Last July in Albuquerque a tall, thin, noisy woman walked through the hotel glass doors, hollered my name, hollered the name of someone else, hugged a man, and hugged me, all the while doing that Indian nose nod thing to everyone in sight.
Minnie Two Shoes had arrived at her umpteenth Native American Journalists Association conference, and worked the crowd with the energy of a small nuclear bomb. At a commemorative luncheon that weekend celebrating NAJA’s 25th anniversary, Minnie received praise for her work as a founding NAJA member. During her rapid-fire comments to the audience, she used words like “snarky” and “snaggin'” and we laughed. How we laughed. When Minnie entered any room in the world, laughter walked in with her, sat down and stayed.
Minnie Two Shoes, irreverent, extraordinarily intelligent and hilarious, died in Minneapolis on April 9 from cancer. She was 60. I typically write accounts of misadventures with an Indian Scout in this tribal newspaper, but this month, I simply must tell you about Minnie.
An Assiniboine Sioux from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, Minnie liked to start things. She co-founded NAJA because Indian journalists needed a place to call their own. She co-founded the Wolf Point Traditional Women’s Society. She edited two magazines: Native Peoples and Aboriginal Voices. She wrote about the environment, taught college journalism, owned a production company, and most recently chaired the NAJA conference committee. The conference draws about 500 people each year and is held at varying North American locations. This year it is in St. Paul.
In January or February, Minnie Two Shoes called from Minneapolis about the NAJA conference. She organized a meeting at The Circle newspaper offices on Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis. She fed us dinner and we gave her names of potential corporate sponsors. It was the last time I saw her.
Our contact was reduced to voice mail messages for a while. One message reported that she did not call earlier because of a hospital stay. A month passed. Finally we connected on the phone in person at the same time. She cut to the chase. Who up there could donate money for the NAJA photo shoot competition? Who up there could help sponsor the luncheon? There was urgency in her voice, no humor. She could not make more calls on this, she said. It was the last time I heard her voice.
Her voice, mannerisms, jokes, fluctuating facial expressions, and snickering can be seen on an Internet YouTube interview that’s making the rounds. Just plug “Minnie Two Shoes” into any search engine, and you’ll hear her again. Behind the light and laughter was a serious journalist who devoted her professional life to ensuring that trained and passionate journalists wrote from Indian Country. She cared deeply about the art and craft of reporting and telling the truth.
Sometimes the truth hurt a little, or at least made you wince. At the 1997 NAJA conference held in Minneapolis, Minnie took the microphone at the Awards Ceremony. She was an old hand at taking NAJA microphones, after serving many terms as a NAJA board member.
That night Minnie commenced with an impromptu fashion review of the seated audience, picking out favorites, questioning color combinations, trashing or praising accessories. She seemed partial to classic black evening wear. Minnie’s memorable review was the hit of the evening.
Come July, we’ll miss her more than I could ever describe.
Deborah Locke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org