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The challenges of collaboration

Much has been happening over the past month at the Franklin Hiawatha encampment. Like all of life there is some good and some bad, but lately the more challenging developments have imperiled progress and made the work of caring for camp residents much more difficult.

I write this post in part to address and clarify the reporting today in the StarTribune and on Minnesota Public Radio. While we appreciate the deep, insightful and ongoing reporting of these reporters and these outlets, the pieces published today call out for more framework and some additional detail. These are critical days in the life of the camp and the new Navigation Center and it is important that the community have complete information as they seek to understand what is happening at the encampment.

Background

The Franklin Hiawatha encampment began in the Spring of 2018 and steadily grew throughout the summer. In the beginning the homeless campers were visited often by Natives Against Heroin (NAH) and representatives of Gitchitwaa Kateri Church. By August the encampment had grown to about 60 tents and Dr. Antony Stately of the Native American Community Clinic called for a meeting with City leadership to discuss the public health considerations of the camp. Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) representatives attended this meeting and began to play a key role in assisting those living at the encampment (you can learn more about the camp history here).

In the beginning there was a robust, albeit occasionally contentious, partnership between NAH and the MUID affiliated agencies and staff working within the encampment. Staff hired by MN Indian Women's Resource Center (MIWRC) on behalf of MUID began organizing volunteer-driven meal service within the camp, relieving NAH from that financial responsibility. They also set up donation drop sites to take that pressure off the camp, which had often become strewn with the debris of too many well meaning donations. MUID staff also organized camp-wide clean-ups and helped to organize donations. American Indian Community Development Corporation (AICDC) erected a large tent to create a workable space with tables, chairs and WiFi where service providers from agencies engaging in housing, mental health, and chemical dependency outreach could "office" and meet with campers. AICDC also rented a 3-stall mobile bathroom/shower where camp residents could bathe in peace and privacy. The Native American Community Clinic set about trying to find a way to bring a mobile medical clinic to the camp, ultimately working with the Red Lake Nation who very generously arranged for Livio mobile health outreach workers to be on site 5 afternoons a week. All of this, and more, was done in partnership and cooperation with Natives Against Heroin, who continued to provide a presence at the camp and the crucial service of emergency medical assistance to overdose victims.

The situation now. 

As the opening of the new Navigation Center neared and the weather grew ominously colder, tensions in the camp began to rise, especially within Natives Against Heroin. NAH leadership frequently complained that MUID-affiliated agencies and the Minneapolis Police Department were not doing enough at the camp. They spread inaccurate rumors that MUID-affiliated agencies were accepting money and donations and not giving them to the camp. These accusations were leveled both on social media and verbally toward staff and volunteers working with NAH within the camp. As the weeks passed the accusations became much more intense. Obscenities were hurled at female and Two Spirit staff and volunteers. Other staff were literally run out of the camp. I can state that I was the object of such an attack and that my experience with this is first hand.

Natives Against Heroin leadership has now adopted a proprietary view of the encampment. They believe they have the power to decide who enters the camp, who brings food and donations to campers, and even what campers can remain within the encampment. They have thrown homeless men - with absolutely nowhere to go - out of the camp and destroyed their tents in the mistaken belief that they are undercover police. They have threatened violence to campers who do not leave when ordered to do so. This is a dangerous and inappropriate mindset. No one "owns" the camp. We are all there in service to our relatives and to the ideal that everyone deserves dignity and a safe place to call home.

As the opening of the new Navigation Center nears it is crucial that every resident in the encampment have the right to meet with outreach staff to discuss their options and learn about the Center. It is crucial that every camper feel safe and empowered to make the choices that are right for them.

A statement released by the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors today includes the following, which states the goal to which we aspire:

"We are in an era where Native people and the organizations that serve them have been striving to work in more collaborative ways. In doing so, MUID seeks to build on the example of Standing Rock to throw off the mantle of colonization and return to more Indigenous ways of being together. These ways reflect that all Native people have roles in the community, and to respect the roles that each person and organization plays."

Let us ALL join together in service to the immediate needs of the unsheltered relatives at the encampment. May we work together in a good way, with mutual respect and dignity shown to all who come to help with positive intent and an open heart. And as the months and years pass, may we strive together to address the ongoing issue of housing and homelessness within the Native community and beyond.

The author with Keiji Narakawa, Mike EagleTail and James Cross of Natives Against Heroin during better days of cooperation and mutual support.

Post by Camille

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