Race Equity is Important in Northwest Minnesota

Nate Dorr - Program Officer - Grants

It’s true Native Americans make up the vast majority of northwest Minnesota’s people of color. However, the number of foreign-born residents continues to increase. Many of the challenges among diverse racial groups are preserving cultural heritage or identity, overcoming systemic barriers, and creating a shared understanding to engage all members of our communities.

Although the portion of people of color in northwest Minnesota is lower than Minnesota as a whole (roughly 15% in NW MN vs. 18.4% MN) , these rates are both significant and growing steadily since 2000, using data sourced from Minnesota Compass.

NMF's Community Connections Grants Program supported a variety of community-led initiatives centered on race equity in the last year. These recent grants speak to the diversity and rich cultural heritage of our region.

Bemidji Area Indian Center began a program to restore traditional Ojibwe food systems and cultural practices. They will organize participants around seasonal activities, engage the public during special events, and share cultural practices to help enrich the lives of Whites and people of color. A grant from NMF and Blandin Foundation helped them hire their first paid staff to deliver this grassroots programming.

Voices for Racial Justice hosted several community meetings this year to discuss how to overcome racial disparities. This work quickly grew beyond people sharing intimate stories of discrimination and personal struggles, to include the important work of crafting policies and practices that we can enact locally. This group includes individuals self-identifying as Anishinabe (Ojibwe), Latino and Latina, White Anglo, and African American populations in rural northern Minnesota.

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota opened an office in Moorhead to begin serving individuals and families in northwest Minnesota. They are working with immigrant communities in Crookston, East Grand Forks, Roseau, Thief River Falls, and the Bemidji area. 

With grant support from NMF and Blandin Foundation, staff from the Immigrant Law Center help clients maintain documentation for work or student visas, navigate refugee status issues, enforce the Violence Against Women Act, and provide education services. The center is a critical link between the local community and the international communities of our immigrant populations.

Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota was recently invited to work in Warroad. Sunny Chanthanouvong, Executive Director, has brought Lao college students and elders to Warroad from the Minneapolis metro to share in their experiences around community engagement. They visited the Buddhist temple, met with Warroad Laotian students in the K-12 system, and met with local officials and community members to open pathways for dialogue. They hope to establish a youth leadership program, host tours of colleges, and work with the aging population in the Warroad area.

NMF is proud to partner with Blandin Foundation in co-funding many of the projects described above here in northwest Minnesota. Current efforts around racial equity, diversity, and inclusion have been championed by many organizations with a wider reach, like the Minnesota Council on Foundations, Native Americans in Philanthropy, and major funders like Bush Foundation, Blandin Foundation, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, and McKnight Foundation. Our collective hope is to practice empowerment within and alongside marginalized communities.

Photo: House District 5A Rep. John Persell (left) receiving a “Champion for Racial Equity” from Vina Kay, Executive Director of Voices for Racial Justice (right). Photo credit Walker Pilot Independent, 2015


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