There’s a scene from the classic TV show “Little House on the Prairie” in which Pa Ingalls describes Indigenous people scouring the land “like wild animals.” It’s no surprise that throughout history Native Americans have been scrutinized and vilified in the media.
This was only exacerbated during the 1970s recession, when more than half of Native American news outlets went under, further removing their voices from the media and making them bystanders to their own stories.
MIGIZI, a Native American-led nonprofit, opened its doors in Minneapolis in July 2019, providing an outlet for Native American voices to be heard in the media. “Migizi” means bald eagle in the Ojibwe language, signifying communication, reporting and ethics.
“One of the greatest things as Indigenous people is we’ve always been storytellers,” said Binesikwe Means, lead media instructor at MIGIZI.
While history has sought to erase Native American voices from the narrative, MIGIZI is fighting to bring them back in.
MIGIZI’s First Person Productions program trains youth in 21st-century media skills, such as social media marketing, but the training doesn’t end in the classroom. Participants partner with small businesses and produce marketing content through social media to help the businesses grow.
“We as an organization are always trying to find ways to partner with our community and come together to create solutions for problems that exist,” Means said.
While the organization was founded to give Native American voices a role in media, its programs have since expanded. MIGIZI now helps at-risk youth pursue their interests and share their voices in various fields.
For example, the group runs the Green Jobs Pathway program, which focuses on renewable energy and prepares youth to graduate from high school to secure a career in the green economy.
Although MIGIZI works with youth from diverse backgrounds, Native American values are at the core of everything they do.
“We call ourselves the stewards of this land. It’s a big part of our belief system that you never take from the Earth without giving something back, and these kinds of ideals really tie into the whole green energy and green movement,” Means said.
This summer, students have been picking sage and learning how to make traditional medicines. They have also gone into schools that have a large Native American student population to work with those students on cultural teaching and knowledge. One particular lesson was called “wigwam-a-tree,” combining geometry with the ancestral knowledge of the wigwam.
Through all its programs, MIGIZI aims to help youth realize the power of their voice. Students are given credit for attending protests and writing about how that experience affected them. Many of them are also on the forefront of organizing youth-led protests, especially in the wake of recent events in Minneapolis.
“We try to give them all the tools they need as well as we can, allowing them to go out in the community and find out what creating real change looks like,” Means said. “One of the biggest things that we never have any issues or problems with is when we ask them to do something social justice related or tell us something that’s on your mind. … People are always joining in the conversation.”
During the recent Minneapolis protests, MIGIZI served as a safe space for protesters to receive snacks and supplies. Through it all, it focused on the community. However, after flames from nearby buildings spread rapidly, its building was among those that burned down. Afterward, it didn’t take long for the strength of MIGIZI’s community to rise.
“We had a healing event the day after our building burned; we all just kind of came together as a community. We cried and laughed. We did everything to be able to find a place of healing,” Means said.
MIGIZI has since moved to a different space and is now continuing with its summer programming. “MIGIZI is more than a building,” Means said.
“A lot of times in the communities that are underrepresented, they are not necessarily always the place people go to when they want to hear a voice,” she said. “We really look at empowering our youth and giving them the opportunity to tell their stories from their own perspective.”
If you would like to donate to help rebuild MIGIZI’s building, please visit migizi.org/support-us.