'Everything in Minneapolis feels so very intense right now'

The Migizi Communications building just hours before fires engulfed it in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Olson, Migizi Communications)

Indian Country Today

Breaking news includes the burning of Migizi Communications building in Minneapolis

Breaking news overnight changed Indian Country Today's regularly scheduled Friday Reporters' Roundtable. 

Melissa Olson, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and consultant with Migizi Communications in Minneapolis joins us on our newscast today. She describes what happened overnight in the city as protestors clashed with police. In the mayhem Migizi Communications caught fire.  

Also on our program today, Savannah Maher, Mashpee Wampanoag, and reporter for Wyoming Public Radio gives us the latest on how the novel coronavirus is impacting tribes in Wyoming. 

Melissa Olson
Melissa Olson

Here are a few of Melissa Olson's comments: 

"(Migizi) is located about half a block away from the third precinct, which is really the focal point of a lot of the protesting and a lot of the activity in South Minneapolis.”

“As it caught fire, there were fires basically surrounding the entire building which was in the middle of the block and some of those embers apparently fell on the roof around I guess 2 or 3:00 AM.”

“Kelly Drummer who is the executive director was there with her husband and their daughter made the choice to evacuate the building.”

“Everybody is very anxious here in Minneapolis.

"Right away, the impulse is to reach out to community groups that could help keep the building safe and community safe. So they reached out to members of the American Indian Movement.”

“And just generally letting people know that it was, that, you know, MIGIZI is a Native-lead organization. It is a community youth place, is a place for creativity and for story making and to try and safeguard it.”

“The feeling was that they were just so vulnerable. That you could see what was happening all around the neighborhood and that you were right there in the center of it.”

“Here, in Minneapolis, the urban Native communities very much feel the pain of what's happening and very much feel the pain of the death of George Floyd.”

“This is a community that has experienced a lot of police violence, obviously part of the reason the American Indian Movement came into being was in response to police violence.”

“Many community members here know or have relatives, or themselves, killed by police in Minneapolis. That is a common fact here.”

“MIGIZI has a lot of archival materials. They have been doing media work since their founding, but they have a lot of material culture in the building - photographs of Beloved community leaders, posters and that kind of historical culture.”

“The physical archive that they've been keeping for all these years has been greatly damaged. Ninety-five percent of that archive has been greatly damaged.”

“What we know is that there is some fire damage to the back of the building. There's a room there that has, that was caught on fire. The rest of the building wasn't necessarily on fire.”

“We started packing up all of the (radio) tape and we moved it over to, I guess what I'm just going to call is a safe location here in Minneapolis that feels safe for the moment.”

“We needed a place for the time being, you know, everything in Minneapolis feels so very intense right now.”

“It was just unbelievable to see what we're watching and then to see how it's impacting, you know, this native nonprofit organization here.”

“There are reports that there are still fires smoldering.”

Savannah Maher
Savanah Maher

Here are some of the comments by Savannah Maher:

'In early March, a couple of (the Wheeler) family members went to visit a relative at the Showboat Retirement Center in Lander.”

“At that facility, a few days later, it was announced that there was a full blown outbreak there. And before long 14 members of the Wheeler family had tested positive for COVID-19.”

“Unfortunately, three members of the family died on the same day on April 20th. Larry and Gloria Wheeler who are a married couple in their seventies had been married for 50 years.”

“I think one thing that tribal leaders on Wind River have been raising as an issue since the beginning is that there's a housing crisis on Wind River. The federal Indian housing programs here have been underfunded for decades now, which has resulted in a lot of overcrowding in tribal homes. And that seems to have played a role here.”

“Don, Larry and Gloria all lived in the same home with at least five other tribal members, family members, another household and the family. It's sort of swept through that entire household. So it really highlights how that underfunding has put a lot of people in an unsafe situation.”

“The Wheelers are three out of six Northern Arapaho tribal members who have now died of this illness.”

“It’s really hit this community especially hard.”

“The state department of health data shows that about 30% of the confirmed cases are Native people. It’s a complicated number because Wind River is actually doing far more COVID-19 testing than any other community in the state.”

“The state stay at home order has been extended through the end of June and that's really been a theme these last couple of months is the tribes being very proactive in taking these very aggressive measures to slow the spread and stop the spread.”

“Meanwhile, the border communities of Lander and Riverton and Hudson have all opened up now that the state has allowed for easing of certain restrictions. So tribal leaders certainly say that that makes it harder to enforce it at home order if people are going into Riverton to do their shopping at Walmart or you know, going to a restaurant in Lander.”

"Even though they've been hit very hard, they're also working really hard to support their communities through this tragedy. Things that come to mind the Shoshone tribe’s buffalo herd harvested two of their buffalo and donated the meat to members of both tribes.” 

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye gives the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country. 

The anchor and executive producer of the program is Patty Talahongva. 

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