Alongside a plot of dirt where Migizi's home once stood, Kelly Drummer saw hope and renewal Friday.
She and others commemorated the Minneapolis nonprofit's headquarters, which burned down one year ago in the unrest after George Floyd's murder, as they celebrated the start of building anew.
"I think we're really blessed," said Drummer, president of Migizi Communications, which works with Native American youth. "It's about the future — where are we going to go now."
Work will begin in September to renovate and expand a brick building on E. Lake Street as a new home for Migizi, expected to open in 2022. A crowd of supporters, staffers and students on Friday walked less than a mile from the site of the former building to the new site, blessing the space with burning sage and a prayer.
"The perseverance and resilience of our Native community has been an inspiration to our entire city," Mayor Jacob Frey said. "What made Migizi was not a building, it was not brick and mortar, but it was the people."
Melissa Wallace, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a Migizi board member, passed the charred remains of the Minneapolis police's Third Precinct headquarters two blocks from Migizi's former offices.
"This is a representation of leaving the old and walking into the new. It's very symbolic," she said. "There's so much kind of negative stuff happening in the neighborhood. This is a shining light."
Migizi — the Ojibwe word for bald eagle — works with about 250 Native American students each year, providing them with cultural resources, tutoring and training in media skills, and renewable-energy careers. Its offices on S. 27th Avenue just off Lake Street, for which Drummer helped raise $2 million, had been open for only a few months when Floyd's death in May 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked protests locally and across the country.
Melissa Olson, who was digitalizing Migizi's archives, moved 35 banker boxes full of radio interviews and programs dating back to the 1970s to a safe place when rioting broke out. Fires at nearby buildings spread, and when Drummer returned after dawn, she found the building in flames.
"It was a time of anger so I understand. ... But it was a sacred space," said Ava Hartwell, 15, a student in Migizi's First Person Productions program teaching radio, video and photo editing skills.
But amid the smoke and rubble, a bright spot emerged: $2 million in donations from 30,000 people from as far as Ireland, Italy and Japan. That money will go toward the estimated $3.5 million cost to buy, renovate and expand Migizi's new 9,000-square-foot headquarters, which will feature solar panels and other environmental designs, high-tech studios and a medicine garden.
"It's going to be nice to have our own place again," said Tedi Grey Owl, an academic intern specialist whose mother, Laura Waterman Wittstock, co-founded Migizi.
The nonprofit, launched in 1977, has 10 employees and a $1.2 million budget. After the fire, employees worked from home, then moved into temporary space as Migizi continued to offer its programs.
Drummer, the former founding CEO of the Tiwahe Foundation, an American Indian community foundation, said she's seen an uptick in foundation and corporate grants and hopes to keep some of last year's generosity going.
Like nonprofits for other communities of color, Native American nonprofits are largely underfunded. Nationally, 0.23% of philanthropic funds go to Native American-led nonprofits despite the fact that Native Americans represent 2% of the population, according to the First Nations Development Institute.
As Migizi prepares for a new home, Drummer doesn't want to just rebuild but to expand, adding programs and school district contracts to provide cultural education.
"We hope to continue to grow," she said. "To me it feels like a brand-new day."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141