Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

North Shore nature retreat creates intentional space for people of color

People lead a hiking trail
Rebeka Ndosi leads a hike along the Encampment River in the fall of 2023 at the site of the Maji ya Chai Land Sanctuary north of Two Harbors.
Courtesy of Rebeka Ndosi

A nature-based retreat center planned outside Two Harbors is aiming to provide a restorative getaway for people of color. But Maji ya Chai is getting pushback from local residents over concerns of noise, traffic and other impacts. 35 residents of Silver Creek Township have appealed the Lake County planning commission’s April decision to grant the sanctuary a conditional use permit.

The founder of Maji ya Chai, Rebeka Ndosi, joined MPR News guest host Nina Moini to share her goals for the new center.

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

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Audio transcript

NINA MOINI: A nature-based retreat center planned outside Two Harbors is aiming to provide a restorative getaway for people of color. But Maji Ya Chai Achai is getting pushback from local residents over concerns of noise, traffic, and other impacts. 35 residents of Silver Creek Township have appealed to Lake County Planning Commission in their April decision to grant the sanctuary a conditional use permit.

Joining me now is the founder of Maji Ya Chai, Rebeka Ndosi, with her goal for the new center. Thank you for being here, Rebecca.

REBEKA NDOSI: Great to be here. Thank you, Nina.

NINA MOINI: I'm hoping that I'm saying this name correctly-- Mah-jee Uh Chai?

REBEKA NDOSI: Mah-jee Uh Chai.

NINA MOINI: Tell me where that name comes from. What's the inspiration there?

REBEKA NDOSI: The inspiration for the name is actually from my family. There's a place called Maji Ya Chai Village in Tanzania, which is where my father is from, and my family there. And it is the place where my family were mountain farmers for many generations and continue to care for land and water in Tanzania.

NINA MOINI: Beautiful.

REBEKA NDOSI: Yes.

NINA MOINI: Tell me about the space in Silver Creek Township and your plans to develop it. What are you envisioning there?

REBEKA NDOSI: Well, we're on 40 acres of land. We're just right off of Highway 3. So for anyone who knows the area, you take 61, go up, you turn left after Betty's Pies onto Highway 3-- we're actually located between the two pie places, and I won't talk about which one we prefer. They're both great.

We're planning to build a lodging space, a space where folks can come and know that they're intentionally welcome and safe to rest, to take care of the land, to take care of themselves, to listen to the birds, and do so in a way where they can completely, and we can completely, relax, where we can just know that we belong, We're wanted here. And that hasn't always been the experience for folks of color on the North Shore.

Certainly, I have my personal experience of just feeling like I can't fully relax. I'm a little uncomfortable because there aren't as many folks of color on the North Shore as there are white folks right now. So we're building this space so that we can have a space to gather, a space to be, to breathe, and to connect with each other and the land.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, it's hard to be comfortable somewhere where you don't see a ton of people who look like you.

REBEKA NDOSI: That's true.

NINA MOINI: Something that's known. So what would a day there look like? You mentioned just relaxing and just being, but would there be activities? Or what would it be like?

REBEKA NDOSI: Well, a day there, it would vary, really. So we started the organization back in 2020 as a location, so as a destination. We're not heavily focused on programming. However, we have several people, including myself, who are holistic health practitioners, and cultural healers, and such, and outdoor experts.

So one might come with their family or a group of another type and wake up to the alarm of birdsong if they wanted to, and go in to have a nice meal, and then go to the healing center, which we're planning to build, which could be for morning yoga, or meditation, or stretching.

It could be for some sort of music gathering. They could help us garden and grow some vegetables there. And they could take advantage of the sauna and the hydrotherapy offerings that we're planning as well. Or they could walk on the footpaths across the encampment river and just take it as their own body, energy, and spirit really feels called.

NINA MOINI: I'm getting relaxed just you talking about it. I'm feeling more relaxed than I've been.

REBEKA NDOSI: Very good.

NINA MOINI: And I mentioned, the activities that you're describing don't sound particularly loud, but as I mentioned, there are a few dozen residents that are against this space coming to fruition. What is your response to people who don't want the retreat there? They're concerned about noise, or traffic, or just more people in the area.

REBEKA NDOSI: Our response has been and still is that we're with you. We're here as neighbors. We're not planning to be disruptive noise wise. There's already a lot of noise in the area already from traffic.

There's a gun range that's nearby so that we can hear it sometimes. There are there are dogs, sled dogs, which are awesome, and they bark a lot. So we are there to be part of the neighborhood, good neighbors. And we share a lot of their concerns that they've raised about fire.

We've actually been responsive in shifting our plans to some of the things, because of some of the concerns that they brought up. And there's an element of they're going to have to just wait and see, really, because even though we've said this again and again, what we're planning, there are those who don't seem to want to hear it, or just don't understand it enough, or maybe feel scared of what they don't know at this point.

So we have responded. We've heard them. We've engaged them in conversation as they've been open to it and have left the door open for us to talk about our differences or talk about concerns as neighbors. Unfortunately, right now, they're not really talking with us.

So we focus, though, on the neighbors in the area who are supportive. And there are so many. In fact, our supporters outnumber the ones who are working to stop what we're doing. So we are really grateful for them.

They prove to us that this is a place where we can belong, where we're wanted. And that is really exciting to have to have local folks and regional folks say, I want to help out. I want to come on board, and join up, and volunteer, and bring my family.

And we're so open to that and so grateful for all the new friends that we've made through this process. So amidst the opposition, there's also just a tremendous amount of support. And we're really, really glad to be in community with them.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, and our Dan Crocker did a whole story on this that people can read more about at mprnews.org. There is always sort of this idea of places that are sort of untouched by development, weighing, do we want more noise, do we want more development, or do we want to keep the serenity and the beauty? So some of those arguments are good things to dive into.

You're mentioning you have a ton of support. Why is it important for you to focus on BIPOC individuals, in particular? We know that, historically, folks who go up to the cabin or go up North may not always be BIPOC people.

REBEKA NDOSI: Right. Well, it's important because of that experience that I talked about of being on the North Shore and still feeling like I'm sticking out and not totally-- and, honestly, seeing eyes on me, watching me in stores, and if I'm at a campsite. And it does prevent the full experience of being able to take in the beauty-- just the stunning beauty, and tranquility, and peace of the area.

So our space is intentional, and explicit, and welcoming, and creating a safe place for folks of color. And I need to say this too-- it's not exclusive for folks of color, but we are intentional at welcoming folks of color, because we need that.

We're the only space like this on the North Shore. So we need that support. And we're being explicit so that we can increase the number of people who feel like they really belong on the North Shore. It's really, really important for people to say, you know what? Not only do I see you, but I welcome you explicitly.

And we know we want you to be able to relax, to rest, and be safe here so that, then, you can actually become more fully able to just be, and be yourself, and to, ultimately, hopefully, regenerate energy, if that's what you need, or to bring it down, or whatever you need. Connecting in nature really helps us to reflect and reconnect with our wholeness, which is good for everybody.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, we know how healing the effects of nature can be. So right now, you do have the green light to move ahead. When do you hope to be fully operational and having people come to visit?

REBEKA NDOSI: Well, it'll be a process to get from here to full, full operations as we got our permit for, right? So if we have everything in a row and all the support that we need comes in, then we're hoping to open fully in the spring of 2026.

NINA MOINI: Wonderful.

REBEKA NDOSI: Yes, we're really excited. And we really welcome any support that's out there who wants to help us to build this space for connection with nature and humanity.

NINA MOINI: Well, thank you so much for sharing about this with us, Rebeka.

REBEKA NDOSI: Thanks for having me.

NINA MOINI: That's Rebeka Ndosi, the founder of Maji Ya Chai Land Sanctuary.

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