Healing Trauma: Minnesota Black Land Trust

Minnesota Black Land Trust Inaugural Projects: Rebeka Ndosi of Maji ya Chai Land Sanctuary (l) and Signe Harriday of Rootsprings Cooperative. Photo Sarah Whiting

Black people in the United States often have a trauma reaction in response to rural spaces. They may conjure images of sharecropping, trying to outrun slave catchers, or the carceral system of hiring prisoners to work land for white landowners. Signe Harriday, founding member of Rootsprings Cooperative, wants to form new narratives for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). “For BIPOC folks, our relationship with the land does not have to be bound up in the narrative of both enslavement and servitude. It can be generative and restorative,” she explains.

The Road to Here

Harriday is an artist committed to Black liberation, with more than 20 years of experience in social justice and healing work. She and others form the core of Rootsprings Cooperative, a community supported retreat (CSR) program stewarded by three BIPOC lesbian couples who purchased 36 acres of land in Annandale in February 2021. BIPOC folks can purchase a fourth, half, or full share to spend time at “their cabin up north,” on land that includes a small orchard of pear and apple trees, a garden, chickens, a wellness center, an outdoor cooking space, three hermitages for guest stays, and a barn that will be renovated for programming space. The CSR model was attractive to the group as they considered how to create a community where people can feel ownership.

“When we take time to say we deserve the space to contemplate, to reflect, to writhe, to rumble, to shake, to swim, to write, to be still … only then will we have capacity to know what our healing journey could be,” Harriday explains.

The name, Rootsprings Cooperative, is based on how a root system has a way of grounding us and being an expression of expansiveness that sometimes we cannot see. It suggests the need to be grounded yet able to sway and rock in the breeze — to swing in ways that invite emotional health.

The land offers biodiversity: trumpet swans, beavers, loons, muskrats, giant turtles, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, doves, and barn swallows. The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls originally built the retreat center in 1988. They created a labyrinth that is now incorporated into the Rootsprings logo.

The Cooperative is part of the Minnesota Black Land Trust, a Black-led ecosystem and incubator that practices collective wellness in rural Minnesota through agriculture, creative development, and spiritual restoration.

Uncovering Wholeness

Maji ya Chai Land Sanctuary, situated on 120 acres in Finland, Minnesota, and under the direction of founder and executive director Rebeka Ndosi, is also part of Minnesota Black Land Trust. Ndosi is of Tanzanian descent, taught biology at the University of Minnesota, and has a background in radio and television production. She worked as a director of community engagement before transitioning full time to healing and justice work. “We are all born with an inner knowing,” she says. “We are trained away from listening to it and trained away from trusting it.”

Maji ya Chai is a Tanzanian phrase that means “water like

tea,” for the reddish-brown tint of mineral-rich soil found in the area. The project is currently in fundraising mode. Ndosi’s vision includes a retreat house; a healing center with a communal bath; a movement studio; a sauna; and music spaces.

Ndosi guides children, youth, and adults in energy, body, and breath work to uncover roots of trauma. After years in the nonprofit sector, she sees how pressure is put on those who are working to address society’s ills.

Reflecting on her years of social justice work, Ndosi says, “We struggle to dismantle systems that have caused harm, and continue to cause harm, and we don’t take breaks. Those experiences move us away from balance and lead to the need for engagement with the land. We need space for healers and healing and time to find peace, time to rest. Some people have more choice about access to land than others. We deserve to have time to know who we are — time to break down and get support, to grow stronger, and to know we have people around us who are rooting for our wholeness.”

Both Harriday and Ndosi have found that exploring land- based collective wellness requires a working definition of “health and healing.” Ndosi defines health and healing as “the journey back to all of yourself. It is about an experience of coming into balance of wholeness. We come into this world with wholeness, but we are taught to choose parts of ourselves in order to survive.”

Harriday says there is no singular definition of health, and that healing is a journey and not a destination. Each individual has their own layers of trauma to work through. But “this is not a ‘woe is me’ narrative,” she says. There is complexity that comes from living in a society that is dictated by a set of rules that do not uplift individual or collective humanity. Existing means constantly doing work on our own healing journeys.

As Ndosi puts it: “We have moved so far from wholeness in this country rooted in violence, colonization, enslavement, and the [attempted] extermination of Indigenous people. The legacy of that behavior is a mindset of scarcity, and wherever that violence moves, it results in disconnecting people, isolation, physical separation, and an indoctrination that there is some single external power source, which is the opposite of being in connection with your soul, with your inner knowing.”

I Have Been Outside and I Feel Better

An experience with the land can become an emotional or mental access point to embody evidence of a different way to be. There is a feeling of awe that can be found when we are immersed in green spaces, which can offer healing in ways that nothing else can. “Those experiences allow our bodies to know what is liberating and freeing,” Ndosi says. “They can serve as a deep guide to move toward that and remember what it is we are here to do.”

“Why the land? Because Mother Earth can hold it,” Harriday says. “Mother Earth has the capacity to transform those atrocities if we choose to be in loving relationship with Her. We can work to be in right relationship with the land with an embrace of the complexity that we are on the land that was stolen from our Indigenous siblings.

“We are still raw from the weight of multiple pandemics: Covid-19, a racial reckoning, and hundreds of years of colonialism and genocide,” she adds.

“The only way we can see a new way of being in relationship with each other, and with the earth, and with all the other living beings, is to not hold the struggle in the center, but to hold what it is we are working for in the center,” Ndosi says. “We are moving toward something — not just bracing against something, because that will wear us out every single time.”