Thursday, January 28, 2016

Frank Bibeau - Why Treaties Matter and Wild Rice

Frank Bibeau is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Pillager Band, enrolled at White Earth, and he has lived in Ball Club, Minnesota on the Leech Lake Reservation with his wife Vicki for more than 30 years. He is an attorney who works extensively with Chippewa treaty rights, civil rights, and sovereignty on and off reservation. Frank currently works with Honor the Earth, a native-led, non-profit environmental protection group, and he recently became the Executive Director for the 1855 Treaty Authority.

Wild rice, or Manoomin as it is called by the Anishinabe (Chippewa), is our most sacred or spiritual food and the most central, pivotal part of our culture.

All my life I knew I was an Indian because that was the explanation my (non-Indian) mother gave to a lot of (non-Indian) people as to why I had such a good tan. My father is the Indian — as was his father, my Grandfather. Growing up outside Washington, DC in the late 60s and 70s, I remember that my Grandfather in Ball Club, Minnesota always made sure we had wild rice. It was usually Dad who cooked the wild rice. We always had it in the house but ate it sparingly as we just had a few pounds. So I understood wild rice was as precious to have . . . as to eat.

Full Circle
What I have learned is wild rice is part of our migration and creation stories. We were guided by the Creator to where the food grows on the water. Wild rice is integral to our survival and way of life. Wild rice is the one gift we usually have to share and everyone loves to receive. We need to protect wild rice, and it will always protect us.

More simply translated, wild rice grows in the air, the water, and earth; and therefore wild rice is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for environmental issues. In honor of that, while at the Public Utilities Commission meeting to discuss a pipeline company’s attempt to avoid an Environmental Impact Statement — a petition denied by the Minnesota Supreme Court — I made sure to thank the three attorneys who appealed for this environmental review that will help protect Minnesota’s wild rice. As I gave them wild rice gathered this year up near Bowstring and processed in Ball Club, it impressed me to see how so many non-Indian people are coming to understand the significance — both cultural and environmental — of wild rice, as well as the importance of treaty rights.Although working to protect Minnesota’s Manoomin and our treaty rights will continue, one thing I know is certain:  I’m getting to be an old Indian in Ball Club who makes sure my Dad and other family and friends have wild rice, because it is important to me too.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Anita Patel - Going Deeper, Seeking Justice: the Humanities as a Tool for Change

Anita Patel currently holds the position of Leadership Programs Director for the Bush Foundation. Prior to joining the Bush Foundation, she was the Vice President for Racial Justice and Public Policy at the YWCA of Minneapolis, where she was instrumental in creating initiatives that expanded the reach of YWCA Racial Justice programs throughout corporate, government and nonprofit sectors. During her tenure, she trained more than 400 racial justice facilitators and more than 5,000 participants throughout the Midwest benefited from her presentations aimed at understanding bias and confronting racism. Anita was honored in 2011 with the Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award for making “significant contributions to the common good through public leadership and service.” She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

As I write today, the smoke of the campfires of the fourth precinct in Minneapolis is still in my nostrils, the faces of terrified people dealing with unexpected attacks throughout the world are emblazoned in my memory, and the ability to comfort my loved ones as they seek solace in an unstable world seems to elude me. It is from this place that I consider the humanities.

While “the humanities” can feel heady and academic, it speaks to me as a force that allows us to ask deep questions, to refuse to settle into a naivety that protects injustice in our communities, and to connect as human beings. Intriguing observations of the purpose of the humanities include that they help us make sense of our lives and our world through stories, words, and ideas. This broad field pushes us beyond taking information at face value and challenges us to look for the absent narratives-- the untold stories and the incomplete truths. Simultaneously, it connects us as we learn from history and one another in an effort to paint a vision of who we want to be.

The humanities is not a passive field. Rather, it is an active space that begs us to explore our world and the human condition. How have you formed your beliefs? What shapes you to be who you are today? What role have you played in perpetuating systems of power and/or oppression? What can you do to ensure that the value of each human being is able to be nurtured and unleashed in our communities?

These questions, and many more, are critical as we seek to dismantle unjust systems that have been created by individuals. The answers and intentional reflection call us to do our part to build new systems that push us forward into a more equitable and just future. It is not for any one of us, but for all of us that we explore our connections through the humanities.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Humanities Bring Stories of People and Places to Life Through One-Day Workshop

Are you interested in learning about the relationship gap that underlies the achievement gap in education and developing strategies to address it?

The Minnesota Humanities Center is offering an all-day professional development workshop that will help education professionals and other participants build stronger relationships:  Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives. (Absent narratives are those voices and stories that are often left out or are missing from the dominant narrative.) The Humanities Center’s proven humanities-based training helps address the relationship gap often present between systems and culturally diverse communities.

But don’t just take our word for it. Some of our past bloggers  who have participated in an Increase Engagement workshop have these success stories to share:
  • Maria Asp, Program Director and teaching artist with the Children’s Theatre Company’s Neighborhood Bridges program in Minneapolis stated: “Any change that I could possibly make within my teaching and artistic practices had to start with changes inside myself. I am thankful for the resources and support that the Humanities Center provided. I am forever changed. It changed the way I looked at the world and the narratives I had been told as truths.”
  • Sushmita Hodges, educator at St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul shared: “The Humanities Center has raised my consciousness exponentially about the real impact of history on marginalized communities at the local level.”
  • Meryll Page, former board member of Minnesota Humanities Center and a former educator with 39 years of experience noted: “Teachers want to succeed with every student and this approach supplied them with tools to be the best teacher — a teacher who begins by building relationships with students.”
This all-day workshop will be offered at the Humanities Center from 8 am – 4 pm on Saturday, January 23 or February 26, 2016. Eight (8) clock hours are available upon request. For more information or to register for Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives visit

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Kirk MacKinnon Morrow - Finding Community in Public Transit

Kirk MacKinnon Morrow works as a Program Associate with the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Education Strategy in Minnesota and Veterans’ Voices. He can be found daydreaming and reading voraciously on the Metro Transit route 61 bus on most weekdays during his commute.

I ride the bus. Perhaps you’ve seen me–the one wading breathlessly across streams of traffic on Hennepin Avenue, seeming to never learn the incompatibility of public transit and personal tardiness. There’s something strange about pairing habitual lateness with a mode of transportation that is by design completely unforgiving. When biking, driving, or walking you can go a little faster or take a different route; with transit, the only thing you can do is show up. As a rider in a rush, you forego that last glance in the mirror or that final sip of coffee, but in so doing you arrive at the bus stop on time and enable every rider to count on a trip that gets them to their schools or offices or events in a comfortable and timely manner. It’s the kind of human-level exchange that makes ‘public transit’ about so much more than just transporting the public.

Indeed, some of the issues we’ve discussed here at the Humanities Center through our #UncoveringPublic events on Twitter challenge me to think about the bus not only as a public space, but in many respects as a community as well. Just as I give up my reflexive urge for ‘just another minute’ (and/or sprint to the bus stop to compensate for it), every other rider makes a similar compromise that they might not have to if using another mode of transportation–walking a few blocks out of the way, leaving a few minutes earlier, waiting for a rider in a wheelchair, etc. This is both a necessity for the system’s functioning and a profound gesture of reciprocity and respect; in short, the foundation of a community, however fleeting and ephemeral.

At the level of the system, to be sure, public transit can hardly be thought of as a community. These systems are designed by and for the American public only insofar as that notion of ‘public’ is shaped and guided by the rules of a dominant culture–an idea we returned to frequently in #UncoveringPublic. Influenced by the ideals and ideas of a dominant culture that disproportionately does not use public transit, these systems lack the human-level give-and-take that serves to build the kind of community that exists among riders on a single bus. The difference, I think, is that I can see each person on my bus has a story of how they got there—perhaps one so insignificant and quotidian as “I walked two blocks to the bus stop and waited three minutes”—and that allows me to feel a sense of connection and community. Stories let us see each other with empathy, but they often happen to be interesting as well. Just ask a transit rider, they’ll always have a crazy bus story to tell…