Native American organizations rallied at the State Capitol on Friday in support of legislation to spend nearly $84 million on the cost of new buildings for nonprofits that provide services the groups consider essential to the Native American community of the Twin Cities.
If approved, it would be the largest public investment in Native American projects in Minnesota history, said Joe Hobot, president of the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center (AIOIC).
“This is the biggest ask we have ever made and it is long overdue,” State Senator Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, a descendant of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told the gathering of some 200 people. piled up in the rotunda of the Capitol. Kunesh is co-sponsoring the legislation with Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis. “Join us in asking the State of Minnesota to do better,” Kunesh said.
The proposal is called “Clyde Bellecourt Urban Indigenous Legacy Initiative”, named after the co-founder of the American Indian Movement who died in January. Bellecourt helped found several of the 16 Twin Cities Native American organizations sponsoring the initiative.
The rally began with Native Americans gathering around the Midnight Express drumming band, seated on the steps outside the Capitol, singing powwow songs. The main drummer was Crow Bellecourt, one of Clyde’s sons.
“We operate in buildings that are run down, dilapidated and deteriorate quite rapidly,” Hobot told the House Capital Investment Committee earlier this week. His AIOIC is in a warehouse built in the 1930s where telephone directories were once stored.
Mary LaGarde, executive director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Franklin Av. which is also included in the funding request, said at a press conference before the rally that the center is putting buckets inside the building because of a leaky roof. “If you’ve ever been in our building when it’s raining, bring an umbrella,” she said.
At the American Indian Family Center in St. Paul, another facility seeking funding, ceiling tiles are falling and there is a hole in the floor, said Sharyl Whitehawk, counselor at the Khunsi Onikan Outpatient Treatment Program for Women. indigenous.
Funding for the 12 projects could be included in an infrastructure package that heads of state hope to deliver this session.
While the money would pay for Twin Cities projects, the funding would also help out-of-town tribal members, such as those who take job training under his program and then return to their home areas, a Hobot said.
Proponents of the projects note that their push comes at a time when unemployment among Native Americans remains high, with a disproportionate number of homeless people and the highest COVID-19 death rate among ethnic groups.
Rather than squabbling over funds, Hobot said the 16 Indigenous organizations united around a single proposal to fund 12 projects:
- Minneapolis American Indian Center: $5 million to renovate and expand the facility to include a theater and a small cafe as well as programs.
- MIGIZI: $4.4 million for a new communications facility on E. Lake St. in Minneapolis.
- Indigenous Peoples Task Force: $2.5 million to acquire land and build a new one-stop center in the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis.
- Ain Dah Yung Center: $2.2 million to upgrade existing facilities, including the emergency shelter on Portland Av. in St. Paul and the Beverly A. Benjamin Youth Lodge on Raymond Av. in St. Paul for a emergency shelter, transitional housing and outreach services.
- Lower Phalen Creek Project: $1.4 million for the construction of the Wakan Tipi Center at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary in St. Paul.
- Native American Community Clinic: $12 million to build a new facility and provide affordable and respite housing on E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis.
- Little Earth of United Tribes: $2.2 million to renovate and repair housing in Minneapolis, improve the youth development center and develop an agricultural facility.
- Division of Indian Work: $2.5 million to build a new facility with programming on 10th Ave. S. in Minneapolis.
- Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center: $4.2 million to renovate a facility on S. 15th Av. in Minneapolis for Indigenous women and family housing and programs.
- AIOIC: $35.4 million for a new facility and campus in south Minneapolis to provide education and employment opportunities, including adult basic education, vocational training, placement and the Takoda Prep Alternative High School.
- American Indian Development Center: $6 million to design an inpatient opioid treatment center for Native Americans in Minneapolis or St. Paul.
- American Indian Community Center: $6.2 million to the Montessori American Indian Child Care Center to develop the St. Paul center to house the American Indian Family Center, Interfaith Action Department of Indian Work, Montessori School and a little company.
At Tuesday’s committee hearing, R-Grove City Rep. Dean Urdahl said “there are a lot of good projects here” but demand totaled “a good chunk of change.” He asked Hobot what the groups’ priorities were if not all of them could be funded.
Hobot listed five priorities: the American Indian Center in Minneapolis, the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, the Ain Dah Yung Center, the Wakan Tipi Center and the MIGIZI facility. He said if the Legislature approves the funding, construction could begin this summer.
The capital investment plan proposed by DFL Governor Tim Walz includes the bulk of the funding for these five projects as part of his “bond equity” initiative. The governor intends to use cash from the general fund, rather than borrow, to cover costs.
But whether Walz’s plan and advocates’ hopes will bear fruit will likely remain uncertain until the final days of legislative session negotiations in May.
Many organizations have raised private funds or secured federal funding to cover some of the project costs and have so far raised about $60 million, Hobart said. If the Legislative Assembly funded the five priorities, for a total of about $15 million, the additional funds allocated would be allocated on a pro-rata basis for the other projects, he said.
Writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.