‘We have a voice’: Minneapolis pact with Native community gets another refresh


Sam Eagle Hawk, a Phillips resident, says it’s okay for Native Minnesotans. It used to be much better.

span style=”font weight: 400 Housing and jobs, gangs. liquor, drugs, etc.” are all things that Eagle Hawk, a Sioux Nation member, believes have gotten worse since he moved to Minneapolis in 1990 from Denver. He said that there were other issues such as homelessness.

Eagle Hawk, 50, stated that he and his cousin were able to find jobs and pay rent when he arrived in Minneapolis. He’s had trouble keeping work lately. He also sees Native Americans struggling with drug addiction.

Eagle Hawk stated that while life was difficult for all during the COVID-19 epidemic, it was more so for his Native community. Even though there is a 20-year-old deal between Native community leaders, Minneapolis city officials and others to improve people’s lives for the better, there is still much to do.

span style=”font weight: 400 We have some of our worst disparities in the country… whether it’s healthcare, education, opioids, or all of those things,” Marisa Cummings, the president and CEO of Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in Minneapolis, said that there are many services available to help people, from domestic violence prevention and intervention to advocacy for sexual assault.

Nationally, disparities in areas of poverty has persisted since the 1990s but also since European colonizers arrived hundreds and years ago.

In 2003, the Minneapolis Native American community formed a partnership to improve the well-being and health of the Native communities. The Memorandum of Understanding formalized the unique relationship, according to Karen Moe, director of Neighborhood and Community Relations.

Moe stated that is unique because it has an MOU signed with the American Indian Community.

The American Indian Memorandum of Understanding is an evolving document which is constantly updated to address the changing needs of the city’s Native residents. This month’s latest update was approved.

MinnPost photo by Solomon Gustavo
Marisa Cummings and Louise Matson. Joe Hobot.

A note of understanding

The creators of wanted to create a space for advocacy, collective advocacy, and a place where people can speak up for each other. Joe Hobot is the president and CEO at American Indian OIC located on Franklin Avenue.

Hobot is Lakota and is also the chair for the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors. This is the official name of the group of Native American nonprofits who have worked together to establish a relationship with the city. They hold monthly meetings.

Robert Lilligren, a member of White Earth Band of Ojibwe, stated that sometimes pacts and partnerships that are codified by a city can be hampered by “citified”, “colonized”, terms and modus operandi. He was a former Minneapolis City Council Member. Lilligren was a council member when the first MOU was passed.

Lilligren who is currently treasurer of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors, was once chair.

span style=”font weight: 400 The MOU is an example of the community understanding what the community needs, and the community leading what they are doing,” stated Louise Matson (executive director of Division of Indian Work), a Minneapolis-based non-profit. Matson is a member of White Earth Band of Ojibwe and serves as vice-chair of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” We know what we require. We have programs that work. That is what the city recognizes. She said, “Come to us.”

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” And we’re all friendly, so we get to spend time with our friends once per month,” Hobot said.

Since the inception of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors, they had been operating together as a group of Native nonprofits for close to 30 years. This was long before the MOU with the city. The influence of the different nonprofits combined is greater than when they advocate for the Native community individually.

Lilligren stated that they are not competing for resources. It’s enormous, it really reflects an interested among the Native organizations in indigenizing the way we work, to toss off this colonized yolk-of-scarcity where we are competing. They throw a few resources into their center circle and watch as we fight for them and do the colonizers’ work span>

Native leaders have been more assertive in expressing themselves with each new update to the MOU. Hobot stated that the idea of Native people taking control of their lives and taking responsibility for their decisions — such as taking resources from Minneapolis directly and deciding what they do with them — is revolutionary.

span style=”font weight: 400 Before the MOU, policymakers and the powers that were tried to take over the role of saviors by being very prescriptive. Hobot stated that we know what is best for you.

span style=”font weight: 400 At least in the city of Minneapolis the [MOU] gives me some standing in the government that other urban Native community don’t have,” Lilligren stated.

This agreement is a municipal representation of the relationship Native nations have with federal or state governments. Both at the federal and state levels, governments need to “consult” Native nations.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” How [Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors] evolved, and how the MOU evolved, is truly innovative and unique to Indian Country,” stated Cummings, who is Omaha.

Although Native Minnesotans are not considered to be on sovereign land, Lilligren stated that they represent sovereign nations and should still be able speak for their countries directly to the city government.

span style=”font weight: 400 That was a strong argument that the rest the city council bought,” Lilligren stated about the original MOU.

Minnesota borders 11 federally recognized tribes. Minneapolis is home to the state’s largest Native population. According to Hobot, 2021 data from American Indian OIC shows that the Twin Cities’ Indigenous population is made up of 36 sovereign states.

span style=”font weight: 400 These 11 tribes are only a fraction of the diversity of tribal life that exists in urban areas. Is there a place where all this diversity can be heard? They don’t have the power to participate. Hobot stated that, although we are not the avatars of the community, [Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors] speak on behalf our clients.”

There are still room for improvement and gains so far from the MoU

Cummings said that Native people have been able to use the MOU in times of crisis, which she described as “severe and unending” and that it has also given them a voice in moments of more relaxed advocacy.

This voice was instrumental in the 2015 city’s decision to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The move was led by the Metropolitan Urban Indian Director.

Hobot stated that candidates met with coalition leaders and clients during the 2018 gubernatorial elections.

After George Floyd’s death prompted discussions about how people of colour interact with Minneapolis police officers, officials asked the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors to help improve things.

Cummings stated that the MOU with the city provides “identity affirmation”. “We are invisible everywhere. She said that people, even when they see us they don’t know who we are.”

Lilligren stated that the group’s credibility was made “very obvious” by the Wall of Forgotten Natives. This homeless encampment was established in Hiawatha during the summer of 2018.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” We have a voice,” Lilligren stated.

The city relied upon the best way to provide resources to the unhoused at the campment and later at an encampment near the intersection of Cedar Avenue and Franklin Avenue. Cummings and Hennepin County officials made an agreement with the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors to provide resources to Cummings and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center to transport 30 women from the encampment into a hotel. They also provided wrap-around services like housing and inpatient treatment.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” I don’t believe we should have to do this. Cummings stated that it was not the responsibility of community orgs to perform the work required by the county or city to find solutions for the homeless population.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” It shouldn’t be our job. Lilligren stated that we are helping to fill in the gaps left by the public sector.

Matson and Cummings also stated that they are trying to fix the problem of cities and other government agencies providing grants for culturally-specific initiatives, but not giving the money to culturally-specific groups. Instead, the money is given to large nonprofits, which in turn try to partner with one or more Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors to do the culturally relevant work.

Matson said that span style=”font weight: 400 Give it to us” and that other leaders are pushing this issue with the government more frequently. “We are asking questions such as, ‘Is the majority of your board Native? Are your staff majority Native? Do you represent the community you serve ?'”

The group won’t accept dismissive responses by agencies giving grants in the amount of — Why can’t casinos solve all your problems?

Matson stated that span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” We get that all of the time.”

“Don’t get me started,” Cummings added.

Hobot stated that if a member of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors receives a rejection to a grant request, they will share it with one another and examine patterns in funding processes that leave Native organisations out.


The 2003 memo between the city of New York and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors was updated in 2007 and 2011, respectively, and is now being updated in 2022. It is revived every five years.

Leaders say that the Native community has been “feeling themselves,” Hobot said, and being more bold about their needs at each interval. The group claims that the city has responded to their needs with every iteration.

Cummings stated that the refresh process was a good way to reflect, to think together, and grow together.

In 2011, the city and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors realised that there was an inconsistency in the way city officials were being paid to work on MOUs, while the group’s representatives were not.

$48,000 was committed annually by the city to the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors so that they could hire a part-time staffer. The money would also go directly to Native organizations that implement programs started by the group and the municipality.

The 2022 refresh will include one of the most important changes: the addition of subcommittees, which will be comprised of representatives from both the metropolitan and urban Indian directors.

They are meant to provide more “regular reports” for Native communities. This addition was made in response to Native community members asking Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors, “What have you been doing?”

There will also be subcommittees to address education, employment, economic development, family preservation, well-being, and health and safety.

Hobot stated that he was encouraged by the formation of the education subcommittee. He said that education is “on fire” and that there is still a lot to do to reduce disparities in Native students graduating from high school and college.

“I’m really proud to speak in favor of this MOU because it symbolizes the renewed commitment that we have with our Native community here in Minneapolis.” “I am proud to support this MOU, because it represents the renewed commitment we have with our Native communities here in Minneapolis .”

Frey also spoke out about the importance of a healthy relationship in order to improve the lives of future generations.

The leadership of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors emphasized this too, noting the passings of local Native leaders such as Marlene Faye Whiterabbit Shelgemo or Clyde Bellecourt and how they have started initiatives to foster leadership in Native youth, who they hope will succeed them.

The agreement between Minneapolis’ Native community and Minneapolis will soon be more than a one-off initiative. Hobot visited Albuquerque to discuss the possibility of creating a similar agreement.

The agreement with Minneapolis sparked a memorandum between the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (Metropolitan School District) and which was ratified by the latter in 2006. Conversations also began with St. Paul.

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