For three nights in a row after the murder of George Floyd, Native community members living in south Minneapolis masked-up and protested police brutality in solidarity with the Black community.
Native folks in Minneapolis know a lot about this subject. In 1968, a tipping point occurred that led to the founding of the American Indian Movement on Franklin Avenue, which originally came together to document the mistreatment of American Indians at the hands of police.
Given the number of people in our community, the percentage of Native people incarcerated is unacceptably high compared to the general public.
I have lived in the Twin Cities since 2006. Every year I hear firsthand about a Native person being beaten, tazed, or worse from the violence of over-policing. Derek Chauvin, the officer whose knee crushed the life out of George Floyd, had previous run-ins with Native community members. He caused the death of an Ojibwe man in 2006 but was cleared of wrong doing.
On May 28, I scanned my social media feeds watching friends document the night that ultimately led to the destruction of the 3rd Precinct and its surrounding neighborhood. I watched friends and community members mobilize and protect Native organizations and housing against the chaos that destroyed so many buildings on Lake and Minnehaha, including the newly opened Migizi Communications space.
I saw many folks take what they learned from Standing Rock four years earlier and reflect the same non-violent principles. They used spirituality and prayer to cope.
The No DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) protest that brought together thousands of water protectors to South Dakota in 2016 created a wave of hope and cultural revitalization for Indigenous communities worldwide. People who had lost their agency through colonial systems found purpose and clarity again. Elders advised people in spiritual and social practices. Younger people found how they fit into community.
When chaos broke out in the Twin Cities, I saw those same protectors, along with members of the American Indian Movement, jump into action to protect.
Migizi is an organization, developed in the American Indian Movement era, that has documented the Twin Cities American Indian Community and educated and trained youth for 43 years. Founded by and run by Native women, including current executive director Kelly Drummer, it has housed archives from First Person Radio productions about Native people and issues the mainstream media consistently leaves out. The stories and voices are irreplaceable, and have given our community a living history and ability to reflect and grow.
For five years, the organization had been searching and fundraising for a new home. In July 2019, they finally opened doors to a new $1.6 million space in the heart of the community they served.
On May 28, I went to bed after watching a friend’s Facebook live feed that showed fires that had begun. At the time, it seemed as though Migizi was safe. Around 3am, I was able to fall asleep.
When I awoke, I learned that the fires had spread down an entire block, engulfing Migizi Communications. The idea of losing these histories was devastating.
In the isolation of the pandemic, and the outrage and anger at the disparities caused by white supremacy, I, like many, wanted to do something.
Because I was up so early, I was one of the first people to put a simple Facebook fundraiser together. By the end of the day, it had raised $100,000 for Migizi. The majority of the donations were under $30. They came from all over Minnesota, the U.S., and as far away as France. Just like the protests that erupted around the world, people came together wanting to make systemic change overnight.
This was just the beginning of a healing journey that is still in progress. Migizi continues to fundraise through its website, and is deciding how to move forward.
Luckily, a few weeks prior, Migizi received a grant to archive its First Person Productions stories that are on reel-to-reel tape. Only a few days before the fire, they had been moved out of the building, along with a few hard drives.
The pandemic seemed to direct people, definitely me, inward. There were many emotions and histories to reckon with on an individual basis in the isolation that the pandemic brought. Many of the tragedies were personal ones. When George Floyd was killed, it seemed to me to bring out a second wave of change that forced us to look at the exact same things but in a wide societal way. I feel there is no way of healing from this without the support and collaboration of others.
Although the damage at Migizi is extensive, and the building is declared a total loss, hundreds of people gathered to begin cleaning up the pieces — financially, physically, and spiritually.
At a healing feast Migizi held on June 5, youth from its programs came together with elders to pray, talk about social justice and their connection to Migizi, perform their poetry, and express readiness for a more just future for Native and Black communities.
Rhiana Yazzie (she/her) is a Navajo playwright, filmmaker, director, performer, and producer. She was a Bush Leadership Fellow, a Playwrights’Center McKnight Fellow, and a two-time Playwrights’Center Jerome Fellow.