It all started with an email nearly three years ago. A Native American elder was allegedly attacked by a Somali youth in the Phillips Neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Instead of retaliating, Wade Keezer sent an email out on the Minnesota Indian Listserv urging people to keep the peace.
Native Americans living in Phillips were frustrated. After all, they consider this neighborhood their own-until many Somali moved there, opening businesses and raising their families.
“All these things I’ve been hearing through these years through cultural teachings is that you play a good host to your guest,” says Wade Keezer, one of the organizers of the Native American/Somali Friendship Committee.
That was the spirit that formed the Native American Somali Friendship Committee, which formed 2 1/2 years ago on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now, members of both communities meet monthly to share stories, a meal and just talk.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes-thinking that these people are just coming and taking their housing. But that’s not the case. We come here and go through the process and everything,” says Amina Saleh, another organizer of the friendship committee.
Keezer says they don’t have to hug each other and sing kumbaya, but rather just learn to live and let live.
Now, the Friendship Committee has taken a new turn: a play is being produced by local playwright Rhianna Yazzie. This yearlong process starts with people in the community doing one simple act: walking down Franklin Avenue together to enjoy the beautiful summer weather.
Although there haven’t been physical conflicts, there is still tension. Keezer says that while Native Americans have suffered from discrimination, sometimes they can be the same way towards others. His hopes are that this group will lead to breaking down those stereotypes.