Wedged in the stronghold along the hi-way wall and Franklin Avenue a community has taken root in tents, blankets, rituals, and belief. The first day of November 2018 was bright and one of the last warm days in the heart of Minneapolis at the Wall of Forgotten Natives. Despite Mayoral promises and coverage by most major broadcast news outlets, the Hiawatha Camp remains. It is a crowded, smoke-filled, reminder that all boats are not being lifted by the boom and that rising rents squeeze people into the street. The chosen name for the camp should also remind us of the many ways that the Wall of Forgotten Natives is but the latest result of the unchecked, barely acknowledged, white culture of manifest destiny. There is real time history playing out behind the barrier at Hiawatha, Franklin in Hennepin County. Franklin, Hiawatha and Hennepin. Could the intersection be any more obvious? It is the latest encampment on a 500 year long trail and many of us drive right by everyday. I know that I do. Hopefully, after you watch and listen to the Forgotten Voices you’ll think at least twice as you cruise on by. I know that I do.
I met Thao Xiong in the streets. His friend, Phumee Lee, was killed by St. Paul Police in 2017. You’ll see him in many of the videos released through New Hughes and posted on the FB Video Feed. Thao moved into the tent city to teach bike repair and build basic transportation for the 600 or so residents and daily visitors to the camp. I have been following his posts and videos describing the day to day, give and take, at the Wall. Xiong’s work in the tent city and his dedication to documentation are testaments to the true heart and strong soul Thao carries within him. The first time I first got to the camp, Thao introduced me to James Cross, organizer at Natives Against Heroin, and at the Wall. I recognized James from a few public forums that I have attended, either to record or to participate. Natives Against Heroin (NAH) and Native Lives Matter sponsor, promote, and put on, many of the events depicted in our recent videos. The work of NAH and Thao at the Wall of Forgotten Natives were the impetus for this New Hughes report. The positive, forward-looking stories told by people in the camp were so pervasive and wise, that it became a Spin Positive post. To be transparent, there were more negative narratives being told while I was at the Wall, but I did not record them because they involved people that had previously asked that I not record them. I always honor those requests. In one other case, people noted the camera while filming and asked not to be included. Again, request honored.
The goal was to amplify the words and the voices that I found at the Wall of Forgotten Natives in November 2018 as a means to raise more awareness of their situation and to urge more people to help them. The hope was that by listening to the people living and working in the camp, those of us living our lives elsewhere might begin the understand how to best apply our thought, effort, and resources to support the people at the camp. The result was a 4 part video series, Forgotten Voices. The title is a reflection of the Wall and it expresses the reality that solutions implemented by governments have very often been designed without consideration of what the people on the business end of their programs need and desire. The more meta gist of Forgotten Voices might be a commentary on how easy it is it to be distracted from the basic message threaded through all of the clips in the series, look for the positive and let it guide you as you move forward. Watch and see if you can’t find it.
As I write and watch the videos, it is barely above zero. When I listen to Frank recall his nights in South Dakota at -68 degrees and smile with him remembering that it was all for free and didn’t cost nothing, then he reminds me that warm coffee and soup were part of how he made it. Listen to Frank. He knows what it takes to survive the situation confronting him. Fast Forward Stronghold is a play on words culled from the clip as it came together around a theme of community and healing. Cathy spoke about the need to speed the process up and get them housed soon. Pierre talked about moving forward even when it seems like you cannot. Desi called it a Stronghold. Stronghold at the Wall of Forgotten Natives. Everyone else told stories of life in the Stronghold and Thao moved mountains by turning them into bikes, taking care of the community, and cleaning up the neighborhood. Positive Wisdom expresses the resilience and positive energy that pervaded the video I recorded. To be sure, there are serious moments too, James underscoring the poverty in the camp and Frank calling on the Mayor to follow through on his promise to house them by January 2019. God doesn’t make junk. This is our somewhere. Smile &UR Strong embodies the essence of the video series and hopefully the spirit of the Wall of Forgotten Natives Stronghold. Get out of the fast lane, smile, and focus on the positive. Build community by building for your community and teaching them how to build. Organize and help keep the fires burning.