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Eddie Chuculate

Special to Indian Country Today

MINNEAPOLIS — The Native community here isn’t looking to the police to serve and protect during the rioting and unrest in their city.

They're turning to AIM.

The American Indian Movement was founded here more than 50 years ago in response to police brutality and is headquartered in an area of south Minneapolis known for its Native-owned businesses, housing and community centers.

Members often cruise neighborhoods to protect the community and monitor police interaction, said AIM Executive Director Lisa Bellanger, Leech Lake.

“But now we’re standing guard,” she said Saturday. 

Amid the protests and riots following George Floyd’s death in police custody, dozens of AIM and tribal members have come out to patrol the area, which includes the Minneapolis American Indian Center, the Native American Community Clinic and Little Earth of United Tribes housing, considered the nation’s first complex dedicated to urban Natives.

On Friday night, members protecting the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s urban office detained four Wisconsin teenagers who they caught allegedly looting a liquor store.

The American Indian corridor on Franklin Avenue is about 2½ miles from the epicenter of Friday night’s looting. But with hot spots of random vandalism and arson occurring throughout the Twin Cities, AIM stood prepared.

“If we see looters coming as a group, we report back to headquarters so we can get more vehicles over there and dissuade the rioters from attacking,” Bellanger said. “Let them know this building is Native-community owned.”

AIM Executive Director Lisa Bellanger (Courtesy Lisa Bellanger)

No new damage to Native buildings was reported Saturday afternoon. 

On Thursday night, a nonprofit Native youth organization was destroyed in the riots. Looters set fire to a nearby U.S. Post Office, which spread to the Migizi Communications building. AIM members had been defending the grounds but had to retreat because of the blaze.

By Saturday night, an online fundraiser had brought in more than $130,000 for Migizi. 

Bellanger said at least 50 people from the Twin Cities, northern Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota participated in Friday’s patrols, after she issued a call through social media.

An executive order issued by Gov. Tim Walz exempted AIM members and volunteers from an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in effect for Minneapolis to “patrol and protect Native-owned businesses,” Bellanger said. Members were given letters of verification.

But on Saturday night, all community patrols were canceled as an expected 2,500 National Guard soldiers and airmen from Friday's 500 were expected to arrive for the curfew. Up to 10,000 could be deployed depending on the situation, Walz said.

The guardians, who are not armed, on previous nights were given their choice of which building to patrol, or were assigned. Everyone shared cellphone numbers so if strength was needed at a different location they could be quickly dispatched, said Bellanger, 58.

Other buildings being guarded included a bank owned by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe offices and the Native American Community Development Institute.

Michael Goze, Ho-Chunk, director of the American Indian Housing and Development Corporation, helped organize the effort and cooked for the crew outside the Pow Wow Grounds coffee shop and diner before members posted up at their sites.

Teens detained

On Friday night, two community members notified AIM patrol members about looters at Skol Liquors, in the Seward neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

The white teens, who were from Eau Claire, 100 miles east, were seen taking alcohol and groceries by Seward neighborhood residents, according to a widely circulated Facebook video posted by Bobby Headbird of Minneapolis.

The AIM members recovered the merchandise, took the teens’ names and numbers and called their mothers in Wisconsin to come pick them up.

The Leech Lake office is across the street. The Leech Lake Reservation is 200 miles north in the Chippewa National Forest, but its Minneapolis office provides housing, education and employment services to tribal members in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area.

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The patrol said the liquor and groceries such as juice and cereal were returned to the store owners Saturday.

More than 40 people were arrested for rioting, unlawful assembly, stolen property, burglary or robbery in the city over Thursday and Friday. That total could rise as Walz has vowed a stronger National Guard presence and stricter enforcement of the curfew Saturday night.

‘Coming together to take care of our communities’

Across social media channels, people in south Minneapolis were posting pictures Saturday of neighbors clearing out the debris and cleaning up.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth, at a news conference said her “heart and guts have been ripped out” by the situation.

She noted landmarks and businesses important to communities of color have been destroyed by arson and vandalism.

“There are people who are burning down institutions that are at the core of who we are,” Flanagan said. “We did not do that. We’ve been coming together to take care of our communities.”

A massive, peaceful demonstration was held Saturday in the Powderhorn neighborhood where Floyd died on the street. 

An Indigenous dance group performed to cheers and tears while people grilled and offered food to strangers in a carnival-like atmosphere.

Church leaders spoke, and permanent murals of Floyd were unveiled on the sides of buildings. Mounds of flowers dotted the street while Floyd’s name was chanted.

The arresting officer in the death, Derek Chauvin, who pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while the 46-year-old was handcuffed face-down in the street, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but protesters are demanding charges against the other three officers, all of whom have been fired. 

Chauvin remains in the Hennepin County Jail.

Little Earth housing unscathed

At Little Earth, home to around 1,000 Natives, Jackie Neadau, an AIM member and a member of the Little Earth Residents Association, has been watching over the grounds, and Margarita Ortega and Lance La Mont have been staying overnight.

Although AIM members are unarmed, video posted on Facebook showed some people at Little Earth carrying baseball bats.

The association's executive director, Jessica Rousseau, Cheyenne River Sioux, reported no damage to housing as of Saturday afternoon.

Jessica Rousseau, executive director of the Little Earth Residents Association, Minneapolis (Courtesy of Little Earth of United Tribes)

But she said due to the destruction and closure of a nearby Target and Cub Foods, community members there are largely without a convenient option for groceries. 

Across the Twin Cities, 24 Targets have closed either from destruction or preventive measures, while other grocery stores were undamaged but closed with windows boarded Saturday.

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Eddie Chuculate, Creek/Cherokee, is a writer based in Minneapolis. @eddie_chuculate;


This story has been updated with community patrols being canceled Saturday night.

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