An Indigenous Community Using Art to Digest and Process the World Around Us
Franklin AvenueCredit: Jaida Grey Eagle
Franklin Avenue East
By Jaida Grey Eagle
The Dakota people are the original stewards of the land that Minneapolis now stands upon, including the Franklin Avenue East Cultural District. It is apparent that you are on Native land along Franklin Avenue: There are the beautiful murals painted by various community members throughout the street, as well as artwork on the electric boxes honoring the cultural legacies of the Indigenous folks that still live here. Spend a day or two here and we will discover this rich history and sample all the area has to offer.
Many Indigenous folks speak about the lack of understanding of their history as it is so often left out of traditional public education. There’s even the term “translation exhaustion,” coined by Dr. Twyla Baker, member of the Mandan-Hidatsa tribe, to describe the feeling some experience always having to catch everyone else up to speed on the history. I, however, believe that there are so many opportunities available along Franklin Avenue for visitors and those who call Minnesota their home to learn about the rich culture of Indigenous people.
Mural at All My Relations Gallery | Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle
LeBlanc shares the origins of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and his own involvement with Franklin Avenue. AIM started in Minneapolis in 1968 and offered neighborhood patrols in response to police brutality experienced by Indigenous folks. Although I grew up in the Twin Cities and had some previous background, I learned so much on this tour of the intricacies of what happened here and what continues to happen. LaBlanc ended our tour with the reading of a poem, using art as his response to the real history of real people. So often within the Indigenous community, art is used as a way to digest and process the world around us.
Finding Comfort in Art
To that end, I recently have been following along with a local Anishinabe artist named Courtney Cochran who has been running community workshops partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Native American Community Development Institute to paint panels that will eventually spell out “Never Homeless Before 1492,” in reference to Indigenous folks' lives before colonization. These panels will be installed along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues addressing the issue of homelessness among Indigenous folks that began with the forced removal of Native Americans due to Western expansion. This corridor once was the space of a large homeless encampment named “The Wall of Forgotten Natives” in 2018. Many factors have led to the homeless encampments throughout the city, but Angela Two Stars, a member of the Sissteon Wahpeton Tribe and director of the All My Relations Art Gallery, says she hopes that this installation will help to promote solutions and optimism.
Another example of public art we can experience during a tour of this district was beautifully created in 2019 by the Minneapolis Institute of Art in partnership with Hope Community and Project for Pride in Living, along with a cohort of 10 artists. The incredibly detailed and thoughtful mural, located on 1035 East Franklin Avenue, is a 4,000 square-foot piece created through various listening sessions that reflected community members’ voices of what they’d like to see represented for the Phillips neighborhood as a whole. There are many details within the mural, but one to note is the reference to the “Wall of Forgotten Natives” in the far right corner that reflects tipis, the traditional home and shelters of Dakota people and speaks to the ideas of home and place. The sunflowers painted within the mural also intentionally honor the sunflowers planted by community members throughout Franklin Avenue. Sunflowers are able to remove heavy metals from soil and can be seen throughout the area. Every detail in this epic mural is worth exploring for a better understanding of the many aspects this cultural district has to offer.
Power of Vision: Mural on the Ave at 1035 Franklin Avenue East | Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle
Sweet Corn Pancakes and Coffee Spots
As we explore the public art and tour the area, we may want to sample the various foods found here. Franklin Avenue is rich with options of flavors. My favorite spot for breakfast in all of Minneapolis is Maria’s Cafe. Located inside of the Ancient Traders Market, I try to bring everyone there to try their delicious and sweet corn pancakes. I’m also a huge fan of their breakfast burritos. Gatherings Cafe, an excellent place to try Indigenous foods such as wild rice and hominy, is located inside the American Indian Center and is an excellent lunch spot. Pow Wow Grounds Coffee has amazing coffee and often serves Indian tacos on Fridays, but call ahead to see if they have any left as they often sell out by the end of the day. I also love to pick up bread and treats from Franklin Street Bakery.
Pow Wow Grounds and Ancient Traders Market | Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle
With a tour of the area and background on its rich history, as well as sampling the flavors, art, and culture, a visit to the Franklin Avenue East Cultural District can be a fulfilling journey.