Seven Minneapolis mayoral candidates would consider giving parkland back to Indigenous people

By: - November 1, 2021 7:29 am

A protest in South Dakota. Photo courtesy of NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization focused on building Indigenous power.

Seven candidates for Minneapolis mayor said they’d consider giving land back to Indigenous people, including Mayor Jacob Frey.

“Mayor Frey supports giving land back to Minneapolis’ Native community. This is a historic undertaking and one that the mayor is committed to getting right, by the community and by the law,” a spokesperson for the Frey campaign said.

During a recent south Minneapolis mayoral candidate forum at Cedar Field Park, American Indian activist Mike Forcia asked whether the candidates would consider giving parkland back, such as Powderhorn Park, Minnehaha Regional Park or Theodore Wirth Regional Park. He suggested the land be used to help eliminate homelessness among Native Americans, create green jobs and provide drug and alcohol treatment. 

His request tracks with what’s known as the landback movement, which seeks to put “Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands,” with groups such as seeking to close Mount Rushmore and reclaim the national memorial, as well as the surrounding Black Hills and other public lands. Protesters demanding the land back blocked a road to Mount Rushmore for three hours before then-President Donald Trump’s July Fourth 2020 visit. 

Forcia’s request got a warm reception from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and third-party candidates at the Minneapolis candidate forum.

“I think we need to consider landback,” candidate Kate Knuth said. She cited the community-owned urban farm proposed by the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute as an example of a project that a mayor should support and help finance. 

Sheila Nezhad said her father is an immigrant from Iran and mother is from Fond du Lac. “So I support the landback movement, absolutely.”

“Let’s figure it out,” she said. “Let’s make it happen.”

Candidate A.J. Awed said he’d “definitely consider it,” because homelessness is an issue close to his heart, having grown up in public housing in a two-bedroom home with 11 siblings. The son of war refugees was born in Somalia and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 5 years old. 

“I know this is a place where it starts,” he said. 

Frey didn’t attend the forum, but Forcia communicated with Peter Ebnet, a policy advisor who asked for more context about the type of land and how the land would be used. 

“Once I have more detail, I can work on some of the legal and logistical parts with city staff,” Ebnet wrote in an email to Forcia. 

Forcia said in an interview he wonders about a six-acre park nicknamed Cockroach Park next to the Homeward Bound Shelter where he works, near the Wall of Forgotten Natives, a former homeless encampment. He said the little park would be perfect for a tiny home village and treatment center. 

“I know it’s pie in the sky,” Forcia said of his request, but he thinks a small park is not too much to ask. 

“I have my eye on that little tiny park. That’s all I’m gonna ask the city for.”

Brian Rice, general counsel for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, said the city charter says the park board can’t dispose of land unless it’s no longer needed for park purposes, and it must get approval in district court.

Current park board policy is focused on acquiring land, not disposing of it. The board has also been working with Indigenous communities on issues such as the renaming of renaming of Bde Maka Ska Park. 

“I think it’s probably an issue that needs to be examined,” Rice said. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.