Special Edition of Minnesota Native News: Bemidji, Rocking the Boat Part 2
Special Edition of Minnesota Native News: Bemidji, Rocking the Boat Part 2
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 ….
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…