Minneapolis clears Camp Nenookaasi, an encampment of unhoused, mostly Native people

A woman walks through a camp with duffle bags.
Sagwant Butcher, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, carries her belongings out of Camp Nenookaasi, where she had been living for the past month, on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 4:45 p.m.

The city of Minneapolis began clearing Camp Nenookaasi, a large encampment of unsheltered people, just before noon Thursday.

More than 100 people have been living in tents and other temporary structures at Camp Nenookaasi for months. Most of the residents who have been living at the encampment are Native people.

Police officers walk past a fence lined with protest signs
Minneapolis police chief Brian O’Hara (right) and other officers approach the entrance to Camp Nenookaasi on Thursday in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Police waited into the late morning for people to move out. There were no apparent confrontations between residents and police.

Residents of the camp, located near the intersection of 23rd Street and 13th Avenue, started folding tents and gathering belongings after a pre-dawn breakfast. The mood was somber then purposeful as the sun came up.  

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As the day progressed, people gathered for a news conference held by the camp. The gathering included camp organizer Nicole Mason, Minneapolis council members Jason Chavez and Elliott Payne, Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, residents and others.

Tribal leadership also spoke. Red Lake Nation Tribal Secretary Sam Strong described the need for a healing center to be built in the area as an option for those needing services, and the Red Lake Nation being a partner in that pursuit.

“Today is about creating a future where we can build this healing center,” said Strong.

A police officer speaks with a man wearing a fur hat
Red Lake Nation tribal secretary Sam Strong (left) speaks with Brian O’Hara outside Camp Nenookaasi on Thursday in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“The Red Lake Nation is committed to being that partner, to build a space where our people can go when it gets cold, to build a space where our people can learn and relearn our language, our culture, our way of life, the tools to bring them back into society, to bring them on the Red Road. And to do that, we need the cooperation of state, city, federal partners.”

A Metro Transit bus was reportedly onsite to transport people leaving the camp to a warming center.

Regina Medina updates Tom Crann on All Things Considered about the clearing of Camp Nenookaasi

Organizations in the area have expressed their concerns about the encampment. Sharon Day is the executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, which operates a housing complex adjacent to the encampment. Day outlined support of the camp’s closure in a press release and listed several concerns related to the camp.

“We are aware of the over 100 police reports, including sexual assault, human trafficking, other violence and drug trafficking,” wrote Day. “We are concerned about the fires burning within feet of residential buildings, including buildings clad in cedar. We have had vandalism including our vehicle being drilled to access fuel.”

The Indigenous Peoples Task Force supports government leadership providing more resources for housing.

Late last week, Minneapolis officials set the latest date for closure of the camp for Thursday morning. The city had previously delayed the closing twice because it was working to find places for camp residents to live, at least temporarily.   

Camp organizer Nicole Mason said she will continue to work on their behalf. 

“My goal and their goal have not changed. They all want housing. We want the healing center. They want recovery,” Mason said. 

A man holds burning sage.
Nenookaasi Camp organizer Nicole Mason holds a bundle of burning sage as she walks through the encampment in the morning on Thursday in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Many people in the camp struggle with opioid use disorder. A city of Minneapolis spokesperson said in a statement earlier in the week that dozens of former Nenookaasi residents are in more stable housing situations

For many residents, their next move is unknown. Some may take their belongings to another location nearby, others may relocate to one of the shelter beds provided by the city and county. A city spokesperson previously said that local shelters will make 90 beds available to camp residents.

Two residents of the camp tried to stop the closure, but a federal judge denied their request for a halt late Wednesday. The residents said in part that the eviction would affect their health and that there were no clear plans to preserve their belongings.  

People stand outside a row of porta potties
Dani Faye Blue holds a Red Lake Nation flag as Minneapolis police officers wait to speak with camp organizer Nicole Mason at the entrance to Camp Nenookaasi on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News