Leaders of the State of Minnesota:
The purpose of this message is to call your immediate attention to the ongoing needs of the American Indian community in Minnesota, as well as to the powerful capabilities that we currently possess. It appears to us that our people have once again been forgotten, or relegated to a second-class status by officials in the state.
We, the undersigned, are deeply troubled at the continued lack of attention given to our people by you, the leadership of this state. In recent months there has been much discussion regarding economic and educational disparities that persist for many communities of color. However, consistent with historical precedent, there remains an exclusion of our people in these discussions, despite the impact that these same disparities have on our community. Such omissions have emerged in several critical ways that, if not addressed, will only serve to exacerbate these existing disparities.
First, regarding the various enterprises and plans being put forth by state officials, legislators, and state departments, there has been absolutely zero consultation with the leadership of the American Indian community regarding the creation and development of these initiatives.The only form of engagement, if any, always comes after the fact – once the plan has been created and publicly disseminated. It is only then that our community is finally allowed to participate in the process within generic open forums typically referred to as public comment sessions.
Second, our community has no appetite – at all – for outside, non-American Indian enterprises to intrude into our community with the intent of providing services to help us. We do not need, nor do we seek, outsiders to “save” us -whether they are government, not-for-profit groups, or private sector companies. The American Indian community currently possesses a multitude of qualified and effective·service providers that are American Indian populated and American Indian operated – all of whom are more than capable of providing the needed services and possess a proven track record of success dating back over several decades. Successful services must be provided to our own, for our own, by our own.
Third, our community has no desire to be forced to participate within services or plans that are devoid of our culture, our traditional teachings, and our customs. We insist on the utilization of culturally contextualized programming for our people -which is the most effective, best practice models by which our organizations adhere -whereby our culture is omnipresent. By definition, these culturally contextualized services cannot be provided by non-American Indian entities, which further emphasizes the previous point mentioned above.
Finally, we are frustrated with the abhorrent lack of consistent, long-term, and robust investment of resources directly into our community from the state government – especially in light of several years of immense budget surpluses, and especially given the consistent acknowledgment the state government makes regarding persistent disparities that exist within our community.
This letter is on behalf of the indigenous leadership and the various agencies and corporations whom they represent that work directly with the American Indian community in Minnesota. Owing to the continued pattern of overt exclusion of the American Indian people within state affairs, we are now compelled to advocate in this manner on behalf of our own.
We are still here.
Here now are our recommendations that we believe need immediate implementation:
First, directly engage with our leadership regarding near-term issues currently exacerbating the economic and educational disparities harming the American Indian community.
We have deep concerns that we feel compelled to discuss with you, including but not exclusive to: issues regarding the implementation of federal WIOA legislation, funding inequities regarding Adult Basic Education for American Indian learners, inequitable access to proper health care for our people, prohibitive and exclusionary practices by established post secondary institutions such as the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MNSCU) towards our young adults, the deficiency in culturally contextualized chemical dependency treatment services, the ability for our people to procure assets to build their own economic futures (such as home ownership and small business development), and of course, respect and acknowledgment of the treaty rights which remain as supreme law of the land under Article VI of the United States Constitution.
Second; going forward, engage directly with our leadership at the point of inception for all planning and new initiatives regarding how ongoing economic and educational disparities afflicting this state are to be remedied. We insist on being a part of all such initiatives at the start of theprocess so that we may co-create a solution together with you. This is the essence of collaborative practice. Together, our insights will serve to meaningfully inform this work.
We know from experience as to what works best for our own people, and such input will only serve to strengthen future solutions for the state of Minnesota.
Third, we call on you to deepen the relationships and expand existing partnerships with established American Indian organizations in a more meaningful way (many of these organizations are signatories to this letter). Our organizations are reputable and well-respected entities within our community. We have a proven track record of positive outcomes and effective practice. Our people know us, trust us, and seek us out for the provision of services for we are direct reflections of our community -being led, governed, and staffed by our own people.
Fourth, begin making immediate, real, and more robust financial investments directly into the American Indian community. We are both tasked with undoing centuries of systemic failures brought forth by the very same government institutions to which many of you now belong. This work will require a consistent and long-term application of resources.
Such measures have thus far proven inadequate towards meaningfully addressing the economic and educational disparities now present in Minnesota, and have in reality further perpetuated the systemic oppression of these communities.
Finally, immediately include -in overt fashion that is easily recognizable – the American Indian people in all respects to your work regarding economic and educational disparities. Do this in your speeches, in your policies, and during your public appearances and interviews.
Acknowledge the history of the land that this state sits on. Our people need tangible evidence that they are not being ignored once again, or that they continue to remain invisible to the powers-that-be.
In addition, during these times of real economic crises for so many people, there is a tendency for more vocal constituencies to drown out other voices. This then makes your overt incorporation of our people within your actions even more important than ever. We need to believe that you know we exist and that you too share our interests. In this respect we need to see words and actions working in tandem to accomplish this objective.
We look forward not only to your response to this letter, but in your taking action so that we can begin a real collaborative process that is beneficial for all.
Our stated goals are the same, our motivations are fueled by the very same sentiments, so let us now come together and work towards making our actions match the will of our heads and passions of our hearts.
Chi Miigwetch and Pilamaya!
Joe Hobot, President & CEO, American Indian OIC
Michael Goze, President & CEO, American Indian Community Development Center
Clyde Bellecourt, Executive Director, AIM Interpretive Center
Monica Flores, Executive Director, Bii Gii Wiin Community Development Loan Fund
Deb Foster, Executive Director, Ain Dah Yung Center
Louise Matson, Executive Director, Division of Indian Work
Mary LaGarde, Executive Director, Minneapolis American Indian Center
Patina Park, Executive Director, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center
Tuleah Palmer, Executive Director, Northwest Indian Community Development Center
Robert Lilligren, President & CEO, Little Earth of United Tribes