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Last week, members of the Little Earth Defenders and the American Indian Movement began a ceremonial occupation of the Roof Depot site in East Phillips, where Minneapolis wants to build a new Public Works building ("Move ahead with Roof Depot project," editorial, Feb. 25). I was there at dawn, with my daughter and granddaughter. And I was there that night, when police surrounded us to evict our peaceful camp and try to silence the voices of Indigenous people ("Activists ousted from city site," Feb. 22).

I'm not a protester, and I've never done anything like this before. I'm just a grandmother who believes our children deserve a healthy environment.

Air pollution leads to asthma, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, dementia and even death. But these aren't just words to us in Little Earth. Our people see every day what happens when you grow up with arsenic, lead and air pollution all around you.

My 3-year-old granddaughter has asthma. My daughter has diabetes. Others have severe asthma, COPD and heart disease. My best friend has diabetes; she had a heart attack three years ago, and now she's in the hospital for an infected foot. Because her heart isn't functioning the way it should, she needs to get part of her foot amputated. She's only 47 years old and she has three kids under 18. What would they do if something happened to her? This is what the pollution already in East Phillips has done to us.

Thousands of cars and trucks go by Little Earth every day on Hiawatha, I-94, Cedar and Franklin. The land was poisoned by decades of arsenic from a pesticide plant. Men in hazmat suits cleaned up the soil around our homes — the same soil that's still under the Roof Depot. Two factories spew out pollution next door. Black soot is on our windows.

Mayor Jacob Frey tells us the demolition is safe, but this isn't our first time hearing promises from the government. I used to own a construction company and we did dozens of demolitions. When you hit something, dust flies, no matter how much you wet it down. When they hit that building, dust will fly and the air will blow into our homes, our soil and our farm here at Little Earth. Our kids will track that dust inside.

After that, the city wants to bring in all of these diesel trucks, and drive hundreds of vehicles through to fuel up, park, and be in and out. Frey tells us this won't add pollution to East Phillips. Help me understand how that works.

We're told to trust in the system. Well, we went by their rules and look where it got us. The city is still making the same decision they wanted to make all along.

The mayor offered us a "compromise" of three acres if we'd accept their pollution. Do we want to take scraps at the table, compromise our people for three acres, and still be poisoned? You're talking about our children's breathing. We have no choice but to act.

So we took a stand to be heard. We occupied the Roof Depot site and we did it in a good way. Nenookaasi Camp was a peaceful, prayerful occupation of unceded, stolen land.

So why did Frey send in dozens of police to break up our prayerful protest? The mayor is afraid for Indigenous people to come together.

Our ancestors were punished for speaking their language and practicing their culture. And now, yet again, we are taken out of our own land and told not to speak.

When we started the occupation, tribal people called me from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, even Arizona. I didn't know who I was talking to, I was getting so many messages. They all said "we are coming."

Nothing has changed for us. If the mayor thinks his eviction can silence us, he's wrong. We won't give up. This is for our children, and all the children of Minneapolis. This is for Mother Earth.

Every time Frey tries to shut us down, he makes us stronger. It's become so much more than the Roof Depot. Native people will not be silenced, and we will not tolerate our children being poisoned by pollution for decades to come. We're done with the government taking from us.

Nicole Perez is a member of the Red Lake Nation and a resident of Little Earth in Minneapolis.