Native American Heritage Month is ending. Here's how our Native News team celebrated

Two Native people talk outside a market
Native News members Melissa Olson (left) and Leah Lemm discuss upcoming stories outside the Ancient Traders Market on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis on Oct. 4.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Every month is Native American Heritage Month here at MPR’s Native News Initiative. Reporter Melissa Olson and I spend time with our own communities in various ways throughout the year, so November tends to feel like any other month.

However, now we have the honor of building Native News at MPR and making decisions in how we’d like to approach our reporting.

The Native News team put our heads together and decided to get out into community, while sharing events with the public via MPR News’ social media channels. Each of these gatherings brought laughter and conversation, and I hope these highlights provide a connection for you as well.

Statewide one-read program launch in St. Paul

Native News kicked off the month by attending the launch of the statewide one-read program for Minnesota classrooms. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Minnesota Historical Society Press celebrated the book giveaway Nov. 1 with the authors of “Voices from Pejuhutazizi: Dakota Stories and Storytellers.” The event took place at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

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Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, secretary-treasurer of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, announced a large donation as a part of its Understand Native Minnesota campaign.

“Through this program we, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, are donating 20,000 copies of ‘Voices from Pejuhutazizi’ in response to more than 800 school requests across the state,” Crooks-Stratton said.

We also spoke with authors Walter “Super” LaBatte and Teresa Peterson.

Artist reception at AICHO Galleries in Duluth

On Nov. 4, I went to Duluth for the artist reception for the exhibit, “Mazinibii’igewininiwag: Two Woodland Artists.” Artists Gordon Coons and Steven StandingCloud presented their work to a full house at the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) Gallery.

As the title of the exhibit suggests, both Coons and StandingCloud create art that reflects the Ojibwe Woodlands style. The art style emphasizes heavy outlines of the figures, which contrasts with a vivid color palette.

StandingCloud said, “My grandmother who actually inspired me a long time ago to be creative and formulate some art pieces. And so she did a lot of floral work on her bead work. And so since I was at a very young age, she actually instilled in me, these images of floral designs.”

“She was giving me some instructions about my identity. So it really meant a lot to me.”

This event was also featured on Art Hounds.

Election Day at Native voter headquarters in Minneapolis

The Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) in Minneapolis hosted the “Election Day Native Voter Headquarters” event on Nov. 7, which is part of their ongoing program called “Make Voting a Tradition.”

Melissa Olson braved the cold and spoke with event organizers, voters and community members who attended, highlighting their perspectives and experiences regarding civic engagement and the significance of voting in Native communities.

John Williams works at NACDI and said the nonprofit is helping community members understand that their voice matters all year long.

“It’s not just around election time. We take an intergenerational approach to our work. So we're always talking to elders and to youth about the importance of being involved in your community,” Williams said.

Celebration of American Indian OIC’s impact in Minneapolis

The American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center (AIOIC) provides education, training and human services to Native people in an environment that embraces culture. The Minneapolis center was created by the American Indian Movement in 1979.

On Nov. 17, 275 guests gathered on the 50th floor of the IDS Center to recognize the work of AIOIC, bid in a silent auction, listen to speakers and have dinner as a community. I saw people taking photos of the city below, lots of Native fashion and happy encounters of people unexpectedly reconnecting with old friends.

The Native Rise event included speakers Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, actress Cara Jade Myers (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), and AIOIC’s president and CEO Dr. Joe Hobot.

“We have an amazing staff and we work with nearly 1,000 of our community members every year,” said Hobot. “So this is our chance to kind of come together and celebrate our successes and really celebrate our community that is doing the work and making a huge impact and stabilizing their lives and lifting up the entire community in the cities and in the state of Minnesota.”

Thank you for joining Native News in our social media event coverage for Native American Heritage Month. I met new people and saw many I hadn’t connected with in a long time.

These community gatherings are such beautiful opportunities to connect, and I’m happy I could share these. I also learned of so many other community celebrations around the state during this process, and I look forward to next year and adventuring out around Minnesota even more so.