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Minnesota Native News

180 EpisodesProduced by Minnesota Native NewsWebsite

Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


Contending with the University of Minnesota's Founding Sins

This is Minnesota Native News. I’m Marie Rock. Coming up…At the University of Minnesota, a $5 million grant is funding projects to address racial justice... with the aim of leading social and cultural transformations. One project examines the University's history with the state's Tribal Nations. Here’s reporter Feven Gerezgiher with more.


In the wake of a racial reckoning and thirty years after the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council first asked the University of Minnesota to repatriate American Indian human remains, the Council in 2020 passed a series of resolutions demanding “a truthful historic accounting” of the university’s impact.


Two high level people are working to make this happen from within the University. Last year, UofM President Joan Gabel hired Fond du Lac member Karen Diver to her senior leadership team. Professor[1] Tadd Johnson, member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, serves as liaison between the UofM system and Tribal Nations.


Johnson says the U has to contend with its grim founding story.


The University of Minnesota benefited from the genocide of Native American people, and kicking them out, and actually killing them, hanging them. And granted, there were people that were killed on both sides of the Dakota War, but it was the Dakota that had to pay. So to me, Minnesota has a special obligation because I mean, there's some shame in having the largest mass execution in American history and then the U of M ended up benefiting from it.


The project is called the Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing or TRUTH Project. It is led by research fellows from and selected by each Tribal Nation so the University can reckon with how it has harmed and continues to harm each sovereign nation.


The[2]  Ojibwe up north are saying, “Hey, you took the DNA of our wild rice and put our wild rice businesses out of business.” And the Dakota are saying, “Hey, you took all of our land and sold it, and kicked us out of Minnesota and made a ton of money to endow your university.”


The TRUTH Project is funded through a larger system-wide initiative called Minnesota Transform that was established through a $5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Minnesota Transform seeks to make changes for the region’s Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and refugee communities. In addition to the TRUTH Project, it supports access to UMN Dakota language classes for community members[3] and creates Ojibwe language immersion housing for students.


An Garagiola is a research assistant with the TRUTH Project.


Boozhoo, An indizhinikaaz. My name is An. I am a descendant of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, where my mom and my grandma are enrolled members. 


Garagiola said part of the research has been delving into the impact of the 1862 Morrill Act and other land grabs.


So often the narrative that we hear about land grant universities or the founding of land grant universities is this positive spin, as you know, this was for the betterment of the country, right? For the public good, if you will. But we don't really talk about who the public is or whose expense that came at.


According to data from High Country News, the U.S. government bought Dakota land in one treaty at $0.02 per acre. In contrast, the University of Minnesota sold those lands for $5 per acre, or 251 times that amount[4] .


Garagiola points to the U’s far reach in the state - from education to the business sector - as reason why it should lead this work. She says many professionals are unaware about sovereign rights or consultation policies for Tribal communities[5] .


I think that the university has a great responsibility, one, to teach everybody, Native and non-native, the accurate truth, and to prepare them to go out into their future careers accurately informed. And more broadly, the University has a responsibility to Indigenous people because of the anti-Indigenous policies that were created in order to found the institution. 


The TRUTH Project’s report is expected to be released in June. Garagiola said Tribal research fellows will hold a symposium in April to share their research with community and get final feedback before its release.


In the meantime, the UofM Board of Regents recently voted to return artifacts belonging to the Mimbres people.


For Minnesota Native News, I’m Feven Gerezgiher.





Senior Director of the Office of American Indian Tribal Nations Relations for the university system.

"What the tribes’ request was to look at the past, present, and future of the University of Minnesota’s relationship with the tribes of Minnesota. And so.."

reduces the cost of language classes for community members

The U and 32 other universities enriched their endowments with these massive land transfers.

We have, you know, people going on to be doctors, lawyers, politicians, who have no idea about the sovereign rights that Native Americans hold, or what it means to go into consultation policies, or when consultation policy should be enacted, or the unique political place that Natives hold, you know, as a category rather than a racial category, which I think a lot of folks just see it, as, you know, because they don't know.

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