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Community feast marks end of the homeless encampment and 'the beginning of something great'

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Community members came together for a feast.
Community members came together for a feast of bison, squash, brussel sprouts, and fry bread to mark the end of the homeless encampment along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues.
Courtesy of Courtney Cochran

It's been nearly a month since Minneapolis closed the state's largest homeless encampment along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues, and more than a hundred people packed up their belongings and moved from tents into a new temporary shelter. 

On Friday, a community feast was held to mark the end of the encampment and the beginning of a new chapter for everyone involved.

"The feast marks a turning point both physically in moving people from the camp to the navigation center and also from the city moving from being reactive around homelessness and addiction to being proactive," said Camille Gage, an outreach worker in the encampment who helped organize the feast.

In attendance: former residents of the camp, outreach workers, government workers, police officers, tribal leaders, and health workers. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey came to acknowledge the monumental effort it took to build and open a new shelter in a matter of months.

"It was probably the most challenging thing that we've done as a city and in partnership with community since I've taken office," Frey said. "It's also one of the proudest moments and it's a moment that we supported some incredible leadership from our Native community."

The name for the feast was WiiDooKoDaaDiiWag which means "They Help Each Other" in Ojibwe. It was served at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, just across the street from the site of the former encampment.

The feast began with ceremonial offerings — tobacco for the creator and a plate of food for the dead. Guests smudged themselves with sage, and then a drum circle sang prayers for the four people who died in the encampment and one man who died of an apparent drug overdose in the navigation center last week.

Residents of the navigation center gather for a community feast.
Former resident of the encampment Desi Gokey (right) joined residents of the navigation center, outreach workers, government officials, and tribal leaders for a community feast to mark the closing of the encampment.
Courtesy of Courtney Cochran

The feast was prepared by volunteers with food from numerous donors. One hundred pounds of bison were donated by Buffalo Gal and butchered by "The Sioux Chef" Sean Sherman. Eighty pounds of squash came from A Dream of Wild Health, pounds and pounds of brussel sprouts came from Night Owl Farms, and wild rice and fry bread came from PowWow Grounds.

Desi Gokey, a former resident of the encampment who now has his own apartment, said it was a wonderful evening.

"The fry bread was a hit. That buffalo meat, which is medicine as well, it melted right in my mouth. Everything was very well rounded. It was a very good meal," Gokey said.

The feast is the first of a series of similar events planned by the Native American Community Development Institute, which aim to put indigenous voices at the center of addressing homelessness and addiction in the urban Indian community. 

Red Lake Tribal Secretary Sam Strong, who was a leader in the effort to help people in the encampment, says it was a strong start.

"To me this is the beginning of something great. The beginning of a renaissance in how we think about our own people. How we think about people as assets not liabilities," Strong said.