Native American Press / Ojibwe News

November 29, 2002

A protest overview
Community march in remembrance of American Indian victims of violence

Bonnie Clairmont addresses Minnneapolis City Council: in remembrance of American Indian victims of violence

Bonnie Clairmont addresses the Minneapolis City Council

protestors stand in Minneapolis City Hall: in remembrance of American Indian vicctims of violence

Demonstrators crowd into Minneapolis City Council chambers

Bonnie Clairmont , Women of Nations, leads protestors on behalf of battered women in Minneapolis City Hall

photos © Chris Spotted Eagle
Bonnie Clairmont stands with other Women of Nations in the hallway outside the Minneapolis City Council chambers.  The sihouette is a "silent witness" bearing the name of a woman killed in domestic violence.

Community march in remembrance of American Indian victims of violence

Community members marched from the Minneapolis American Indian Center to City Hall on an overcast Friday morning, Nov. 22nd, to demand action from the City Council for American Indian victims of violence and unsolved murders.

Bonnie Clairmont of Women of Nations and other concerned  women held a press conference before the march at the Center.  About 200 members of the Indian community and others participated in the protest march walking West on Franklin Avenue then North on Chicago to 5th St.

Many women and children participated in the march.  Vehicles were provided for elders and those who could not walk the distance. With the cooperation of Police Inspector Sharon Lubinski, police cars flashing their lights escorted the line of marchers at front and back.  Stopping briefly at the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a show of protest, the marchers continued on to City Hall.

[Press Release Nov. 18, 2002: ­ The march was in remembrance of all American Indian victims of violence, from the imprisoned Indian men, women and children who died in the concentration camps at Ft. Snelling in 1862, to the American Indian women who fell victim to the serial murderer in South Minneapolis in 1987.  Special remembrance will be given to the Indian woman whose body was found October 29th on the grounds of the Minneapolis American Indian Center.  She was a mother, a daughter, and a friend.  Her body was subjected to an undignified public examination at the crime scene.  The finding of her body did not even warrant a report in the media.  Questions remain as to her cause of death.]

The group, many carrying banners and holding up signs, shoulder to shoulder, bypassing the elevators, walked their way up to the Council Chambers.  The Minneapolis City Council was in full session.  Council members were unexpectedly greeted with drumming echoing throughout the halls.  The young drummers were asked by council chair, Paul Ostrow, to stop so council members could proceed with their business.  The chamber filled up wall to wall, marchers spilling out into the hallways.

Ostrow asked people to lower their signs in the chamber, for technical reasons, so they could be televised by in-house cameras.  He allotted five minutes for the demonstrators to speak, mentioning people were not usually allowed in like this, but gave permission.

Speakers said what they came to say, however,  pressing on for about 20 minutes.  Bonnie Clairmont on behalf of the community gave a heartfelt unsettling emotional speech why they were there.  In referring to Carol Garbow, whose body was found in October, Clairmont said, “She was someone’s daughter!  If she was your daughter what would you expect?

“Our collective reaction across the community to this death should be one of complete and total outrage.  Her death was pointless and a loss of our sister with the many unanswered questions that remain have touched a nerve within our community as you see here today.  She is just one example of this type of injustice.

“There are many-many-many more stories.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice statistics American Indians are twice as likely to become victims of violent crimes than the nation's overall population.  American Indians are three times more likely then whites to be victims of rape.  We use statistics not so much to quantify but to convince the world that this is a stark reality that effects are Indian people each and every day.

“Race, age, religion, sexual orientation, status, gender should never be an impediment to receiving the professional service all citizens deserve.  We deserve justice!  Our sister deserves justice!  Our sisters who are raped on a daily basis deserve justice and murdered relatives deserve justice!

“In this 21st century in the age of modern technology where we have the capability of DNA testing to identify suspects and many other tools at our disposal.  The number of unsolved crimes should be dramatically reduced if not completed diminished.  Yet, everyday I see women in hospital emergency rooms who’ve been raped and their perpetrators are rarely apprehended and brought to justice.

“There is nothing more important to the fabric of our civilized society today then law and order and to feel that we are safe in our homes and on the street.  And I say this on particularly on behalf of our children.  You see many of our children here today.

“As sovereign nations my Indian people had our own forms of justice. Crimes like violence against women were dealt with harshly because women were considered sacred.  Today it seems like were just a disposable commodity.

“In this modern day and age in this urban area we are compelled to rely on white man’s legal system.  I have been told that no one is above the law and that the law applies equally to everyone.  For every women who has been raped and for every person who’s been murdered someone should be held accountable to the highest standard of the law.

“With our collective voices as Indian people we are asking for a full investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department and the Hennepin County Medical Examiners office in their protocol investigative history by you the Minneapolis City Council about the unsolved crimes regarding our Indian people.  It is your duty to protect and serve every citizen in this city less the blood of our sisters shall be on your hands and certainly will tarnish the badges of the police departments.”

A half a dozen news people poked their cameras at speakers and audience. Clyde Bellecourt, with commanding presence read seven demands to the council and described incidents of violence.  Council members Gary Schiff and Dean Zimmermann said they would introduce the demands as a resolution at the next council meeting.  Dean Zimmerman presented the demands to the council for a resolution, but the matter was deferred to the next council meeting because there was no time to debate the issue during the time remaining.  Council member Natalie Johnson Lee urged that the council notify the group when the next council meeting was to take place.

Another councilman expressed dissatisfaction with the Council’s letting the protestors speak to the City Council because it didn’t meet the rules of procedure.  “My understanding is [according to] the rules of this council is that we do not take public testimony here … I don’t mind this but I think that we are trending toward organizational chaos … maybe no one will care, but I will, and I hope that we don’t go that far.”  He pointed to members of his ward who are not allowed to testify before the City Council because of the procedural rules.

Mayor R.T. Rybak and Police Chief Olson met protesters on their way out in the hallways.  Rybak, standing on a chair, wanted to speak about housing but Vernon Bellecourt angrily pointed out that the group was there about violence in the community and got Rybak on track.  Olson said, in part, he ‘probably shouldn’t say it,’ but that he cares more about those who have less.

Individuals voiced their concerns from the group standing wall to wall and far back up the steps.  Rybak and Olson seemed genuinely concerned .  They were directed to contact Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors to continue talking about the problem.  Justin Huenemann, co-chair of the MUID group, ended up the encounter with Rybak and Olson with an impassioned message to the group.  He said that not only was this about the violence in the community, but it was about the young people and that they really mattered, that the community cares about them and loves them.

Clyde Bellecourt got a chant going, “we love you, we love you,” then asked everyone to be careful going home and pay attention to the stoplights.

Council member Dean Zimmerman was supportive of the demonstrator’s cause, and said that he has “been in communication with members of the group already,” and that he has taken it upon himself to engage Chief Olson in conversation about the problems of violence against American Indian people.

 An article by David Chanen with pictures on the protest march appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Metro/State section, November 23, 2002.  And the next Minneapolis City Council meeting will be held on December 13, 2002.

Chris Spotted Eagle

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