As the mother of three young boys who were born and are being raised in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, I was very pleased to see coverage of the grass-roots efforts women from the Little Earth housing complex are leading to improve and strengthen our community ("Little Earth striving to rise above strife," March 22). As the elected official honored to represent the nation's largest number of urban American Indian families, I believe this level of resident engagement aimed at increasing safety, supporting young people and ending the cycle of violence is valuable and necessary — and it is a clear call to action for the rest of us.
As an organizer-turned-City-Council-member, I am a firm believer in the power of people coming together to demand change and create solutions. In fact, that's what buen gobierno — good government — is also made of. At the same time, as a descendant of Mexican Indigenous people from a country that has had to grapple with the legacies of colonization, I also know about mal gobierno. If we really care about ending our city's first-in-the-nation racial inequities, then we must face the hard truth about the significant role our government has played in creating some of the persistent challenges we now see at Little Earth.
To this end, when we talk about Ogema Place — the street in Little Earth that has seen more shootings in the last 10 years than any other street in the city — we must acknowledge that it is connected to the events that began as a way to save the Dakota community from starvation and ended in December 1862 with the largest mass execution in American history as the U.S. Army hung 38 Dakota men in Mankato to punish them for their acts of survival.
When we see the high level of domestic abuse and sex trafficking in the American Indian community, it is connected to the abusive experiences Indigenous women have survived for centuries, including being held captive at a Fort Snelling concentration camp that followed the hangings. Indigenous women, children and elders were forcibly held for days on end.
Opioid-induced deaths and chemical-dependency issues abound because they are connected to the spiritual, emotional and physical disruption the forced attendance at boarding schools created when it suppressed the Anishinaabe peoples' ceremonies, language and culture.
These are only a few examples of how our governmental policies, practices and actions have attempted to fracture the stability of American Indian families. This institutional racism — sometimes taking the form of brute genocide — has manufactured decades, if not hundreds of years, of generational trauma that we now see plaguing our communities.
Yet the American Indian community still stands, advancing efforts for the protection of the environment, language, land, art and culture as fiercely as ever before. While I am not suggesting that solutions come from the top down nor that we replace community-based efforts with a government-led approach, what I do see is a great deal of room for collaboration, partnerships and resource mobilization that must line up behind these community directives. Precisely because government has had such a heavy hand at creating the problems our residents are dealing with today, the city of Minneapolis has a special opportunity to staunchly get behind the community voices set on repairing what's been damaged and restoring what's been taken.
As a municipal partner, we should be re-establishing full funding to the Innovative Graffiti Prevention Micro Grant program, which hires local artists to work with young people to prevent the tagging of property; we should be investing in language revitalization programs bringing children and elders together, and we should be bringing resources and partners together to help address commercial sexual exploitation through a culturally relevant manner with proper traditional and family support systems.
My office already has begun to help convene a regular monthly meeting of nonprofit practitioners, tribal staff members, safe-harbors advocates and others to start identifying our communal approach to address issues of sex trafficking. Convening is just the beginning, but it is important because only by coming together can we envision a different and new future for and with our communities. Long-term and lasting change has to come from those who are directly living the injustices we seek to resolve. Little Earth residents are working hard to chart this course for change, and we as policymakers and government officials must work tirelessly to align city, state, federal and private investments to achieve a collective impact. When communities are in crisis, we need to step up and respond by mobilizing our resources, networks and platform.
As an elected official, I want us to recognize that the community is clearly doing its part. The question is: Have we done enough? And if we haven't, what else can we do right now?
Alondra Cano represents the Ninth Ward on the Minneapolis City Council.