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Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities

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In the late 1960s, Indian families in Minneapolis and St. Paul were under siege. Clyde Bellecourt remembers, “We were losing our children during this time; juvenile courts were sweeping our children up, and they were fostering them out, and sometimes whole families were being broken up.” In 1972, motivated by prejudice in the child welfare system and hostility in the publi In the late 1960s, Indian families in Minneapolis and St. Paul were under siege. Clyde Bellecourt remembers, “We were losing our children during this time; juvenile courts were sweeping our children up, and they were fostering them out, and sometimes whole families were being broken up.” In 1972, motivated by prejudice in the child welfare system and hostility in the public schools, American Indian Movement (AIM) organizers and local Native parents came together to start their own community school. For Pat Bellanger, it was about cultural survival. Though established in a moment of crisis, the school fulfilled a goal that she had worked toward for years: to create an educational system that would enable Native children “never to forget who they were.” While AIM is best known for its national protests and political demands, the survival schools foreground the movement’s local and regional engagement with issues of language, culture, spirituality, and identity. In telling of the evolution and impact of the Heart of the Earth school in Minneapolis and the Red School House in St. Paul, Julie L. Davis explains how the survival schools emerged out of AIM’s local activism in education, child welfare, and juvenile justice and its efforts to achieve self-determination over urban Indian institutions. The schools provided informal, supportive, culturally relevant learning environments for students who had struggled in the public schools. Survival school classes, for example, were often conducted with students and instructors seated together in a circle, which signified the concept of mutual human respect. Davis reveals how the survival schools contributed to the global movement for Indigenous decolonization as they helped Indian youth and their families to reclaim their cultural identities and build a distinctive Native community. The story of these schools, unfolding here through the voices of activists, teachers, parents, and students, is also an in-depth history of AIM’s founding and early community organizing in the Twin Cities—and evidence of its long-term effect on Indian people’s lives.


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In the late 1960s, Indian families in Minneapolis and St. Paul were under siege. Clyde Bellecourt remembers, “We were losing our children during this time; juvenile courts were sweeping our children up, and they were fostering them out, and sometimes whole families were being broken up.” In 1972, motivated by prejudice in the child welfare system and hostility in the publi In the late 1960s, Indian families in Minneapolis and St. Paul were under siege. Clyde Bellecourt remembers, “We were losing our children during this time; juvenile courts were sweeping our children up, and they were fostering them out, and sometimes whole families were being broken up.” In 1972, motivated by prejudice in the child welfare system and hostility in the public schools, American Indian Movement (AIM) organizers and local Native parents came together to start their own community school. For Pat Bellanger, it was about cultural survival. Though established in a moment of crisis, the school fulfilled a goal that she had worked toward for years: to create an educational system that would enable Native children “never to forget who they were.” While AIM is best known for its national protests and political demands, the survival schools foreground the movement’s local and regional engagement with issues of language, culture, spirituality, and identity. In telling of the evolution and impact of the Heart of the Earth school in Minneapolis and the Red School House in St. Paul, Julie L. Davis explains how the survival schools emerged out of AIM’s local activism in education, child welfare, and juvenile justice and its efforts to achieve self-determination over urban Indian institutions. The schools provided informal, supportive, culturally relevant learning environments for students who had struggled in the public schools. Survival school classes, for example, were often conducted with students and instructors seated together in a circle, which signified the concept of mutual human respect. Davis reveals how the survival schools contributed to the global movement for Indigenous decolonization as they helped Indian youth and their families to reclaim their cultural identities and build a distinctive Native community. The story of these schools, unfolding here through the voices of activists, teachers, parents, and students, is also an in-depth history of AIM’s founding and early community organizing in the Twin Cities—and evidence of its long-term effect on Indian people’s lives.

30 review for Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities

  1. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kohoutek

    For about a year in the late 1980s, I walked past the Heart of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis twice a day, back and forth from my job, and was always idly curious about it. Years later, it would occasionally get mentioned in relation to AIM, and years later again, it came up in the context of the Civil Rights-era Freedom Schools and of indigenous-led education in general. So I was very happy to find that this book even exists! The author is a white woman from Cass Lake, MN, who did ext For about a year in the late 1980s, I walked past the Heart of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis twice a day, back and forth from my job, and was always idly curious about it. Years later, it would occasionally get mentioned in relation to AIM, and years later again, it came up in the context of the Civil Rights-era Freedom Schools and of indigenous-led education in general. So I was very happy to find that this book even exists! The author is a white woman from Cass Lake, MN, who did extensive research and oral histories with as many founders, teachers, and students of the Twin Cities schools, both HOTESS and Red School House in St. Paul, as she could. There's a lot of context about why the schools were founded, their early days and establishment, and what led to their both eventually closing. There are definite challenges in defying a system, and the author doesn't shy away from that, or the fact that individuals can be inspiring leaders but also flawed human beings. So it doesn't come across as a hagiography, but still remains focused on the importance of indigenous-led schools for indigenous students, and expanding the vision of what education can be. The ideals of the Survival Schools are ones that could benefit everyone! I also appreciated that the voices of the participants are given space and prominence in the text. Very worth a read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Boyer-Kelly

    A good issue, but the narrative did not grab my attention.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    I read this book as it was a nominee for the Minnesota Book Awards in the category of Minnesota. While the story it tells is interesting, I'm not sure on the quality of the narrative. The premise is that the American Indian Movement (AIM) formed in the 70's in response to cultural repression of the Indian community particularly in urban communities. It had its successes and failures like many social justice movements, particularly those around that time. One of the things it did succeed in was th I read this book as it was a nominee for the Minnesota Book Awards in the category of Minnesota. While the story it tells is interesting, I'm not sure on the quality of the narrative. The premise is that the American Indian Movement (AIM) formed in the 70's in response to cultural repression of the Indian community particularly in urban communities. It had its successes and failures like many social justice movements, particularly those around that time. One of the things it did succeed in was the creation of two survival schools: the Red School House in St. Paul and the Heart of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis. Both served as community education centers for Indian youth, particularly those who often had trouble assimilating into the mainstream schools. The schools not only provided education but also cultural grounding and political awareness for the students. An interesting read on an early step into modern community education even without factoring in the cultural restoration factors. My issue is more with the narrative than any part of the history. I found it excessively repetitive not only in story but in explanation. A person would be mentioned with their connection to one of the schools with their tribe and other information and then it would be repeated literally two pages later. Parts of the narrative also did this particularly with AIM events in the establishing chapters and I don't mean in just the conclusion section of the chapters. My one issue with the content of the narrative was the schools were hardly the actual subject; the first half was almost entirely about AIM.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  5. 5 out of 5

    Javier

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sammy M.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Justin Sturgeon

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    Jessica J

  10. 4 out of 5

    Franklin Howard

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

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    Andrea

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

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    Tania

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Hutto

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jameson Goetz

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Vogl

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cassie Sadilek

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy Updegraff

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bea

  21. 5 out of 5

    bibliotekker Holman

  22. 4 out of 5

    Billy Marino

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tanwaporn

  25. 5 out of 5

    Miyako Martinez

  26. 5 out of 5

    Loretta Gaffney

  27. 4 out of 5

    Richard Gay

  28. 5 out of 5

    Inessa Raqks

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  30. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

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