By Toya Stewart Downey Mille Lacs Band Member
More than 700 people from different cultures, races, and back- grounds spent part of Indigenous Peoples' Day 2019 at the American Indian Center sampling delicious foods created by local Native American chefs.
The Indigenous Food Tasting was sponsored by Dream of Wild Health, an organization whose mission is to "restore health and well-being in the Native community by recovering knowledge of and access to healthy Indigenous foods, medicines, and lifeways."
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan (a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe) were also at the event.
"It is a good day to be Indigenous and a good day to be at the American Indian Center," the Lieutenant Governor told the crowds of people as they stood in long lines that snaked around the gym.
"This day is about celebrating who we are, our culture, and the diversity of native folks across the nation," she said. "It's also about visibility. And about acknowledging that as Native people, we are still here. We still exist and we continue to exist within a contemporary context."
She added that part of the significance of the gathering was that it preserved and uplifted the significance of indigenous foods, languages, "traditions, ingredients, and techniques."
Those chefs, some of whom have made national headlines for their work, included: Vern Dafoe and the Sioux Chef team, Austin Bartold with Austin Catering, the DWH Youth Leaders and Gatherings Cafe, Elena Terry and her team from Wild Bearies, and Howasta Means from Spirit Dish Catering.
The bite-sized morsels and small plates included sunflower cookies, wild rice and buffalo salad, three sisters soup, squash bars, "sass-squash" custard cups, wild rice blue corn cakes with mixed berry wojapi, and braised bison with wild rice and greens.
While the lines deterred some, they moved quickly and the food was totally worth the wait.
The Governor welcomed attendees and gave remarks, but it was the Lieutenant Governor who stole the show with her impassioned speech that honored Native people everywhere.
During Peggy's remarks, she also read a proclamation from the Governor that identified October 14, 2019 as Indigenous Peoples' Day across the state.
"To me, Indigenous Peoples' Day is about celebrating who we are, but it's also about undoing the centuries of erasure of Native People. Both in Minnesota and across this country," Peggy said.
She also shared with the audience that there were many people, including some of her former colleagues in the Minnesota State Legislature, who didn’t know that Native people still exist.
"Much less that there are 11 reservations in the state of Minnesota and a robust, amazing, urban American Indian community right here in Minneapolis," she said.
"The reality is, Indigenous Peoples' Day isn’t about Indigenous people celebrating Indigenous people. It's about everyone recognizing our shared history. And by shared history, I mean realizing that the erasure of our Native people was not some- thing that only affected Native people; it has affected the way our state and entire country has developed."
Peggy added that both she and the Governor are committed to dedicating each day in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day and will do so with a proclamation annually. But, she added, the Governor (who she called her buddy and partner in social justice) would quickly and happily sign a legislative bill that would permanently change it from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Governor Walz heartily agreed. He also praised the event organizers and volunteers who made the space welcoming for all.
He said the American Indian Center and the event was the "antidote for the message of hate and exclusion," that happened when the U.S. President visited the Twin Cities.
"This place is a connection to those who understood what it meant to be stewards of the land and what it meant to create community," he said. "So today, as we do our small part, that's only the beginning. Our administration is committed to doing this better, to honor nation-to-nation relations and government-to-government relations."