Thursday, December 22, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Minnesota Humanities Center

Happy Holidays from the Minnesota Humanities Center! The Minnesota Humanities Center Blog will be taking a holiday break for the next two weeks. Please check back for new blog posts starting January 5, 2017.

The offices of the Humanities Center will be closed on:
  • Friday, December 23, 2016
  • Monday, December 26, 2016
  • Monday, January 2, 2017
See you again in 2017!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Edairra McCalister - Unity Circle: Seeing Our Girls and Womyn

Edairra McCalister is a proud mother and an educator. She is a recent graduate of Metropolitan State University with a Master’s of Science in Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Schooling from the School of Urban Education. Edairra participated in the Minnesota Humanities Center’s 2016 Summer Educators’ Institute.

I have always wanted to become an educator. As a child I dreamt of the day that I would have my very own classroom, so I practiced by playing school with my siblings regularly. The day that my dream came true was the journey of joy, pain, and learning curves that began with no signs of slowing down.

I’ve worked in North Minneapolis as an educator for the past two years and traveled the journey as if I were made for it, because I believe I was. However, somewhere along that journey joy departed, and as a result, I recently resigned from my teaching position a quarter into my third year. With no new job on the horizon, and no plan in place, my resignation was an act of shear faith and me taking a stand for what I believe in.

While participating in the Humanities Center’s week-long summer Educator’s Institute in June of 2016, I made a breakthrough in understanding my purpose and direction as a black womyn and educator. Rich discussions about absent narratives, understanding place, and exploration of epistemologies, equipped me with much to bring back to the classroom to engage in critical learning. It was learning about the transformative practice of holding a ‘Story Circle’ – as introduced and facilitated by Ms. Rose McGee during the Institute – that planted a seed.

As part of the Educators’ Institute, participants were required to create an action plan based on enduring understandings from lessons that took place throughout the week. My own personal and professional experiences of invisibility as a black womyn, and my desire to share those stories, particularly one that took place about mid-way through the week during the Institute, inspired an action plan titled: Unity Circle.

Unity Circle was created using storytelling as its key component because it provided an opportunity and platform for girls/womyn of color to share experiences and facilitate critical dialogues. I envisioned the space to be cultivated within a Unity Circle as a potential way to deconstruct invisibility and create a sense of value amongst girls/womyn, and was eager to begin creating this space with my scholars. I saw this work as necessary and, at this point, there was no dedicated space for girls/womyn of color in the school environment. The need to address the absent narratives of girls/womyn of color in the school setting presented Unity Circle as an option to become the focus of my master’s thesis research.

In response to issues faced by black girls in the school setting, I did facilitate Unity Circle this past November with scholars attending school on the North side of Minneapolis.  Unity Circle proved more than I had imagined but, most importantly, everything I hoped for black girls – that being a safe space to speak and hear others. Engaging in this work is not easy, but it is important. I know all too well how it feels to be silenced and unseen, which is why I concluded that remaining an educator who felt invisible in their school environment would be antithetical to the work of deconstructing invisibility and revealing absent narratives. The Humanities Center’s Educators’ Institute changed my life quite literally, and I was empowered when I decided to stand for what I know to be right, despite perceived consequences.

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”—Zora Neale Hurston

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Annamarie Gutsch - Much More Than Just an Exhibit: Why Treaties Matter Works

Annamarie Gutsch is best known for her work with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, having served as Executive Director from 2006-2015. She celebrates a long career in public service to the American Indian Tribes and communities and the people of Minnesota as a Government Relations Director for the Red Lake Nation. She has also worked for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, for Veterans Affairs, and at the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. Annamarie serves on the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Board of Directors and was instrumental in creating the traveling exhibit Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nation.

UPDATE: “Why Treaties Matter” is now on permanent display at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. For more information, visit:

Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nation is a nationally recognized, award-winning, traveling exhibit made in partnership with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. This exhibit explores relationships between Dakota and Ojibwe Indian Nations and the U.S. government in this place we now call Minnesota, focusing on, how treaties affected the lands and lifeways of the indigenous peoples of this place, and why these binding agreements between nations still matter today.

Within our time to create, there always seemed to be an even more profound time to silently reflect and think – time to stretch our minds beyond why we were creating a project with ongoing deep reflection to envision exactly what we were trying to portray to our audience. What was our goal? We wanted to change Minnesota’s dismal understanding of our American Indian communities and create a hunger to learn more while perhaps creating new relationships in a way never accomplished before. With this goal in mind, the greatest collaboration I’ve ever participated in — the Why Treaties Matter exhibit — was born.

From start to the finish, the Why Treaties Matter collaboration and exhibit run, several members of the development team--consisting of me and a core group of outstanding Humanities Center program directors and administrators--spent endless hours of vision-building time together. Time spent sitting around a table, coffee or some beverage and snacks nearby, papers strewn about, where we pondered the simplest or the most complex ideas or thoughts, or, just ripped apart raw details in an agenda for an upcoming program. This was far more than just your everyday nine-to-five working group. It was a group on a mission; a mission that we often proclaimed was “to change the world.” This team of inspiring leaders seemed the perfect group of individuals whose eyes, when mixed together, could see far beyond what most people are capable of envisioning. And as we gathered, it became clear to me that this magnetic force drawing our visions together was truly one that would lead to great success.

The Why Treaties Matter exhibit success wasn’t due to any one person’s academic or intellectual abilities or because we were equipped with greater administrative capacity or even money to turn out such a successful exhibit and programming. It was truly a recipe with healthy doses of eager world changers coming together to contribute their collective knowledge and stories. Most importantly, we were not necessarily the masters of the knowledge but more like the gatherers of it. The true master creators and voices of this project were the cultural leaders, elders, and community members who led this initiative. They came together with us, to sit around the table and helped create a tangible, truth-filled exhibit that has successfully moved towards changing how treaties and the history around them are viewed by both native and non-native people.

The Why Treaties Matter exhibit has touched over 67,200 lives since 2011. For an exhibit that existed well beyond its imagined time to tour various venues across Minnesota for six total years, that’s some spectacular record. What is even more profound is that out of the countless pairs of eyes and minds that gathered information from this rich visual and personal learning experience, most had likely never seen or heard any of this before. Although we knew this was the case, the responses were still overwhelming to us. Email after email proclaimed, “Why haven’t I heard this history before?” Think about that. The real history and story of the lives of our American Indian/indigenous people to this land and most people have never heard anything of it before. This is why we so steadfastly held to our claim that we would “change the world. As we embark on the seventh year of this remarkable journey, I like to think in a small but profound way that we did.

To learn more about this exhibit, view this exhibit on line and, access accompanying educator guides visit

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rose McGee - Sweet Potato Comfort Pie - It's More Than Just a Dessert!

Rose McGee is a pie philanthropist, storyteller, educator, author, and a Program Officer at the Minnesota Humanities Center. She is founder of the convening concept: “Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Approach: a catalyst for caring and building community,” author of the book Story Circle Stories and the play Kumbayah the Juneteenth Story. She is featured on the national PBS documentary A Few Good Pie Places and her TEDx Talk: The Power of Pie.

Racism! There. I put it out there and said the “r” word. Does it exist? Without hesitation some vehemently say, “Oh hell yeah!” as others deniably respond, “Of course not!” Despite the controversy, pain is real, dialogue is critical, and healing is essential. What does sweet potato pie have to do with this? Well, keep your eyes on the pie, for there is power in the approach and it sort of goes like this…

I grew up in the rural South with my grandmother and great-grandmother, referring to them affectionately as ‘My Mamas.’ I grew up witnessing My Mamas bake sweet potato pies and then give them to neighbors who were in need of comfort or encouragement, and in celebration. In my adulthood, I came to recognize and pay homage to the sweet potato pie as being the sacred dessert of black culture and grew to understand that My Mamas had made them with tremendous empathy and unconditional love. Each recipient gained a nurturing feeling of joy that helped ease their sorrows or added to their celebrations. Wasn’t that a simple and basic act of humanity?

August 9, 2014, triggered a violent, hot summer in Ferguson, Missouri. From my living room in Minnesota, I grew frustrated watching the repetitive coverage on television: ‘African American, 18-year old Michael Brown, dead from bullet wounds fired by a white police officer!’ Faces on my screen were filled with anger, confusion, and hopelessness. Saddened, I felt compelled to do something other than just sit there. By early September, instinctively, I went into my kitchen, baked about 30 sweet potato pies, and packed them into the trunk of my car. Not knowing what to expect, I drove to Ferguson. What I had not counted on was how much people just wanted to be heard.

During my drive home from Ferguson, I pondered how my own community of Golden Valley, Minnesota could proactively begin strengthening relationships among its residents. In less than three months, we implemented an action – the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service that featured “Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Approach: A catalyst for caring and building community.” On the Saturday before that Monday holiday, over 25 community volunteers baked 86 pies (the age Dr. King would have been on January 15, 2015). Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley generously donated their certified kitchen and also their community room for Sunday afternoon when about 100 people convened in circle and listened as each shared their own authentic stories. The round format was more than just sitting and chit-chatting, but required each participant to be totally present, be receptive to listening without interrupting, and be non-judgmental as stories were shared. To conclude the event, participants decided among themselves who in the community ought to receive the pies. On the Monday holiday and days to follow, the participants delivered those pies to individuals who were ill or in mourning, in appreciation, or in celebration. Recipients included teachers, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, organizations, as well as Shep Harris, Mayor of Golden Valley, and Congressman Keith Ellison who was also in attendance. January 2017 will mark our third annual event.

Since Ferguson, over 150 volunteers have baked over 800 Sweet Potato Comfort Pies™ that have been presented as gifts in response to crisis or celebration. In August 2015, pies were taken to Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina after the murder of nine African Americans by a white supremacist. In November 2015, pies were delivered to the Fourth Precinct in North Minneapolis and given or served to protestors, as well as to police officers, community leaders, and family members of Jamar Clark. Then, too soon afterwards, pies were made for the family of Philando Castile who was killed in Falcon Heights in July 2016, also at the hands of a police officer. At the end of the 2016 school year, 30 pies (intentionally named after 30 diverse women educators alive and deceased) were baked at Shir Tikvah Synagogue in south Minneapolis by 15 diverse women who then delivered and presented the pies to Twin Cities’ students, schools, parents, and educators in special recognition for their successes in educational endeavors. In October of this year, pies were made with an Indigenous Circle of Grandmothers in Omaha, Nebraska and then delivered to the ‘Water Protectors’ at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

Across this nation, there is an urgency to respond to the hurt, the divisiveness, and the absence of trust. The Minnesota Humanities Center recently received a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities to creatively host such critical conversations called CommonPlace. These dialogues will focus on race in a way aimed to help participants share actions that will lead to healthy solutions. Sweet Potato Comfort Pie™ is proud to partner with the Humanities Center in launching CommonPlace. Join us on December 12, 2016, as we engage in authentic story circles, respectfully listen to each other, and yes, eat delicious sweet potato pie prepared in solidarity by 20 participants comprised of community leaders, youth, Veterans, and police officers.

Learn more and register.