Somalis, Indians and Amish
I had a nice visit with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls a week or so ago. I’ve asked for a reworking of her song lyrics “Nomads, Indians and Saints."
Here is our story: Globalization changes things.
Our Akiing, our land in northern Minnesota, has for about a century, been largely full of Anishinaabeg, Finnish people, Germans, Norwegians and a few more. That’s sort of the background. Then there is the horse thing. Most people know that I have a few horses. These horses are good friends of mine, sacred beings and I love them. The pastures, however, upon which my horses graze, are increasingly degraded and the culprit is burdock. Burdock root is an aggressive plant and powerful medicine. I will be harvesting more of that this year but burdock thistles are very challenging for my horses, and my patience.
I have been thinking for several years about how to reduce the burdock and my dream, (probably sort of a fantasy) has been goats. Those animals (Maanadikoshensag) which have something to do with behaving badly, I think, eat everything they like. They are agile, and operate a pasture management plan called “mob grazing”, which consists largely of moving a small herd of goats around to get rid of some unwanted plants. I can see a whole small business in this where I will be unloading my horse trailer full of goats onto yards and acres of unruly weeds and of course, my pastures will be saved. Now, of course, there is the problem of what to do with the goats. I am not sure about family planning and goats and all, but I am pretty sure I am going to end up with more goats. I am not really set up for goat farming.
So, here it is. Globalization has brought the Somali people to Minnesota and North Dakota. Let’s be a bit more precise- wars using our weapons and making a lot of money for some folks, has wreaked havoc in that country. Outside of Mogadishu and neighboring African nations, Minneapolis, (and increasingly outstate Minnesota and North Dakota) are the largest settlements of Somali refugees. That has to do with size of houses, price of resettlement, infrastructure and Lutheran Social Services. I find out from my Lutheran pastor friend John Lee and one of my staff, that there are around l00 Somalis living in Pelican Rapids. This is a small farm town south of the reservation, which has been pretty isolated ( or so it thought) from the pushes of globalization. Now with a Jennie-O Turkey factory, there is an emerging immigrant labor force (Somalis and now Mexican workers) who are butchering all of those turkeys for the national markets.
The Somali cuisine is heavy on goats, Halal goats, and from a bit of market research I figure out that most of those Halal goats are coming from Australia and Chicago. I call up my goat farming friends Sue Wika (pictured above, on her farm) and her companion, Tom, who we met while fighting the Big Stone II Power Plant in Fergus Falls. They are keen as are my friends and fellow Anishinaabeg, Jim and Lori Gellings, purveyors of heritage turkeys. We set up a meeting with the Somalis through the Lutheran Social Services program director down there, and we are looking to see if this is viable. One of my staff, Nikki Crowe and I, bundle up in our best conservative dresses and ride down to Pelican Rapids one snowy afternoon in December. Our meeting with around a dozen Somali men was promising - they want goats, and very much want to work with our group. We are now working on a project to provide these goats to the Somalis, at least some of them, as that one community needs around 50 a month to serve their needs. I am just wanting to be there when the Imam comes to White Earth.
A couple of weeks later, I’m walking down the hall of my office at the big school in Callaway and I see an Amish man at the front door. I am sort of in disbelief, go to open the door, ask if I can help him and he informs me that he’s scheduled a meeting with me, much to my surprise.
“Biindigen, come on in," I say.
Robert Alexander comes to our office, and about four of our staff have an excellent hour with this guy (who we decide is sort of the Amish trade ambassador). Globalization, the price of land, and the fact that the Amish religion is growing rapidly (both births and converts) means that the Amish have also moved to our Anishinaabe Akiing, just a bit south of the reservation near Toad Lake. I am pleased with this, having always been a fan of the Amish. We get to ask all those questions a non-Amish always wonder about the Amish. Ashley, my niece, asks the first very important question.
“How did you get here?” noting there is no horse and buggy outside.
“We have friends we call drivers." A neighbor with a car Robert tells us.
“How did you make an appointment?”
“We have a phone in the center of the village.”
“Did you see the recent story about our community in the paper?” Robert queries.
“We put up a barn”.
I groan noticeably, having struggled with a massive log house for almost a year.
“I suppose it was quick?”
“Yes, in a day." Now, I am wondering where the Amish people were when I wanted to begin construction on the new house. And, of course, I am wondering why he didn’t show up on my doorstep about a year before. In any case, we have a plan emerging. The Amish want to sell vegetables to our tribal farm to school program. And we are going to work on a plan of sorts. We begin to talk about our possible partnerships, after we’re done peppering him with our inane questions. We are looking at a few options.
And I do mention those goats to him.
My question though is, “How’s your religious tolerance?”
“Good, just so they don’t want to be a part of us.”
Sounds promising. In any case, I ask “How about with Muslims and Halal meat (you see these goats need to be butchered on the farm)?" This is a possibility. We agree he will come up to our community a few weeks from now to our farming conference. Friends and of course, my niece, Ashley is just hoping she gets to be the driver, going to the Amish community. So, it’s a New Year here on the White Earth Reservation. Globalization has brought us some new neighbors, new relations, and new promise. We will see how it goes, and if those Indigo Girls can do a lyrical rewrite for us "Somalis, Indians and Amish”.