Duluth Community Partners: The City of Duluth Indigenous Commission
A sense of place and belonging in community is foundational for overall stability. At MCH, we recognize the importance of honoring the long history Indigenous people carry in connection to Minnesota as home and the valuable contributions American Indian people offer to move our communities forward. The City of Duluth Indigenous Commission offers a prime example of Indigenous leadership in action. As a part of my Tribal Organizer role, I have attended City of Duluth Indigenous meetings to share our MCH work and learn more from the Duluth American Indian community.
The City of Duluth Indigenous Commission (previously known as the American Indian Commission) is a direct way for city residents with an American Indian perspective to have impact on decisions, planning, and community stewardship.
The Indigenous Commission is an 11-member body that guides public policy, planning, and services to ensure the Indigenous community is represented in the processes. The Indigenous Commission also works to share cultural knowledge and community aspects to create greater understanding in Duluth.
The City of Duluth rests on ceded territory (land acquired through negotiated treaties with Tribal Nations) and is adjacent to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The Grand Portage Band and Bois Forte Band of Chippewa are also geographically close.
Each year the Duluth Indigenous Commission hosts a Feast & Forum to invite community members to learn more about Indigenous perspective on community issues. The 2015 Feast & Forum was held this fall at the Gimaajii American Indian Center. Community members came together to visit, share traditional food and meet the Indigenous Commission members.
The Indigenous Commission requested an Ethnographic Study to raise visibility and knowledge about American Indian heritage in the city of Duluth. Bruce White (Historian/Anthropologist) shared key aspects of the Ethnographic Study of the Indigenous Heritage of Duluth (project funded by the Minnesota Historical Society’s Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grants with money from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment).
Several themes emerged from the project:
Making Indigenous People and Places Visible
Many Indigenous people feel that their history, culture, presence, and connection to the area are invisible. This can be changed through the inclusion of more robust history and cultural presence.
Viewing the Land with Indigenous Values
The community as a whole can benefit from the inclusion of Indigenous cultural and spiritual values in planning and community stewardship, especially in regards to local sites that held as traditionally sacred.
Asking for the Stories
Elders and the oral transmission of stories are critical in understanding the history of place and people. Traditional knowledge-seeking involves the giving of asemaa (tobacco) and respect in asking for the sharing of valuable information.
Duluth has been a gathering place for Indigenous people for an extensive time prior to European arrival. This continues in present day, with Indigenous people from many Tribal Nations living in Duluth.
Indigenous Women and their Leadership Role in Duluth
Indigenous women have a strong history of community leadership in Duluth. More community awareness is necessary on the critical role Indigenous women hold.
After this presentation, the Indigenous Commission opened the forum for community members to tell stories about their own experiences, family history and memories of Duluth in a rich, vibrant sharing of local heritage. It is this kind of connection to one another that helps us understand our shared place in the community and builds mutual respect.
Miigwech (thank you) to the Indigenous Commission for welcoming a MCH presence at monthly meetings and community forums!
-LeAnn Littlewolf, Tribal Organizer
About the Project
With support from the Duluth Superior Community Foundation and Northland Foundation, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless is strengthening our relationships in Northeast Minnesota with Tribal communities and partners.