Racism, and oppression is in the DNA of our society. Fortunately, the willingness to learn and change is also a strength we can draw on. The wealth of early America came primarily from the labor of enslaved Africans, and from the land, rivers, lakes and air of the continent. These resources were taken by the brutal genocide and colonization of the Indigenous people who lived here and by the profiteers in humanity who trafficked in human misery.
The major treaty with the Dakota was the Treaty of the Traverse Des Sioux, signed in 1851, and more than 40 treaties culminating with the Mille Lacs treaty of 1865 were signed with the Anishinaabe. None of these treaties were honored by the United States government or the State of Minnesota. It is important to know, however, that they were honored by the Indigenous nations and their people. In fact to this day, the treaties are considered important and binding documents by the Native Nations. The people of Minnesota gained much by these treaties. The great cities at the junction of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers thrived and grew in the peace these treaties provided. We who live here benefit greatly from this legacy.
Our wealth resulted from resources taken from the stolen land without regard to the protection or care of the earth and the living things upon it. The growth of our country was also fueled by the love/hate of immigrants who were needed to settle but who’s cultural differences brought changes. This fear, and these racist attitudes, have been passed down through generations and systemically installed in our governmental, business and civic organizations. This country has made great strides—our willingness to examine ourselves, and endeavor to improve our society is something to love about the United States.
We are entering a watershed moment, the third in my lifetime. The first, the voting and civil rights struggles of the 1960s, culminated with the Voting Rights Act and the end of government sanctioned segregation. The second focused on the understandings of the complexity of gender and sexuality experienced in our community. When I ran for the School Board in 1982, the MPS sued to keep a gay pride advertisement out of the South High student paper. By the time I left, 10 years later, we had given benefits to non-married partners, and teachers proudly marched under the MFT banner in the parade. Twenty years later, marriage was redefined.
Now, led by young people, people of color and immigrants, we again have the opportunity for great strides in addressing both systemic and individual racism. Yes, we must focus on the systems that are anchoring racism, but if we don’t also change the attitudes that people like Officer Chauvin displayed, we have not holistically addressed the sickness.
The renaming of sports teams, buildings and lakes and the removal or rebranding of monuments are signposts, educational moments, as we embark on the work of understanding and addressing the ways that racism is hurting our citizens. The policing system, the educational system, the healthcare system are existential realities in our lives. By that I mean that our very existence relies upon the successful delivery of these services. It is appropriate that we start there.
I believe that we will agree on some kind of reparations, reconciliation and healing. We cannot stop there. We will need fundamental change, and there will be mistakes, hurt, and missteps along the way. Our challenge is to minimize these missteps, and not stop progress. As we can learn from South Africa as it dismantled Apartheid, great changes are possible, but the work is never finished.