The City of Minneapolis is perpetuating a humanitarian crisis against our neighbors who cannot afford housing. We are all witnesses to the tragedy. Instead of enacting common sense programs to support our neighbors, the City— led by Mayor Jacob Frey— is bullishly enforcing fiscally irresponsible and downright inhumane policies.
On Sept. 30, the Star Tribune published an opinion piece written by former Minneapolis Planning Commissioner Nick Magrino who advocated that “a significant portion of the chronically homeless need to be institutionalized.” Magrino appears to be horrifyingly ignorant of the genocide that State-sponsored institutions have perpetuated in Minnesota for more than 200 years. Stunningly, the piece was published on the Minnesota-wide Day of Remembrance for The Children Who Died While Attending United States Indian Boarding Schools in the State of Minnesota.
This is significant because these boarding schools were genocidal institutions. What began as a military fort on the most sacred land of the Dakota people in 1806, became the Federally-mandated expulsion of all Native people from Minnesota in 1863 (an exile that remains legal in American law-books). But this wasn’t enough for the colonial settlers, and soon they enacted the policy of forced assimilation, using Catholic-run boarding schools with the explicit mission to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” These institutions were disgusting places where physical and sexual abuse was common, and the cold-blooded murder of Native children occurred frequently. These boarding schools were in operation until 1969; many who survived the trauma are alive today.
Magrino’s opinion, which is ignorant of history and focuses on such an ambiguous scape goat as “social media,” puts on full display how government officials enforce colonial policies.
Nicole Mason, a resident of Little Earth, and member of the Red Lake Nation who is a leader of the peaceful, community-oriented and health-focused Camp Nenookaasi in South Minneapolis, said in response, “Magrino wrote about institutionalizing our people, and that is the cycle of boarding schools all over again. He wants to forcefully lock our people up when all we’re asking for is our lives back, our culture back, music back, and our language back. Magrino wants to steal that from us and lock us up.”
Magrino’s piece tries to appear empathetic; the subtitle reads “we need to help people” and the cover image shows a sign in front of a camp that boldly states, “SHELTER RESOURCES.” But anyone who lives or volunteers at a camp knows that there are not enough shelters and resources for all of our neighbors without housing.
Vinny Dion, a camp outreach worker with the American Indian Community Development Corporation and Little Earth Defender, said in an interview with the Red Nation Podcast, “When they evict [our relatives] out, [the City is] throwing everything away. If they have IDs, medications, any kind of food, clothing, then they have to start over… If there is a camp, we know where [our relatives] are at. We can go check on them every day, we can do a housing assessment with them, and... I can get them on the list [for housing]… Sometimes it takes 3 to 4 months.” Encampments offer a level of stability that supports people getting housing, staying sober, and working together to remain safe.
In fact, while the City offers absolutely no resources directly to folks without housing, the City has spent roughly $500,000 on camp evictions between May 2022 and April 2023– a majority of costs coming from Police presence. (Source: Legislative Directive Response on Homeless Encampment Closures) This money could be used to help our neighbors rather than throw their hard-won progress in the trash. As a point of reference, through community-based donations, Camp Nenookaasi spends $1,000 a day to feed and house 175 people on a plot smaller than one acre. From the perspective of the Camp, the City is the main perpetrator of violence and disruptor of security.
The most important question we have to ask is, What does the City expect people to do once they’re evicted from the camps? Every time the City bulldozes a camp, it is destroying their protection against the elements and predators like drug pushers and pimps. The City’s eviction policy actively perpetuates conditions in which people end up living in the shadow of civilization where drugs and crime run rampant. Through their ignorance, and prejudice, City officials like Magrino and Frey use tax dollars to build the infrastructure that imprisons and institutionalizes our neighbors.
What afflicts the Native unhoused citizens of Minneapolis is not widespread and inherent mental health crises or drug addictions (such that Magrino writes in his Star Tribune article). The problem is the State-sponsored systematic theft of land, languages, and families; the criminalization of cultural practices, food systems, and right to Life; and the pillaging and destruction of clean soil, air, and water that has been sacred and pristine for over ten thousand years prior to Christian year 1492. Overlooking history is a classic conservative tactic, and a favorite of Mayor Frey and his conservative allies, like Nick Magrino.
Any solution that will truly improve the conditions of life for our houseless relatives will not occur quickly. We need to support the basic blocks of Life– shelter, food, water, education– and take a holistic and direct approach to City services. Our “Strong Mayor” is taking a destructive, expensive, and illogical approach to housing policy.
Daniel Schmidt is a south Minneapolis resident.
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