Celebrating American Indian Month with the reopening of local community center

A drum circle plays as people march in the street behidn them
Drummers lead parade down Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis during a kickoff event marking the start of Minnesota American Indian Month on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

While November is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month nationwide, Indigenous communities here in Minnesota celebrate American Indian Month throughout May.

A part of this month’s celebration is the reopening of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, but that’s just the start.

Melissa Olson, MPR News Native News reporter, joined MPR News guest host Nina Moini live from the celebration.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

NINA MOINI: While November is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month nationwide, Indigenous communities here in Minnesota celebrate American Indian Month throughout May. A part of this month's celebration is the reopening of the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

But that's just the start. MPR's Melissa Olson joins us live from the celebration. Hi, Melissa.


NINA MOINI: I hope you're having tons of fun. What's happening out there in south Minneapolis? You're on Franklin Ave?

MELISSA OLSON: We are here on the ave, and it is an absolutely gorgeous day out here. The sun is shining. There are about a thousand people gathered here for the American Indian Month kickoff event here on the Cultural Corridor, the American Indian Cultural Corridor. As you explained, the community here celebrates American Indian Month throughout May.

So there was a large parade that started at Cedar Field on 26th and Cedar. That parade came north down 18th and then proceeded all the way down 24th Street and then came back to Franklin Avenue. And everything sort of culminated here in front of the newly renovated Minneapolis American Indian Center. So, yeah, there's just a lot of great energy here. We've just come from the ribbon cutting where we heard a number of speakers sort of talk about the importance of the center's reopening.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, and tell me more about that reopening at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

MELISSA OLSON: Yeah, so the Minneapolis American Indian Center has been here just about 50 years. It opened for the first time in 1975, and it's just undergone its first sort of full renovation, and that renovation has taken about two years, just about two years. Its director, Mary LaGarde has raised almost $30 million. I understand they have some more money that they're trying to raise to complete the renovation.

They've added about 20,000 square feet to the building. So we had a chance to walk in last Thursday for a little bit of a sneak peek, a soft opening, and the building is amazing, almost recognizable for those people who might have been inside before.

But it's a much-needed repair. There was sort of a leaky roof. There was just, I think, a sense that the building was not being utilized like it should, and so they went and talked to community to find out what people really wanted from the building. And what they found was that, really, it came down to the design of the center being more open, sort of changing and moving with the community. And so that's what we're seeing here today.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, I think after 50 years to renovate a building like that is almost symbolic in a way, and I can kind of hear the vibrance in your voice, and it sounds like it's a really beautiful day. What is the center's importance to the state and the region at large?

MELISSA OLSON: We heard just a few minutes ago from tribal leaders who traveled here to Minneapolis to talk about the importance of the center. So interesting. We heard from Chairman Mike Fairbanks of the White Earth Nation, Chairman Faron Jackson of Leech Lake, and Chairman Kevin Dupuis. All three of them grew up either in Minneapolis or Saint Paul and have moved home since. So they had this sense of how important it is to be sort of grounded here at home base at the Minneapolis American Indian Center and how important that is to the entire region.

This is Chairman Dupuis talking about that sense of community.

KEVIN DUPUIS: And no matter what reservation or tribe that you come from, the people that live here, they all live together. So whether they were born here, whether they moved here, it becomes a total communal. And all tribes and reservations are communal. So whatever they come from, wherever they come from, they bring the same principles here. So I think the principle of being noticed and being out there is one thing, but it really resonates to the point of how people are proud of who they are as a people.

NINA MOINI: That's a great point. What does the rest of the day look like for you, Melissa?

MELISSA OLSON: Yeah, so I think what they're getting ready to do now-- and again, there's about a thousand people sort of just here in front of the Indian Center, the Minneapolis American Indian Center. And they're getting ready to take tours of the building. So they're going to get a sense of how the building has changed and the sense of openness that is felt throughout the new design.

There are going to be some performances throughout the day. The Sampson brothers, the hoop-dancing duo, will be performing here shortly. I understand there are some singers who will also be performing as the afternoon goes on.

I think the big thing today has been that sense of visibility, and this is Chairman Dupuis with just a brief cut about what that means today.

KEVIN DUPUIS: The other thing, too, is that when you have something at this magnitude in this city, again, no matter where the city is, it goes back to the point. We see you, but do you see us?

MELISSA OLSON: Yeah, that sense of visibility was something that, as I chatted with people this morning, is so important because it's been such a big part of how this community has survived and how it's thrived. So I think everybody's looking forward, of course, to seeing the new center. But then there will be a pow wow tonight, I think around 6 o'clock. And so people I think are just going to visit and talk and share what's on their minds and in their hearts.

NINA MOINI: Yeah. Here's to more visibility in May and across the year, and you're a big part of that. Thanks so much for joining us, Melissa.

MELISSA OLSON: You're welcome, Nina

NINA MOINI: Melissa Olson is a reporter for MPR's Native News Project.

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