Pow Wow Grounds is well known for its wild rice soup and Indian tacos.
But now it’s also known as the hub of an impressive community effort that saved Franklin Avenue businesses and nonprofits during the violence that erupted after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
It started with three Indian leaders who saw the destruction unfolding on Lake Street and rushed to protect businesses at the heart of the Indian cultural corridor along Franklin Avenue.
Michael Goze, CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation, and Frank Paro, president of the American Indian Movement (AIM), sent out a call for volunteers as violence erupted in the streets.
Bob Rice, owner of Pow Wow Grounds coffee shop, opened his property as the staging area for AIM street patrols and offered other logistical support. Each night, 50 to several hundred community volunteers gathered in the Pow Wow Grounds parking lot for a meal, prayer and assignments from AIM to protect the area.
As the street patrols wound down last weekend, neighbors showed their appreciation. Librarians at the Franklin Library had a mural of the AIM flag painted on its boarded doors. The Native American Community Clinic had scrawled “Thank you AIM” on its window boards that were coming down.
“This could have been Lake Street,” Goze said. “Now we can build up rather than rebuild.”
“I’m in awe of what they did,” added Will Delaney, co-chairman of the Franklin Area Business Association. “All of us were dealing with a lot of challenges at that time. To pull the patrol together and keep watch on Franklin Avenue … I’m really appreciative.’’
This week the organizers walked down Franklin, pointing out unharmed buildings and properties with glass windows intact. Buildings included the Minneapolis American Indian Center, All Nations Indian Church, the Mashkiki Waakaaigan Pharmacy, the Woodlands National Bank, the Dollar Store and Maria’s Cafe.
The AIM patrols also were in the Lake Street area, they said, guarding the Division of Indian Work and Migizi Communications, the one building they were not able to save.
The men said they were relieved that the heart of the Twin Cities Indian community was spared and grateful that so many people offered to protect the area.
Rice gestured to a building of connected storefronts, noting that “if one of these buildings had gone up in fire, we’d have lost the whole place.”
Paro said he was named president of AIM, the national American Indian civil rights group, succeeding Clyde Bellecourt just two days before the violence erupted. After hearing about looting and fires, he said he knew that law enforcement would not make Franklin Avenue a priority.
So he resurrected the citizen patrols launched by AIM when it was created in 1968 in this very neighborhood, to document and protect residents from police brutality. The recent patrols included children and grandchildren of that first group.
“My wife showed me a map of places in Minneapolis that were looted and burned,” Paro said. “Around here, there were just two or three dots.”
“We had a lot of people involved,’’ he added. “Men. Women. People from age 16 to the 70s.”
Last Friday, about 50 people gathered outside Pow Wow Grounds for ribs, donated by Famous Dave’s restaurant, and grilled walleye. With curfew ending, it would be the last night on the streets.
Lisa Bellanger, executive director of national AIM, sat at a table with a paper grid showing the properties that needed protection. Volunteers signed up with their names and contact information. They guarded specific buildings but also kept an eye open for trouble anywhere.
“There were people on the rooftop here,’’ said Goze, gesturing to the Minneapolis American Indian Center. “We had walkie-talkies. We used an app on phones. We texted.’’
Goze said some patrollers who had permits carried guns.
Their methods weren’t always conventional. When they discovered four teenage boys trying to break into a neighborhood liquor store, patrol members apprehended them — and called their parents. A provision for release was that a parent in their hometown of Eau Claire, Wis., drive to Minneapolis and retrieve the boys.
The nightly send-off for the patrols included a traditional Indian ceremony and traditional medicine for protection on the streets.
While the group received city permission to patrol early on, there was some confusion after the Minnesota National Guard entered the scene. Just as neighborhood block clubs stood watch past curfews, so did the AIM patrols. This led to a clash with law enforcement at the Little Earth housing complex, when projectiles were fired, said Bellanger.
But night after night, the volunteers arrived, staying at their posts until 6 a.m.
Aldi store manager Amanda Jerde recalled pulling up to her store to find several vehicles blocking the driveway entrance, protecting her business.
“It is truly amazing what they did,” Jerde said. “I’d come to work at 5:30 or 6 in the morning, and they’d be camped out in the parking lot. And I don’t have connections to the community. I just work here.”
Across the street at the Franklin Library, the orange, yellow and black AIM flag is painted on the plywood covering the door, which has been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know how much AIM has protected our buildings and our communities,” said librarian Becky Wolf, at a community gathering there last weekend. “The library staff wanted to do something to thank them.”
Alex Buehler, branch manager of Woodlands National Bank, was handling customer requests that day, grateful for a patrol that earlier had stopped two young men who had threatened to torch the bank.
But when the AIM patrols packed up about 6 a.m., others bent on destruction had been watching for a chance to move in.
“They broke in about 6:30,’’ Buehler said. “They trashed the lobby.’’
This week, life was getting back to normal. The Pow Wow Grounds parking lot now holds a tent where people can register for free groceries and supplies available next to the coffee shop. Goze had turned his attention back to developing affordable housing in the area.
But given the success of the AIM patrol, Paro said he’d like to help it continue, albeit as a smaller patrol. He is organizing a meeting this week to explore that.
Said Paro: “I think we did a heck of a job.”