There is an encampment in Minneapolis populated by indigenous people – and it is growing.
People who have gathered there are the displaced, the unemployed, the addicted, the battered, and the sexually exploited. They have come home. They have come home to the community that they are now counting on for help, and they have come home to rest their weary bodies directly upon the lands of the Dakota to whom it belongs.
Our relatives who have sought refuge at this camp are fueled by their faith in our compassion and humanity. They have defied addictions, disease, chronic violence and exploitation. They have defied the odds to come home to their community in search of decency and help. Their presence challenges the assertion that this nation, state, and city operate as a place where all are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – even if they are not white but indigenous.
The colonization of indigenous people continues to carry a heavy human cost. Under the auspices of American exceptionalism and the delusion of manifest destiny, the sacred words enshrined within the nation’s founding documents were forever shattered. From the beginning of the republic, successive generations have failed to honor their treaties and pledges in the quest for land and natural resources, while federal relocation and adoption policies scattered our families to the four directions. Sadder still is that this colonization process remains in full effect, both through the continued theft of our lands and a public education system intentionally designed to negate our history, destroy our culture and ruthlessly assimilate our youth. So now, hungry and homeless, our relatives have come home seeking help from the only ones they trust: the indigenous community. They’ve come to gather where they feel safe, protected, and close to those whose humanity and compassion they know they can rely on.
Prior to the “American experiment,” all of our people had roles and responsibilities that contributed to the well-being of their community, ensuring that no one was ever left unfed, unsheltered, unclothed, unclean, or unsafe. In the crush of assimilation those traditional roles receded within the smoke of old memories, burned away like a once great forest, charred to ash by a voracious wildfire. It is difficult for our non-indigenous neighbors, raised to rely on free markets and bootstrap mythologies, to understand indigenous culture and the harm that has been done. This blindness robs them of their compassion, while indigenous people continue to try and fight their way forward despite the historical traumas that burden our advances.
As we have been taught by our elders, we are now rising to the challenge of providing direct assistance to our people – children of the Creator every one — by coming together in time of crisis. Many have bravely stepped forward to serve this duty. Natives Against Heroin led the way, first to stand directly with our relatives at the camp. Indigenous nonprofits soon followed, offering their services and calling upon elected officials to join forth. Now our public officeholders are also pledging to assist.
There is an encampment in Minneapolis populated by indigenous people – and it is growing – and the reasons for its continued presence is much more than mere housing shortages and street drugs.
We must call out colonialism for the destructive and inhumane practice that it is and acknowledge the damage it continues to cause. It has created the existing wealth gap and all attendant disparities now present within Minnesota and the nation. The United States right now possesses more than enough wealth to provide for its own in all measures. To our collective detriment this myth continues to pervade policymaking at all levels. We must do better.
We now stand with our relatives at a turning point, our hearts filled with hope: hope that the promises of our local elected officials become reality and that the indigenous organizations addressing both immediate needs and long-term solutions are provided the necessary resources to execute their work. Hope that the wider community will join us in honoring the humanity of those living within this camp by calling out colonialism and the price it continues to exact on both Native and non-indigenous peoples.
In decades past our leaders have challenged us to strive toward a more perfect union, and now our dispossessed relatives – merely by existing and revealing to us their pain – are challenging us to do the very same.
There is an encampment in Minneapolis populated by indigenous people – and it is growing. Our people have come home.
Joe Hobot, Ed.D, is president and CEO of American Indian OIC and former chair and current member of Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors. He is a descendant of the Hunk Papa Band of the Lakota Nation from the Standing Rock.