to piece everything together. Like when i say i try to take the good from the bad… the creator wouldn’t just put him in my life just to put him in my life. he came into my life for a learning experience. He wasn’t a mistake. My son helped me become a better parent for my daughter
SECTION 15 - PROJECT CHILD
Midwife Amy Langenfeld works with Hennepin County Medical Center Obstetrics department, the county’s Addiction Clinic and another county service called Project CHILD.
In the 5 years between 2010 and 2015 the collaborative worked with nearly 70 opioid addicted expectant moms - like Ashley.
All but 2 of them went home with their babies. When moms use illicit street drugs, the baby is taken by chid protection immediately.
The collaborative is not culturally specific and they highly encourage staying on methadone.
[bring in kid sound]
When Ashley was first pregnant with her daughter, midwife Amy Langenfeld helped her and her boyfriend both got on methadone.
She says from the beginning she was fixed on tapering off after the baby came.
And she did.
Now - she takes care of her energetic 2 year old daughter and her 6 year old niece.
Ashley rents a house, she has a full time job, and a car and she’s planning on going to school soon.
With all these strong opinions about Methadone and medically assisted treatment.
I wondered how Ashley’s experience differs from someone who has decided to stay on methadone.
Of course, everyone in this situation has a unique experience - but I visited with a woman named Nicole.
SECTION 16- NICOLE
[sound of lock box on table]
Nicole keeps her methadone in a plastic bag in this lock box on the top shelf of her closet — out of reach of her children.
She is Ojibwe. She doesn’t want to use her last name.
She’s been on methadone for nearly 3 years.
NICOLE: I don’t tell many people because they’re like - well, you’re not really sober. and I’m like yea, i am. i got my children back, I’m living a good life, I’m functioning daily. it’s a way of thinking, I’m not out there involved with people who are drug dealers, i changed my whole life, yes I am.
Nicole’s addiction started in 2009 with oxyContin - swallowing the pills, then snorting them, then shooting them…
When the OxyContin pill changed to a gelcap you couldn’t crush them anymore… so she moved to heroine.
NICOLE: The way I feel when i think about it, I just feel sad. It was just dark and sad. i can’ t even listen to songs from that time bc they remind me of being dope sick or me feeling hopeless.
She was in and out of treatment for years. Until finally, she had had enough…
NICOLE: I said, I’m just done, i’m so sick of living like this i’m going to get in treatment and do what i got to do.
And she did it.
She got on methadone and successfully finished a intense outpatient treatment program.
She doesn’t practice traditional teachings, but she says her belief in God and her church is really a great support.
She rents a spacious house on the north side of Minneapolis with her boyfriend who is also in recovery.
And now that she has regained custody of her children, she is busy taking care of them.
NICOLE: I just try to show them love. You know I didn’t get a lot of love when i was younger. You know, so I try to make them feel good about themselves. I think I would have turned out a lot better if I would have got these things. You know what I mean?
SECTION 17 - THE NEED FOR HEALING
To this point Ashley and Nicole’s experiences on methadone are pretty similar.
Both have kicked the illicit drug use and regained a relatively stable life.
But sobriety - however you define it - is a lifelong process …
and methadone is one step…
Midwife Amy Langanfeld is a huge advocate for methadone and suboxone during pregnancy but even she says …
AMY: Once their baby is born, they’re just themselves again. Often women don’t get to adequately heal from that addiction, their self worth is usually not restored or developed, so it’s very easy for them to regress back to the emotional pain management of the illicit drugs. there are very few programs that support postpartum women.
Ashley recently broke up with her boyfriend — Maddie dad. So she’s on her own.
ASHLEY: I was let down by my mom bc you know this woman was supposed to raise me and be here for me it’s not her fault … I think it is kind of her fault for passing away - it’s kind of harsh to say that but in my eyes, if you know you have kidney failure, you’re not supposed to drink ,why do you keep drinking? I don’t know if anyone else has felt that before about a loved one or anyone.
She’s still off the pills, but she’s drinking.
ASHLEY: It’s mostly thursdays. That’s my me time to be able to go out and have some drinks, get drunk and then go back to work.
Nicole is still on methadone, she has her children, a stable income, a solid home. ..
But just like Ashley, some old wounds still need to heal.
NICOLE: It’s hard for me to trust sometimes, you know. It’s so embedded in you cause you grew up like that from not trusting the cops, don’t trust he white people. And then with alcoholic or drug addict parents…I was on my own at 13 years old. literally on my own. You know so - around people that you have always watch, wonder if they are telling you the truth or with your head over your shoulder because you don’t know what they’re going to do. You grew up in theta environment, you grew up not trusting.
Nicole is working with a group of Native women in Minneapolis to build a supportive housing complex for women who have struggled with opioid addiction
It would focus on healing with traditional Native teachings and different therapy options.
Nicole says she thinks it might be a place where she could find some people she could trust.
NICOLE: When someone lived the life i lived, i feel like a connection to them you. Like, oh she gets me.
The group is looking for funding.
Which brings us to our last consideration — besides experience and theory and opinion — there is money.
Money earmarked for opioid addiction treatment is generally headed in a different direction — toward medically assisted treatment.
What kinds of treatment are being supported by federal, state and tribal funds?
SECTION 18 - FEDERAL, STATE & TRIBAL FOCUS
[FOX NEWS - OBAMA ANNOUNCEMENT OF FUNDS FOR TREATMENT]
Congress hasn’t approved that billion dollars, but if they do, 970 million of it would support medically assisted treatment programs like methadone or suboxone.
REZNIKOFF: Methadone is Pennies.
970-million dollars is a lot of pennies.
In Minnesota, state official are also saying they want to increase medically assisted treatment.
They say it’s a good alternative to illicit drugs…it reduces overdose deaths, cuts drug trafficking and a lot of the crime that goes along with it.
But many American Indians say there needs to be more money for deeper treatment to address the pain the drives the addiction.
In Minnesota, People are waiting as long as a month between their Rule 25 and a spot in a residential treatment program.
[WHITE HOUSE video fades in]
OBAMA: Hey Everybody. I’ve got a special guest with me this week.
In May 2016 the White House produced a video featuring President Obama and the musician Macklemore - who has struggled with his own opioid addiction.
MACKELMORE: I know recovery isn’t easy or quick, but along with a 12 step program, treatment has saved my life.
President Obama list some actions his administration is taking to help people get treatment…
OBAMA: And under Obamacare, health plans in the marketplace have to include coverage for treatment.
Yes, Obamacare calls for coverage of addiction treatment.
But specific insurance directives in the Minnesota Exchange, are actually undermining some treatment programs that don’t offer suboxone or methadone.
SECTION 19 - TRIBAL RESPONSE - FOND DU LAC
Rick Colsen runs the Tagwii Recovery Center.
It’s a long term recovery center for natives run by natives on the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation in Northern Minnesota.
The program is funded by tribal, state, federal and dollars.
RICK: Early on we have figured out how to do treatment with opioid addicts - really focusing on case management services so that things outside of treatment start to stabilize so we can start working with that client internally much faster.
When a person comes to Tagwii saying they want treatment, Colsen’s staff first helps them get into a 30, 60 or 90 day in-patient treatment program.
Colsen calls it a detox period.
Once they finish, clients can spend up to 18 months here at Tagwii.
RICK: There’s lots of research the longer you keep a client engaged in treatment activities, the more successful they are.
Colsen does not want to start a medically assisted treatment program with suboxone or methadone, but he thinks he might have to.
RICK: With the affordable care act and more people on state funded insurance companies, we have to get first prior authorization to place them in in-patient treatment - we don’t always get that…
When they do get insurance company’s authorization for treatment, sometimes the patient isn’t allowed to finish out the program…
RICK: They are getting diverted into Suboxone or Methadone programs and being discharged within 10 days.
That is — they get sent home early from treatment with a prescription to a maintenance drug.
And they don’t come back to Tagwii for counseling and case management.
Rick says, he loses them.
It’s unclear how often this is happening, but Rick and others are concerned.
Fond du Lac and Mill Lacs Bands of Ojibwe and others are working with the state of Minnesota to change the rules for insurance companies on the state’s exchange.
SECTION 18 - TRIBAL RESPONSE - LEECH LAKE
It’s clear there are differing opinions about the value of medically assisted treatment.
Rick Colsen runs a program that does not embrace the practice.
But our last story is about a tribe that does.
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has been running its own Suboxone program since 2009.
It’s the oldest tribal Suboxone program in the state.
The number of clients hovers around 90.
Like most other M-A-T programs — it is controversial.
Becky White is the program’s Director.
She is Ojibwe.
BECKY: A lot of the community members say that we are just giving out a pill to take care of pills that they are already taking. This is not true.
The program does not gear people towards tapering - that’s an individual’s decision.
But Becky says clients have to see a counselor or case manager weekly. They have to attend 2 group meetings a month, and they have to produce a clean urine screenings. No illicit drug use.
There’s one other common criticism of the program —you guessed it - its business side.
Many are unsettled that their own tribe is making money off tribal members who are struggling with addiction.
I don’t have the financials for the program, but Becky White says it’s doing very well financially. Here’s how she explains it.
BECKY: It’s going well. I don’t think I want to say anything more about … [is that a point of tension in the community] I can tell you how we are helping in the community - we help with funding of other buildings…
She says money from the Suboxone program has helped rehab a nearby homeless shelter, build a brand new tribal justice center and an assisted living facility for elderly people.
BECKY: So, yes, we are bringing in revenue and that revenue is helping our community.
LeRoy Staples Fairbanks is on the Leech Lake Tribal Council and he used to work at the opioid program.
LEROY: It could become perception that people become dollar signs at that point, it’s definitely not an economic development venture for us - that we are going to make money off of people and it’s going to save us.
He says the financial success of the program allows the tribe to explore opening their own in-patient facility, and shift focus to prevention.
LEROY: With the kind of drug use everything is so disconnected. We need to get the community element back together, to helping one another again, real long term stuff. [trails off]
Leroy and I are talking in his office.
He’s behind his desk and at this moment he reaches for a blue post.
He peels it off his computer monitor.
Written in pencil, in all caps it says HEALING CEREMONY.
He says he’s been thinking for a while that the tribe needs to turn its focus to healing as a community.
Like Antony and Sharyl, Ashley and Nicole — tribal communities may be able to find a way to turn this opioid addiction crisis into an opening for deep healing.
To come out stronger than they were before.
For this special edition of Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.
The opioid and heroin abuse crisis has hit the U.S. hard, with overdoses tripling between 2000 and 2015. In Minnesota, Native communities struggle with helping people heal and the historical trauma at the root of this addiction crisis. Melissa Townsend reports.
We amplify stories of people within Minnesota’s Native communities. We explore the history, work, strength, and resiliency of Native people who are shaping the future while appreciating those who came before.
The podcast is hosted by Leah Lemm and Cole Premo, siblings, who are both members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, in addition to being part of the Minnesota Native News producing team.
Season one of Native Lights Podcast covers of topics including music, art, parenthood, adoption, foster care, addiction, and violence. We examine media portrayals of Native people and the absent or invisible narratives that allow stereotypes and misconceptions to persist.
Native Lights Podcast is a production of Minnesota Native News and Ampers, Diverse Radio for Minnesota’s Communities, and made possible by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Culture Heritage Fund, and the Citizens of Minnesota.You
You can find Native Lights wherever you get your podcasts.
Or you can listen here: https://www.blubrry.com/nativelights/
“Wellness Rising: Coming Together to Prevent and Manage Diabetes” is a magazine style show, featuring vital perspectives from health providers, community members, and people with diabetes, all sharing their insights and wisdom on how to prevent and manage diabetes.
Reporter Melissa Townsend sits down with Dr. Arne Vainio and Dr. Mary Owen to talk about the rising rates of diabetes in Native communities and other issues in culturally appropriate Native healthcare.
Dr. Vainio is from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. We is a physician at the tribal clinic on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation.
Dr. Owen is Tlinket from southeast Alaska. She is a family physician at the Leech Lake tribal clinic in Cass Lake. She is also the Director of the Center on American Indian and Minority Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She is based in Duluth, Minnesota.
This is a special edition of Minnesota Native News, a radio documentary about young people learning new and ancient respect for water. In this one-hour radio documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at a play performed by Native youth called “We Will Do it for the Water”. The actors are Twin Cities teenagers, and they belong to a theatre group called Ikidodwin. Ikidowin is part of the Indigenous People’s Task Force led by Sharon Day. Sharon Day wrote the play with input from the youth, and Curtis Kirby III directed it. As you’ll hear, it was performed for the first time June first. It has been staged at colleges and theatres in the Upper Midwest, with more performances coming up. MN Native News contributor Laurie Stern, has the story.
This is a special edition of Minnesota Native News, a radio documentary about young people learning new and ancient respect for water. In this one-hour radio documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at a play performed by Native youth called “We Will Do it for the Water”. The actors are Twin Cities teenagers, and they belong to a theater group called Ikidodwin.
Ikidowin is part of the Indigenous People’s Task Force led by Sharon Day. Sharon Day wrote the play with input from the youth, and Curtis Kirby III directed it. As you’ll hear, it was performed for the first time June first. It has been staged at colleges and theaters in the Upper Midwest, with more performances coming up. MN Native News contributor Laurie Stern, has the story.
Note: Documentary is self-contained with intro and tag included within the audio.
Nearly 8-thousand American Indians from over 40 different sovereign tribes live in Minneapolis. And since the 1960’s, the section of Franklin Avenue between 11th and Cedar streets has been a gathering place for many. The community was established by Native leaders who brought a sense of tribal sovereignty to their urban community. And that same sense of self-determination continues today.
Reporter Melissa Townsend takes us to Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis where a new generation’s work is growing this sense of urban Native sovereignty.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently released a report officially recording the inhumane practices of the Canadian Indian Boarding School system and the resulting historical trauma on indigenous people. The report calls for 92 different policy changes to address that historical trauma.
In the U.S., truth and reconciliation movements are emerging. Erma Vizenor, Chairwoman of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, is working with the National Congress of American Indians calling for a National Commission on American Indian Boarding School Policy.
This presentation features Erma Vizenor and Michael McNally, Professor of Religion at Carlton College. The two talk about the Episcopal church’s previous support of the Doctrine of Discovery and U.S. Indian Boarding School policy. Vizenor discusses the movement to bring truth and reconciliation to the U.S. The event was held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis on May 30th, 2015.
On June 6th in Bemidji Minnesota a new statue of Chief Bemidji is being dedicated. He is the Native American namesake of the town. He will stand on the shores of Lake Bemidji right next to the 18 foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. These statues represent the two cultures present in this small community in Minnesota’s north woods. Bemidji is a predominantly white town that borders three of the largest and most populous American Indian reservations in Minnesota: the Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. To the coalition of Native Americans and non-Natives behind the new Chief Bemidji statue — this is more than a bronze monument — it’s an opportunity for truth telling and reconciliation in this Minnesota border town.
This is the second in a two part series about the small city of Bemidji and the work people there are doing to show that Native Lives Matter. Bemidji is a city of about 15-thousand in Minnesota’s north woods. Native Americans – mostly Ojibwe or Anishinabe – make up about 50 percent of the population in the metro region. The town is near the borders of THREE of the largest and most populous Indian reservations in the state — the Red Lake Nation on the north, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to the east and the White Earth Nation to the southwest.
Over the past 50 years, Natives and non-Natives have been finding ways to make American Indians here less romanticized and less demonized. And yet – deep racial disparities persist in hospitals, in schools and in jails.
In this half hour we’re hear about a new movement that’s building now.It’s focused on telling truths about the past to change minds and eventually the structures the maintain these racial inequities. Here’s reporter Melissa Townsend…
HOST INTRO (Marie Rock)
This is a special extended edition of Minnesota Native News, I’m Marie Rock.
This is the second in a two part series about the small city of Bemidji and the work people there are doing to show that Native Lives Matter.
BEMIDJI a city of about 15-thousand in Minnesota’s north woods.
Native Americans - mostly Ojibwe or Anishinabe - make up about 50 percent of the population in the metro region.
The town is near the borders of THREE of the largest and most populous Indian reservations in the state — the Red Lake Nation on the north, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to the east and the White Earth Nation is to the southwest.
Over the past 50 years, Natives and non-Natives have been finding ways to make American Indians here less romanticized and less demonized. And yet - deep racial disparities persist in hospitals, in schools and in jails.
In this half hour we’re hear about a new movement that’s building now.
It’s focused on telling truths about the past to change minds and eventually the structures the maintain these racial inequities.
Here’s reporter Melissa Townsend…
SECTION 1 - How things have changed
Let me introduce you to John Gonzalez.
He’s a psychology professor at Bemidji State University.
He basically studies prejudice and discrimination and their impacts on Native people.
He himself is Ojibwe — he’s a citizen of the White Earth Nation but now he live-in bemidji
GONZALEZ: old fashioned racism
Certainly there are lots of stories of the overt, sort of old-fashioned racism where people have open, aggression and hostility towards Native people …..
Like what Anton Treuer experienced - 35 year ago in his middle school shop class. (I want to use this again bc it brings us back…)
ANTON TRC 14:05 … there were four kids sitting around a quad table in shop class. and i was the only native at our table. And the kids started in - indians re all drunks, they’re just leeches on the gov, they’re running us dry.
… now a-days for the most part that type of racism is unacceptable in society right, there’s still a few of those folks out there but most people are good decent people right…
Like Kathleen McKinstra at the recent Bemijigimaag pow wow
KATHLEEN: … i realize that when i come to an event like this i realize how ignorant i am and how much i have yet to learn. … and it’s time to get going on that.
GONZALEZ: “stereotypes/good people”
ADD BACK IN - I truly believe that - good decent people [space]
You hear the but coming, right?
Here’s the paradox right - … we were raised to believe in equality, to believe in respect, we’re raised by our parents to treat people how you want to be treated, right. So if that’s true, how come we have such inequality in society - how do those things go together?
[music comes up for a second…]
Professor John Gonzalez says good and decent people act in oppressive and racist ways without necessarily knowing it.
EDITED VERSION: We have this unfortunate terrible history around race in our country … and every single one of us have inherited that history and we’re taught every single day unconsciously even - … the stereotypes for every single … group… right — [white, black, native, latino, asian, arab, muslim, gay, straight] - and all of the research shows that if a stereotype exists about a group unconsciously we act upon those stereotypes outside of our own awareness.
So those painful stereotypes of the drunken indian on welfare — those are at work — everywhere — all the time.
In this half hour we hear about three different efforts/ to take on the stereotypes— to offer a different narrative and begin a process of change.
SECTION 2 -RENEE GURNEAU
Talking with people for this story I often asked American Indians about any personal experiences they had with racism.
I heard about things that happened in schools, in stores, on streets.
And then I asked Renee Gurneau.
MEL 4:44 did you have experiences of racism in Bemidji as a young person
RENEE: Laughs. what? laughs…
:05 some people think that racism is a personally bad attitude. it’s not. um. what it is is a pervasive and its institutionalized and its part of every aspect of american life. and native people are on the receiving end of that inequity more than any other group.
5:56 it is systemic and pervasive in all of bemidji life. TRIM THIS
And Renee refuses to let this system
14:25 … i am always always clear that um, wherever i am, i’m standing in the position of the indigenous person of this land and that other people are guest in my house. i am not a guest in there’s.
Renee’s a community educator and I sat down with her just after she wrapped a four day training.
We were in an empty room at the Y in Grand Rapids - another Border town about an hour southwest of Bemdji.
[need sound in here]
Her training is called the Anishinabe worldview. It’s a class she offers community groups.
This Grand Rapids class was all white and included two police officers, a few counselors, and a legal aid attorney.
In it she talks about traditional ways of the Anishinabe — sustainable hunting and gathering, some of the community customs, and a bit about the spirituality that connects them to their ancestors and the land.
She says she offers people the history lesson they never learned in school…. the things they never heard about — and the things they heard, but not from a Native perspective.
8:29 …the colonization of this land you know is coached in these real glorious - open land for settlement kind of um ,terms and um, that’s certainly not how we experienced it. we experienced it as an invasion and a genocide and a holocaust that was beyond belief.
And this leads to what seems like the crux of the whole 4 day training — before white colonization, Renee says there were no crises in Native Communities. That is - no problems with addiction, violence, abandonment, disease.
RENEE 3:26 … poverty and suicide and you know drop out and all of those.
3:55 all of that kind of talk, um is presented as though those problems originate from within the community when in fact they are responses to oppression.
Renee - an many others - believe the high rates of addiction, violence and disease in Native communities are the by-products of the trauma Native people experienced trying to survive a genocide that lasted generations.
5:42 if you were to go into the county jail - who would you see there? Native people. if you go into the detention at a high school, who would you see - native people there.
MEL: Without a complete, truthful understanding of American history, you might think Native populations are just troubled, predisposed to dysfunction. Boom, stereotype confirmed.
RENEE 10:22 …- there needs to be a deeper understanding of the historical trauma - what does that mean exactly… and we’re finding out more and more about what that means all the time. but right now um, it’s just in the US it’s just a very very very beginnings of that conversation.
Through her trainings, Renee Gurneau is doing her part to get more people talking about historical trauma.
After Renee took off —
ADD [ambi from the preamble of this meeting}
I stuck around and met with some of the people who had been in her Anishinabe Worldview training.
It’s possible some folks didn’t like this training and left without talking with me. But the people who stayed said it was pretty profound.
SCOTT: My name is Scott Johnson and I’m the Chief of Police in Grand Rapids.
Scott Johnson said this training was a real eye-opener.
JOHNSON: In the United States we make policy that we think is best for people. Sometimes it’s - let’s hope most of the time it’s meant to further these people, benefit these people, but I think what we realize now when it comes to the native american population - it’s done a lot of harm. This generation may not be responsible for making those policies, but we are responsible for doing the best we can do right those policies.
LYNN: Lynn Cochran, Northland Counseling Residential Services
Lynn Cochran is white. She works as a mental health counselor and crisis support contact in Itasca County — just next to Bemidji’s Beltrami county.
During the training Lynn says she kept remembering a encounter with a Native teen from a few years back —
5:11 … a 14 year old girl … came in with her grandma and she had had some suicidal behavior at school, some suicidal talk. so they brought her into the ER in Deer River …i came in do an assessment as crisis response team.
5:41— the grandmother was …- trying to help me understand why they didn’t want to do the kind of …plan i was offering…let’s look at getting her in for some therapy, let’s look at um, getting her some medication possibly, -
6:04 this girl is having visions that i thought at the time i thought were hallucinations but grandma thought those were spiritual beings that were trying to speak to her and give her teachings. I didn’t get that at all at the time … but i feel like now i would probably have the direction to send them n the right direction.
6:58 mel - what would you do differently?
7 i would suggest more tribal resources, more ceremonial life, more focus on getting in connect with an elder from the tribe or asking them about who their family connections are and where they’re from rather than that they participate in systems. [MEL: that’s a huge shift].
7:27 ….. we are so trained to look for the directory, the written plan and have ok, on this day we’re going to do this and the next thing we are going to do this is and it’s very compartmentalized like that and that’s not how Native culture works. And so they don’ t mesh very well. (cut end)
MEL 8:56 when you had this training - this is really a personal question — and then you look back at that example, do you feel bad?
9:58 we talked about white guilt in our training - and uh, what did she say — you don’t have to have white guilt. you’re just busted … so it’s just kind of like just realizing, oh, that’s what happened. it’s just a realization and undersigning for me rather than necessarily feeling badly about it. i don’t think i could have done anything differently at that time, i just didn’t have the tools.
[music here - upbeat but subtle]
Social worker Lynn Cochran learned something new about the Anishinabe experience and it changed her perspective in a fundamental way.
Sometimes things don’t go this smoothly. sometimes there’s -well, let’s say - resistance — to hearing the Anishinabe side of the colonization story.
SECTION 3 - Chief Bemidji Statue
[water/street ambi in with music] Good cue for a shift.
Bemidji’s most famous landmark is a giant statue of the mythological lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his companion, Babe the Blue Ox.
Bunyan stands 18 feet high and weighs 2 and 1/2 tons!
And in [THIS] June they are getting a new neighbor.
A new bronze statue of Chief Bemidji will be dedicated.
He is - obviously - the namesake of the town - a respected Native American leader who lived here during the timber boom [PERIOD MUSIC IN HERE] in the late 1800’s.
His Ojibwe name is Shaynowishkong.
JODY: DICHOTOMY That’s the dichotomy of America isn’t it - from a fairy tale to reality.
Jody Beaulieu is a Native woman from Red Lake.
You might remember her from the first part of this series. The past few years she’s been on the Chief Bemidji Statue committee - the group that’s driven this entire project.
So when you go to visit Paul and Babe — you can pick up a paper pamphlet that has stories about their quote unquote life and times in the area….
The plan for the new Chief Bemidji doesn’t include a paper pamphlet, instead the statue will have 4 bronze plaques with information about his life and times.
The proposed information on those four plaques is —ummm — different from what you’ll get from Paul ….
Here’s what I mean…
[i’d really like some percussion music in here — shaker or drum]
LARS READING OF PAUL BUNYAN PAMPHLET: Paul Bunyan, legendary superman and woodsman, hero of the early logging days,
JODY: … the utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the indians , their lands and property should never be taken from them without their consent.
LARS: Northern Minnesota was the center of his mighty exploits and this area was Paul’s Playground. [really hit this last word!]
JODY:and the land dwindled down from 138 million acres to 1887, to 48 million acres in 1984.
LARS: Paul is said to have dug and built Niagara Falls for a shower bath… and he dug Lake Superior as a watering trough for Babe, his blue ox.
JODY: people were forced to go hundreds of miles away to get the annuities that they had coming for the land that they gave up and quite a few of them died along the way - so we have that in here.
LARS: No feat of strength or courage was beyond Paul’s power, no obstacle stumped him.
JODY: Truth telling is the basis for the acknowledgement of injustice and suffering and the restoration of human dignity. the honor of one is the honor of all.
[music fades slowly]
To Jody Beaulieu and the whole Shaynowkishkong statue committee, this piece of art is an opportunity to give an honest telling of the Anishinabe experience in this region.
BUT - IN order to include any of this on the four bronze plaques — Jody and the whole Statue committee needed to get the approval of the 7 member, all white, city council.
Jody knew it wouldn’t be an easy task… which seemed to only make her more determined.
JODY - BUNYAN You have this fictitious Pal Bunyan and the Blue Ox and how long has that been going on and yet we’re trying to deal with someone that the city is named after and you have problems with what were trying to put on the plaques? Isn’t it time to get real? Isn’t it time to come out of the fairy tale? Powerful!
SECTION 4 - CITY COUNCIL MEETING
[city council meeting ambi]
MAYOR BEGINNING: We’re going to go on to our next item on the agenda which is consider the plaque language for the chief bemidji statue….
On april 20th the Bemidji city council met to vote on the information to be presented on the on 4 Chief Bemidji statue
DEVIATION Council member Roger Hellquist: I view it as a quite a deviation from the intent that we originally had when we funded the project. [fade to bed]
Council member Roger Hellquist said he thought it would be more of a celebration of the Indian heritage in the area.
[bring up sound]
NO HISTORY Council member Roger Hellquist: i didn’t look at it as a history lesson i’m well aware of the atrocities that have done and have read a number of different books on it, it’s just that i didn't think this was the place for it.
They were all fine with the basic information about his birth, death, life as a peacemaker — negotiating with reps from the rail road and timber industries.
But some did not like the information about broken treaties, stolen land, the war of 1862…
Councilmember Nancy Erickson especially didn’t like including the famous quote from Andrew Myrick about American Indians that says “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.”
MERRICK NANCY: That statement is an insult. It’s an insult to the white population and certianly it holds no value whatsoever. that statement. that is the core of where i am coming from when i am talking about these plaques. [fade to bed]
Myrick was a white businessman in minnesota involved in the conflict over supplies that lead to the war of 1862. He was killed in that war.
[bring up sound]
MERRICK NANCY: this is what happened 150 years ago and should be buried — should be buried along with the man. Those words hold no value; they do no uplifting.
The statue committee’s research shows Shaynowishkong persuaded Ojibwe people not to join the Dakota in the war.
Mitch Blessing, who is not native, is on the statue committee.
He stood at a podium looking up at the 7 member council seated at their raised bench.
And he made his case for including all of the proposed information.
My daughter is 7 years old now and she’s reading books now by herself and she’ll be one of those kids that’s going to read that plaque. and i wanted you to know that from a very heartfelt place i am concerned about fear and about bad things that have happened and saying things that are painful and i also believe that the things that i have learned with my daughter and she has learned from me have been from the hard questions. daddy is that happened? why did someone say that bad thing? why did someone kill that person? and i have had to learn how to communicate to her those facts….
Mayor Rita Albrecht said all the information on the plaques should be approved.
MAYOR SUPPORT Mayor RITA: We have tried for many years to sanitize history and ignore history and to not really be truth tellers and here is our opportunity to be brave as council member Olson said and be courageous and to acknowledge the fact that we have a history that we are not proud of…
Councilmember Mealhouse WAS ALSO FOR THE PLAQUES.
COUNCIL MEMBER MICHAEL MEEHLHOUSE: I think all 4 of these plaques really speak to despite all the challenges he faced, they speak to the person he became….
[bring up jody slowly]
Toward the end of the debate, Jody Beaulieau says she felt like it was too close to call so she got up to make one final passionate plea…
Be brave , she said….
JODY: We have been brave alone for far too long,miigwich.
And with that - The 4 plaques that accompany the new Chief Bemidji bronze statue - will tell the story of Shaynowishkong - how he built relationships and negotiated with white businessmen and his own Anishinabe people as their annuities were cut, their land was taken, and they were moved to reservations.
JODY STARTED TO SING???? - song?
Council member Nancy Erickson declined an interview request to talk about the plaques and the council’s vote. In an email she wrote — As soon as the Council votes on any issue before it, the matter is settled, and we accept the majority rule.
ADDED JODY- elated
ADDED TRANSITION LINE - hard won victory.. a sober reminder.
SECTION 5 - SYSTEMIC CHANGE
ANTON CLAPPING: — people can get behind … a feel good moment, it’s easier to go clap at a statue commemoration -and i’ll be there clapping too and i do feel like that has meaning but what’ s harder is sustaining that into a deeper and more meaningful change.
Anton Treuer, Director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemdiji State is leading a new effort to do just that.
It’s called the truth and reconciliation effort and Anton says about 150 people have been in meetings since the beginning of 2014.
Anton says, it’s tough.
ANTON WEB: Nobody wants to get beat up for the sins of their ancestors and it’s kind of hard to see the things that are not overt racism. the overt things those are easy to see but how a whole web of smaller, privileges and practices really serve to marginalize Native people — it’s harder to see…
SECTION 6 - TRC
[bring in room ambi]
I met up with a small group of people involved in the truth and reconciliation effort.
We’re meeting in a nondescript room at the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State — you probably know the kind- linoleum floors, florescent lights, and a few fold out tables and chairs.
I’m late to this meeting and the group has been passing the time reading each others horoscopes in the newspaper.
ADD DESCRIPTOR HERE— There are 8 of us and everyone seems to know each other [laughter, etc.] but we do a round of introductions anyway.
Simone Senogles is sitting next to me and she’s really fired up about what’s happening in schools - mainly because of the stories her son shares when he comes home from his high school in Bemidji.
SIMONE 23:01 You know my son … He was in history class and they wee reading excerpts from speeches made by lawmakers and movers and shakers throughout US history and we were talking about the need for there to be that indigenous voice in there as well and for him to have been able to read first hand what our people were saying, you know, during all of these different changes that were happening,
She’s talked with teachers and school administrators about changing the curriculum.
25:37 …and they are like yes! so how do we come together to … go beyond diversity and celebrating each other to challenging the power structure that makes these things happen?
How. How is a question those folks are asking a lot …. how do we get people to look at hard truths, how do we move forward, how fast do we go, how hard do you push?
How hard can you rock the boat?
27:3 So in one way you really want to rock the boat so you can create a world you know that’s really pushing up against the things that are hurting them, and you want the teachers to like them… [laughs] bc teachers have a lot of power in the classroom. You want the teachers to like you so … they are willing to listen to you so. You know there’s always that - how do you rock the boat but not too much [laughter] …
Anton Treuer says the same questions come up when you’re dealing with injustices with law enforcement.
TONY 18:55 … the data really supports that that native people are disproportionately pulled over in similar situations to their non-native peers, disproportionately charged, disprop. tried and disprop. convicted and disprop. denied parole. so we have native people less than 2% of pop and more than 17% of state’s prison pop.
Jody Beaulieu says she’s seen this first hand.
JODY: … if you sit down there on a bench and i invite you to do this and see who is going to court — the first time i ever moved back home and went down there for some odd reason - probably one of my relatives was in jail i don’ know. but i seen everybody sitting on these benches and i said — where’s the pow wow? because it was almost all Indian… so…
The group has already had a meeting with law enforcement to talk about why there’s such a disparirty.
Anton says it’l take many many more conversations to come to a shared understanding.
[some sound here]
As we’re sitting and talking I noticed the 4 white people are on one side of the table and three native people are on the other.
They’re doing this work together, but their separation reflects a reality — their lives are different in a fundamental way.
NOREEN: My name is Noreen Houtoula, i grew up in northern minnesota surrounded by one of the highest concentrations of native ameRican reservations of any state in the United States and i didn't know many native people and i didn’t learn this stuff.
Every Native person I talked to for this story said they’ve heard white people say — why dig up ancient history — I didn’t do those things - leave them in the past.
And yet the white people at this table - like Noreen - all say knowing the real history is a key to moving forward.
Noreen says through her activism in the 80’s she finally learned the history….
… about treaties … about the brutality… the systematic destruction of the family system … for 5 generations and how that impacts the community as far as loss of parenting, loss of language, loss of cultural um…
She began to understand why sometimes she felt American Indians were ambivalent toward her or even angry at her.
NOREEN: it gave me a language to talk with native american people and listen to them about justifiable anger and outrage and frustration with what has happened
She says her responsibility is to acknowledge what’s happened and to look at ways it’s still happening.
NOREEN: ….so that i don’t try to say oh, i’m sorry and white people can just say we’re story and it’s all good — we really need to pay attention to al the diff. ways this has permeated our culture in a systemic unfairness that plays out in really subtle and really huge ways.
SIMONE 17:54 …I really liked what Noreen said about being able to really sit in that fire and sit there and take that responsibility and you’re not putting that on someone else to take care of you.
Perhaps Simone is encouraging white folks to brace themselves because she believes— at some point — the conversation is going to get even harder.
18:21 ……when we’re talking about race relations between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, we can’t just say that it’s about like prejudice, but it’s about land, and who has the land, who has the water um, how do we talk about ownership of mother earth 19:20 … that there’s a real power structure that is at the base of the inequity and so that has to be addressed and it gets really uncomfortable and it challenges people - it challenges the very foundation of the country that we are in.
SECTION 7— ENDING
Nearly every person you’ve heard in the last 1/2 hour believes that a healing process will begin when we open thoughtful, candid conversations about crimes committed against native people during the white colonization.
And the insights from those conversations can change the way Native communities are viewed and the ways our systems treat Native people.
That may make some intuitive sense to you… but there’s actually some science behind all this…
[someting from john here?]
We heard from John Gonzalez at the top of this show.
JOHN: Most people are good and decent people (from the top of the show)
He’s a citizen of the White Earth nation and a psychology professor from Bemidji State University.
John recently did a study with Native students at BSU to look at how they respond to perceived predjucide and descrimination.
Here’s what he found:
JOHN: *… the native student …who knows who they are - and knows where they come from - right and knows the history of what happens to them is the native student who is more strongly identified with begin native,…and they rely on that id for strength [huh] and it’s sort of a source of resilience for them.
So identifying as a native person and knowing wha happend to your people is a way to build strength.
And that is what these alliances in bemidji are trying to do.
They want to uproot the historical fiction and negative stereotypes - like they’re invasive weeds in a garden.
And they want plant new seeds — the knowledge of what really happened on this land.
and then they want to watch something new and different will grow.
For this special edition of Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.
Special thanks to ….
Across the U.S. age-old racism and inequities are once again gaining the public’s attention, with movements like Black Lives Matter. In Minnesota, when it comes to disease, school drop-outs, incarceration, Native Americans endure some of the greatest racial disparities in the state. But there is work being done in towns across the state to take on these disparities. Towns like Bemidji — a small city in Minnesota’s north woods. Here, Natives and non-Natives have been working for decades to focus attention on the root causes of these problems and to forge a new vision for the future.
Reporter Melissa Townsend tells the story of their progress.
This is the first in a two part series in the extended edition of Minnesota Naive News.
Host Intro (Marie Rock)
Across the U.S. age-old racism and inequities are once again gaining the public’s attention, with movements like Black Lives Matter.
In Minnesota, when it comes to disease, school drop outs, incarceration, Native Americans endure some of the greatest racial disparities in the state.
But there is work being done in towns across the state to take on these disparities.
Towns like Bemidji -- a small city in Minnesota's north woods.
Here, Natives and non-Natives have been working for decades to focus attention on the root causes of these problems and to forge a new vision for the future.
Reporter Melissa Townsend tells the story of their progress.
This is the first in a two part series in the extended edition of Minnesota Naive News.
SECTION 1 - POW WOW
[pow wow set up ambi sound]
On April 4th the city of Bemidi hosted the historic Bemijimaag intertribal pow wow.
Say it with me….
Come on say it with me — bay - mih-jig-ih maag — it’s actually ohibwe for bemidji.
It was a brand new event - the first pow wow at the 5 year old Sanford Center.
It was the first time fry bread tacos were ever served at the arena’s concession stands!
It was the first time the City of Bemidji, tribal radio station KOJB, and regional public station KBXE ever partnered together on an event to celebrate American Indian culture.
[clanging ambi sound in]
Dancers are here hours before it starts. The sound of their jingle dresses and regalia echoes off the concrete floors in the vast arena.
It’s the first time 79 year old George Earth has ever been to the Sanford Center.
He’s from teh Leech Lake reservation.
GEORGE EARTH: i’ve never been here before, but i always thought it needed some interaction with the community — yea.
By community - he means the large Native American community that lives here.
And today George may be getting what he’s wanted.
23 drum groups and nearly 500 dancers are signed up to take part in this historic pow wow.
Rayna Hunt and her cousin Roman Rock are here from Cass Lake - that’s on the Leech lake Reservation.
RAYNA: We just come together and it’s like family - we see each other. I mean i feel like a whole person when i’m with my other people.
Rayna doesn’t dance, but Roman does.
ROMAN: When I’m out there dancing, nothing else exists. [from end: nothing else exists but me and that drum and that’s all that matters to me is dancing and getting this all out and a lot of built of feelings and emotions inside and it’s a way to release.] It’s just me. It’s me dancing for my ancestors from the past, my family that I lost - just trying to make other people happy. I know I do that bc my grandfather Walley Humphrey tells me my aunts, my uncles, my little cousins tell me when they watch me dance, their jaws hit the floor. (:38)
The space is blessed and Eagle staffs stand along the perimeter of the arena floor.
[add crowd sound here]
The place begins to fill up with dancers on the floor and spectators in the stands.
There are babies, toddlers, adults, elders — people are excited. This is a celebration.
Dolly Bow-String from, Bowstring Minnesota is psyched about the big crowd.
DOLLY: It’s awesome. i’m glad there’s a lot of people here - different nationalities, different cultures.
A few minutes after one - in front of 3-thousand people — the pow wow MC Darryl Kingbird gives the word to the host drum -
KINGBIRD: A-ho. Young Kingbird, Grnd Entry time boys — XX. [music]
It’s time for the first Grand entry — and all the dancers and dignitaries dance together in a procession into the arena.
For a number of people in the crowd, this is their first pow wow because this event is intended to introduce non-Natives to this traditional celebration.
KINGBIRD: If you are interested in anything that we have and you guys want to learn about it - we are here to share with each and every one of you. Learn about the people that are amongst you in Bemidji - bemidjigad.
Bemidji resident Kathleen McKinstra says this is an eye-opener for her and her 4 year old daughter Carol.
KATHLEEN: We said it’s like a live rainbow - the colors, the sounds, the chanting, [CAROL: boom, boom boom] the drums… and i realize that when i come to an event like this i realize how ignorant i am and how much i have yet to learn. But living in bemidji i certainly have the resources in my community to start that learning and it’s time to get going on that.
It is the first bemidji pow wow to host tribal leaders along with Minnesota governor mark Dayton, state representatives and city council members.
Brad Walhoff and Gary Charwood - from tribal radio KOJB, broadcast live from the event all afternoon.
[pow wow hour 2-18:50] I think this is long overdue. I think it’s Bemidji saying hey, we live together, we are a community, now we need to embrace each other. what do you take from that? CHARWOOD: Absolutely Brad, I believe it’s an historical moment here in bemdji …
[end of grand entry]
Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht gives a traditional tobacco offering and new pendleton blankets to the three tribal leaders from the region.
In exchange, they offer their nations’ flags to be hung in the entry hall of the Arena.
Carri Jones is head of the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe.
Every Native and non-Native I talked to said — it was a big moment.
KATHY 18:48 i took my 81 year old aunt who’s lived in this area for over 40 years
Kathy Annette is a citizen of the White Earth Nation and grew up on the Red Lake reservation. She’s lived in the Bemidji area most of her life. [ Now she’s the head of the Blandin Foundation that makes grants to communities state-wide.]
KATHY…and as we walked in - she was looking all around and she watched the dancers, natives and non-natives sitting together in the audience and listening to our tribal leaders, the local leaders, the state leaders and as we were walking out later - she stopped and looked at me and said - isn’t this something. Isn’t this something?
KATHY: 17:57 … you look back 30 years - would you have had tribal flags hanging in bemidji? the answer is no. for a number of reasons - today you have tribal flags hanging in bemidji
KTHY 18:16 it means that our tribal nations are recognized, it mean that people in bemidji have said these are valued. It’s a different time.
This historic Bemijimaag pow wow in Bemijdi was years in the making.
****Over decades natives and non-natives have been struggling to look at a painful past.
They’ve been trying to find ways to co-exist as two respected and distinct cultures - in one community.
SECTION 2 - BEMIDJI
[add street and water ambi here]
BEMIDJI is a small city along the western shore of Lake Bemidji in the north woods of Minnesota
The downtown grid is 7 streets wide and 23 streets long. Not that big.
The giant statues of lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his companion Babe the Blue Ox are on the south end of town and the campus of Bemidji State University is on the north.
Fifteen-thousand people live here. About 3-thousand residents are Native American. That’s a really high percentage for a town in Minnesota.
This was - of course at one time - ALL Indian land — mainly associated with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
But NOW this predominantly white town sits in the middle of three of the largest and most populous Indian reservations in the state.
That makes Bemidji incredibly unique.
A 1/2 hour north is Red Lake Nation, 15 minutes east is the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and to the southwest is the White Earth Nation.
It’s a border town if there ever was one. And borders towns - that is — predominantly white towns sitting on the edge of Indian reservations — are known to have a history of overt exclusion and racism. Seriously — everyone I’ve talked to say border towns have earned a bad reputation.
SECTION 3 - HISTORY OF RACISM
LENORE: 5:14 …Well i can tell you this -
Lenore Barsness is a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. She describes herself to me as a light-complected Native American woman.
LENORE: … but i have siblings who are darker complected, I have a mother who is darker complected, so all of my life i noticed a difference in how we were treated based on which family members were with me.
She says when they were shopping in Bemidji stores, employees would follow them around to make sure they weren’t stealing anything.
Anton Treuer is also from Leech Lake. He’s a lean middle aged man, with a dark braid running along his spine. He says as a young person in middle school in Bemdiji, he had to deal with racist taunts.
ANTON TRC 14:05 … there were four kids sitting around a quad table in shop class. and i was the only native at our table. And the kids started in - indians are all drunks, they’re just leeches on the gov, they’re running us dry…
Kathy Annet, who was at the powwow with her 81 year old aunt, grew up on the Red Lake reservation. She remembers a variety of ways Bemidji businesses discriminated against Native Americans.
EDIT THIS TAPE
3;56… young men because they had long hair. 4:08 these were some of our finest traditional dancers who weren’t allowed access to jobs without being told you will cut your hair. it was being in line at a grocery store and seeing people getting checks cashed and when you came up as a native - and i experienced this - the manager was called to take a look at this. Um… people that were being accused of shoplifting and it wasn’t so and things being taken that were paid for.
KATHY: 15:56 everything is negative about that experience - weather you’re angry, humiliated, intimidated, ashamed, um — what healthy emotion comes from an experience like that? …. there is none.
*** GOOD SOLID BREAK HERE —
SECTION 4 - HISTORY, 1966
— ADD ANTON & JODI
Through her work with Blandin Foundation Kathy Annett is acquainted with rural towns across the state. And she says NOW - Bemidji is at the forefront of race relations work between natives and non-natives.
She says Bemidji is leading the way.
Which made me wonder — How did that happen?
[period music here — long time comin’ ?]
Big changes really began in 1966 with two men — Bob Kohl [K-O-H-L] and Roger Jordain — [Red Lake Chairman at the time].
Anton Treuer and I are going to tell this story.
He was that by in the bemidji middle school but now he’s A RESPECTED HISTORIAN, PUBLISHED AUTHOR AND Director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University. [TAKE THAT SHOP CLASS BULLIES!]
HE’S CURRENTLY WORKING ON A BOOK ABOUT RED LAKE
ANTON: Bob Kohl was a radio personality here in Bemidji and was also hired as publicity director for the freshly minted Bemidji area chamber of commerce.
Kohl decided to tour homes of local families who were receiving welfare benefits.
ANTON: and based upon his personal observations he then gave a series of three radio programs in which he basically went on a racist rant. and i can pull out a few and read them to you - it’ll get you a better sense for why this upset so m any people. in fact why don’t we do it right now…
[bed of his searching his computer ambi]
While he’s searching his computer for QUOTES FROM THE BEMIDJI PIONEER NEWSPAPER let me tell you — Bob Kohl’s comments are seriously disturbing. I debated weather to even include them here— but I think it’s important to hear - one, because this is what Native Americans had to deal with - and TWO, so you’ll understand just what set off the next series of events.
ANTON: So Kohl was at a couple of homes at Red Lake he described them as indescribably filthy, the people are so low on the human scale it is doubtful they will ever climb upward. their satisfaction level is so low that it corresponds to that of the most primitive of earth’s animals. perhaps we should never have lowered our sights to this level. perhaps we should have let nature take her course, let disease and malnutrition disrupt the reproductive process and weed out those at the very bottom of the heap.
Yea… disturbing. And Anton Treuer is quoting just one section of one broadcast.
ANTON: Yea, there’s more…
Kohl did three broadcasts on local radio station, KBUN.
ANTON: So in any event that didn’t go over too well in Indian country.
TO SAY THE LEAST…
ANTON: Roger Jordain who was tribal chairman at Red Lake at the time says enough is enough. Took the issue before the tribal council and they voted to boycott Bemidji. He communicated with other tribal leaders, and pretty soon Leech lake joined the boycott and eventually White Earth.
This was huuuuge. Anton estimates American Indians were 50% of shoppers in Bemidji. And overnight there were gone.
Literally — overnight - Kohl’s broadcasts aired October 24th, 25th and 26th and by October 29th - 3 days later - all three tribal nations had blacklisted Bemidji.
The tribal governments also threatened to withdrawal all their money from Bemidji banks - to the tune of 2-million dollars.
ANTON: There was an editorial in the Bemidji Pioneer that the boycott has been so effective and so thorough that over the week for the first time since bemidji became a community bemidji streets have been practically devoid of indians. This is a deplorable situation and one that can not be allowed to continue. Bemidji can not long withstand the harmful effects of a strict boycott. [who wrote that?] that was an editorial in the Bemidji Pioneer.
Other people defended Kohl, David Umhower wrote I hope that those Indians offended by the broadcast do boycott Bemidji if they do it will be a cleaner town.
Roger Jordain was also writing during this tIme. His niece Jodi Beaulieau read me some of his quotes from the tribal newspaper - the Red lake Times - these are dated October 28th 1966.
JODY: I am sure that any merchant — who thinks of us as sub-human would not want us in their store - we will not force ourselves on anyone. when it’s made known to us we are wanted there - and the best proof of that is not only a smile when we come in through the doors, and another smile when the cash register jingles but some actual hard support in putting an end to this type of vilification and name calling.
Jordain wanted Kohl to apologize and then be fired.
But that wasn’t all he wanted. Jordain has his eye on the larger picture — in fact - he wanted to deal with nothing less than the economic discrimination and exploitation that had been in place since the founding of Bemidji.
ANTON: From the arrival of the first white folk in Minnesota this has been a racially charged atmosphere. The entire Timber boom, native peel were literally overwhelmed by a deluge , a flood of white settlement. their ability to obtain employment int eh logging industry and any of the other businesses that there rapidly growing was really really diminished. [TOO MUCH? NO Keeping Indians impoverish and denying them opportunity was how they created opportunity for everybody else.] When you skip up to Bob Kohl, his statement and the economic conditions in the 1960’s well of course, everything didn’t just repair itself overnight.
[begin music here… ]
Bob Kohl did apologize.
ANTON: Kohl came up to Red lake and gave an apology to the tribal council and of course everyone at Red lake heard he was coming so there were over 200 people at the tribal council meeting.
[bed of music fades back in a touch]
AFTER THE APOLOGY, ACCORDING TO THE RED LAKE TIMES - THE RADIO STATION AND THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PLANNED TO KEEP KOHL ON.
BUT THEN ROGER JORDAIN STARTED TALKING ABOUT EXPANDING THE BYCOTT AND WITHIN A DAY KOHL RESIGNED….
[DOOR SHUTTING SOUND?]
On November 4th — 7 days after Roger Jordain organized the boycott, Bemidji mayor Howard Mengee met with him to talk about that larger picture.
ANTON: I think the mayor was really trying to find a way to make things better. Roger Jordain said well, to make things better you need to address economic opportunities and this isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. A lot of people have a lot of learning to do. And so they ended up creating an organization … called … the community relations commission. And this was the first effort in the Bemidji region to look at some sort of racial reconciliation and be intentional about it.
There was a big push to train regional business owners and employees on cultural competencies so more native people would be hired.
Joe Lueken was a white man who owned Luekens’ grocery stores -a small local chain.
He set up an affirmative action program and successfully put many new Native employees on a management track.
ANTON: I’ve personally seen him show up at a couple of pow wows and be given honor songs and they call out everyone to come shake his hand…
Lueken’s commitment not withstanding, Anton says the momentum from the boycott and formation of this new coalition lasted for a relatively short time.
ANTON: I think Native people got disillusioned with a pace of change that was too slow. and i think some white folks got scared. It was just not comfortable.
SECTION 5 - HISTORY, SHARED VISION (use convo as bed)
In 2005 a group of natives and non-natives felt something new was needed.
MAYOR: … I think it did a lot to heal some bad feelings way back when … i think it, it really served it’s purpose and so it seemed like we were ready for the next step.
Rita Albrecht is the current mayor of bemidji but in 2005 she wasn’t in gov. She was just Rita
So Rita - who is not Native — and a few other volunteers started a new organization called Shared Vision.
She says they wanted to take a more proactive approach.
in 2009, the group worked with researchers from Wilder Foundation to survey people in the Bemidji area.
This survey went directly after something most people wanted to avoid — tough questions about race and life in Bemidji.
RITA 2:55 that was an eye opener for us.
One questions asked — Do you feel the Bemidji area is a welcoming community to people of all races?
3:31 there was a disconnect. between how Indians viewed uh - you know the community and how whites viewed the community.
To be specific…
88% of white residents said the bemidij area was welcoming.
And 73% of Natives said — it was not.
Lenore Barsness, the light complected native woman from Leech Lake, says this documentation of the Native experience was a very big deal.
Lenore says before the survey— it didn’t feel like reports of racism were taken seriously.
LENORE 9:11 …They’d say did they write something up, did did you investigate, they do this, do that, how do we know that’s true. So what you do is you ignore the felt experience that people have.
In fact Lenore says the survey could have been just as easily ignored. if it weren’t for non-Native allies.
LENORE: 13:30 that’s where those alliance are so important. would that have been attended to as well if it had been an all-native group of people sponsoring that research. the fear is that it wouldn’t be.
This was in 2010, so 34 years after tribes boycotted bemidji over racism - this new alliance of Natives and Non-Natives brings this issue to the fore again - the majority of american indians felt unwelcome in Bemidji.
That feeling was partly because of the overt prejudice and racial hostility shared earlier — but it was also because American Indians felt invisible.
People I talked to said — when you looked around town, there was no indication that Native Americans lived here when in fact MANY MANY Natives lived here.
cut??? There was no community awareness of the art, culture, history of the strong sovereign nations just beyond the town’s north, east and west borders.
SIMONE: Either we’re not here or we’re criminals or we’re drunks or we’re romanticized.
Simone Senogulls is from the Red Lake Nation and she grew up in Bemidji.
Her son was in elementary school around the time of the survey. She says even young people like her boy experience this.
SIMONE 21:03 …he was I think a 3rd grader and one of our family members was going into his school to sing on hand drum for the K class. so the K teacher asked my son - will you come and intro. your person, … And so my son was in there talking about - well, OK he’s going to come and sing a song and you know he sings on a hand drum. and there was this little K girl and she was saying — we’re really going to see an indian, we’re going o see a real indian? we’re going to see a real indian? and she was really excited and my son stopped and he said — you are looking at one right now. [laughter] you are talking to a real indian right now.
Rita Albrecht says this is part of what that group - Shared Vision - wanted to change. In 2010, they started to look for ways to engage more Native Americans in the community…
3:49 For example, how can we engage Native Americans into the life of the community in particular on board service, non profit service, committees, commissions, all of that. We recognized we don’t have a lot of diversity around the table.
…and they also wanted to find ways to teach non-Natives about Ojibwe culture.
SECTION 6- OJIBWE EVERYWHERE
40:52 [Intro in Ojibwe] … which means gathering cloud is my name and i am from Bemidji which is a very common way for people to introduce themselves along with their clan.
Michael Meuers is a white Irish man who has been working with the Red Lake Nation for just over 20 years and he was part of the Shared Vision group with Mayor Albrecht.
The Ojibwe Language project was partly his idea. It’s a movement by the group Shared Vision to put Ojibwe signage in public places around Bemidji.
He’s popping nicorette gum as we drive the streets of downtown looking at the low slung storefronts.
we’re on third street and I see Roy’s Comics, the Senior Center and the Cabin Cafe.
MEUERS 4:04 this cabin is the first place that posted ojibwe signage — you can see it - anion boo zoo - on the door there.
It’s a tidy looking storefront with a faux wood facade meant to make it look — well, like a log cabin. And there’s a little sign hanging over the wide sidewalk out front.
Michael says he told a few people about the idea of having Ojibwe signs around bemidji and they didn’t think it would fly.
5:33 so so i - … we were sitting - someone telling me it will never work - we were sitting in the cabin and i said - i tell you what, i’ll go and ask the owner right now. [mel laughs]
5:52 so i went up and i asked the owner if if ah, it was her daughter it wasn’t her - that i’d like to them to post ojibwe signage XX and XX on the restroom doors and i don’t know a month later, and they had that on the front door — boo zoo onninnn. and all of a sudden, i’ve got to fulfill now…
He said he would buy the signs for the first 10 people who posted it.
And what i figured, well, i’d get 20.
6:30… and well, that’s when i was walking down the street and i had 20 before you could shake a stick - people committing to doing that it and … it was easy.
The idea spread like wildfire — Michael says all the schools and over 150 businesses now have Ojibwe signage
6:57 … bemigjhi co-op has a lot of their foods marked in ojibwe.
7:09 Naylor electric has - they don’t exist anymore - for a time they had television, washer dryers - everything was marked in Ojibwe.
14:12 [mel - What’s the impact do you think of the ojibwe signs?]
15:55 … what it does is it tells - it tells the … - the ojibwe people we want your business, we respect you,
16:18 we respect you and your culture. and it teaches the non-indians a little bit about the culture that was here the indigenous culture that is here before 1895.
There’s one other reaction to Ojibwe signs — that you might not expect.
Michael Meuers says the tourists — EAT. IT. UP.
MEUERS: They love it.
16:36 at the the the um… cabin coffee house, she had these table tents, you know you normally have desserts or whatever - she put how to count to 10 in ojibwe, animals of the north woods in ojibwe, Red Lake 7 clans in ojibwe [mel - she ran with it] yea, she even put stuff on the menu in ojibwe. and
17:04 people were stealing these things off the tables during the summer - they’d steal them. So what she decided was to make a bunch and put them by the cash register and give them away. People eat that up.
I have to say when Michael told me this — some alarms went off in my head.
I picture non-Native tourists coming to town seeking out bits of Indian culture like their birdwatching… looking for something rare and exotic.
Is this - even in part - a gimmick to attract tourist?
So I tell Michael…
17:31 MEL - That is so interesting, on one hand I would steal that off the table! let’s talk about one in ojibwe. At the same time — it’s like - when you say the tourists eat it up - … that’s sort of like - oh, we’ve crossed back over to exploitation.
17:51 No no, the difference is it has to be authentic. when i was a kid and my folks used to go up north - to a resort - we’d go through Mill lacs and they had this this .. pow wow ring or indians are dancing and they’ve got on the dakota head dresses and they are pretending- they are acting it out…
18:52 Yea, yea, so so it was for the tourists but this is authentic. … and that’s the difference, its got to be authentic.
SECTION 7 - CONCLUSION
Over the past 50 years efforts like the ojibwe signage project have made American Indians more visible— less demonized, less romanticized…
From the historic boycot of Bemidji businesses…
JODY: All tribal and CAP purchases in the Bemidji area are being halted termporarily.
to the historic Bemijimaag celebration.
ALBRECHT AT PW WOW: We come together today to share in the positive spirit of the pow wow, the good life. And we come together to exchange gifts. I hope the friendships we make here today will grow beyond this event and our community will continue on a path of inclusiveness and respect for one another. (:19)
There are many people in this community who have been looking at something that - ordinarily - very few people want to deal with— their own negative prejudices - in this case of American Indians.
And now — there is a new group gathering.
ANTON: All of that still doesn’t fix endemic issues around poverty and policing and so forth
Anton Treuer - with the American Indian Resoruce Center at Bemidji State - is involved in the new Truth and Reconciliation efforts emerging in Bemidji.
ANTON: but what it does do is it gets everyone to the table so we can have a shared process. And that’s the key.
A shared process focused on changing the public systems- education, healthcare, law enforcement - that he says continue to miss the mark when serving Native people.
We’ll hear stories from that effort in the next 1/2 hour.
For this special expanded edition of Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend
This has been a special expanded edition of Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.
Special Thanks to …. Erin Warhol, Diane Richard, Marie Rock..