When Ana Munro was an eight-year-old girl growing up in Bristol, England, the English teacher (who was also the principal) at her tiny village school loved to read Native American poetry to the class. Little did Ana know then that her teacher’s love of poetry would influence not only Ana’s career, but her family and entire life’s mission.
Shortly after finishing university, Ana became a journalist. Remembering the poetry she loved in her childhood, she jumped at the chance to spend two years learning about and reporting on the Lac du Flambeau tribe (meaning “Lake of the Torches”–named by the French who saw the natives spearfishing at night with their torches nearby) in northern Wisconsin.
During her time there, she came to truly love the people about whom she was sent to report. She developed relationships with several tribal members, and when $80 million disappeared from the tribe’s coffers, she was the first journalist whom concerned tribal members alerted. The money had been earmarked for Ojibwe cultural programs, as well as to serve the youth and elders groups. The scandal continued for several years, and is now in the Supreme Court.
Ana did her best to report on the protest of tribal members against corruption, but she says, “If you push for ethical things when large sums of money are involved, things get ugly fast.” Ana felt she could better serve the community through education and was hired at North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) as an English Professor. In 2009, with several colleagues, students, and community members, Ana co-founded the American Indian Education Initiative and Advisory Council at the college.
Over the years, Ana has come to realize that unnecessary intervention by whites has caused most of the tribes’ suffering and struggles. For instance, from 1860-1978, the federal government had a policy of assimilation. To accomplish that, most Native American children were removed from their reservations, separated from parents and even siblings, and sent to boarding schools where the motto was, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Similarly, with the passage of the 1956 Relocation Act, the US government gave Native Americans a one-way ticket to large urban areas, such as Minneapolis and Los Angeles, making promises of jobs and homes that never materialized.
To combat that history of interference, Ana works with her school’s American Indian Education Initiative to create a space to allow Native American voices to be heard and to create visibility. She worked with Native American colleagues to create an American Indian culture course which covers sovereignty, treaty rights, and tribal history, specifically focusing on local Minnesota tribes of the Dakota, Ojibwe, and Ho Chunk.
That course was so successful that the school has developed a Community Organizing class, which runs twice a year. This semester, the class, which is co-taught by Ana and fellow instructors Gerry Huerth and Michael Birchard, is partnering for the first time with the city of Brooklyn Park, MN, where the college is located. Guest lecturers include the mayor, the deputy chief of police, and three community organizers for the city. The students learn how to determine the needs of their community and discover the leader within themselves.
The course also covers a history of social organizing, including American Indian rights groups, Black Lives Matter, and the Standing Rock protests, learning why these movements were/are needed and the impact they have on society. The class teaches students that their voices matter. Many students from the class have become campus and community leaders. One former student, Basile Ajuo, was just named by Governor Dayton to the Minnesota State Board of Trustees.
One of Ana’s favorite events she helps plan is the American Indian Civil Rights Research Tour, a partnership between NHCC and the Robbinsdale Area Schools American Indian Education Program. It’s a five day tour of Native American historic sites throughout Minnesota to give Native American students a deeper sense of their roots. This year, Ana was able to be with one of her students as she visited her own tribe, White Earth, for the very first time. “A girl from another group was also visiting White Earth for the first time, and when the tribal member greeted them both and welcomed them home, it was an incredibly moving moment.” Students say that the tours changed their lives. Learn more about the tour by watching the video here.
Ana’s daughter is Yupik, which is an Alaska Native tribe. Her daughter’s uncle, Aassanaaq Kairaiuak (Ossie), is a Yupik drum maker. He has visited NHCC several times to participate in some of the events planned by students to celebrate American Indian and Alaska Native heritage, building a series of drums that honor traditional Yupik beliefs, ceremonies and spirit animals for the school (see above photo). Ana notes that during his visit, Ossie (from Alaska) spoke with a tribal member, Greg Johnson, from Lac du Flambeau in Wisconsin, and the two Indigenous men were exchanging stories about similar cultural beliefs. Ana stressed how that reinforced for her the importance of respecting and teaching about Native American culture, as there is so much history and tradition that is rarely taught in mainstream schools.
When asked how people can help increase awareness of Native American issues, Ana said that the best thing to do is to simply educate yourself and create spaces for oppressed and marginalized voices to be heard. Find “a way of diving deep into a different way of thinking of things.” Be supportive of experiences that encourage an awareness of cultural heritage, both of your own and others’ heritage, be it a festival, pow wow, tour, or dance.
Be cognizant of racial micro-aggressions, stereotypes and slurs, including ones that seem harmless when associated with sports teams or mascots, but which seem far more threatening to parents such as Ana as she thinks of her native daughter. Have open dialogues about race, genocide, and colonization.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we can educate ourselves on the Native Americans’ side of the story and share that with our children. Ana reminds us that “we’re all living on stolen land. Learn the story of the land on which you live, and share that with your children.” As we provide accurate historical narratives from both groups involved, we can help our children gain empathy and awareness of all people. What better way could we truly give thanks for all we have?
Above all, recognize and celebrate overcoming cultural barriers, rather than refusing to forgive past wrongs. Build on commonalities between Indigenous groups and racially diverse groups. Recognize the wealth of cultural heritage represented by your friends and neighbors, and encourage a dialogue to help people increase in understanding. Before you know it, Ana promises that you’ll start seeing the “commonalities and connections in all our stories.”