Mpls. Indians, Somalis, Try To Bridge Differences

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Longtime American Indian residents in a poor Minneapolis neighborhood and some of their new neighbors from Somalia are struggling to get along. A handful of alleged attacks against women and elders by young people from both communities haven’t helped.

But some residents, American Indian and Somali, are trying their best to tamp down the violence and learn to live with one another, Minnesota Public Radio reported Wednesday.

Franklin Avenue in the Phillips neighborhood had long been the heart of Indian Country in Minneapolis. But the early 1990s drew Somali refugees to Phillips in search of cheap rent and storefronts where they could open convenience stores and halal meat shops.

Wade Keezer, an Ojibwe with a long black ponytail, grew up in the neighborhood. Keezer remembers the first time he saw the new African arrivals. With their long headscarves and dresses, he assumed they were Catholic nuns.

“My sister says, ‘No, you dummy, those are Somalis,”‘ Keezer remembered. “I heard they’d been here, but I didn’t know who they were or what they looked like.”

About a year ago, community advocates including Amina Saleh of The Family Partnership and Keezer started the Native American Somali Friendship Committee. They decided to act after an email circulated reporting that an American Indian woman claimed three Somali boys attacked her with a bottle. Saleh and Keezer each organized a group of elders and then brought their two communities together.

And though Mike Forcia, another Ojibwe, was an early member, even he had to confront his bigotry about Somalis.

“I was on the side that, there’s nothing we can do,” Forcia said. “They’re arrogant, they don’t know how to drive, you just can’t talk to these people.”

But he also knew Somalis were here to stay.

At the meetings, Somalis confessed to harboring their own stereotypes, including their belief that all American Indians were alcoholics.

Khadra Abdi helped Forcia see the softer side of her culture. The 29-year-old moved to Minnesota as a teen and said she loves her new country. But at a recent gathering, she told other committee members she wished they could walk a day in her shoes. She told how a man recently cut in front of her while she was waiting in line at a clinic.

“I said, ‘Hey, I was ahead of you. Buddy, get in line.’ He says, ‘Well, I’m paying money,”‘ Abdi said. “I wish sometimes that I had a country to go back to, because every day you constantly hear, ‘You’re Somali, you don’t know how to speak English, you don’t know how to drive, you take welfare.’ I mean, it’s really, really hard.”

Keezer said some American Indians in the neighborhood are quick to blame their Somali neighbors for violence without confronting it in their own community. He said he won’t stand for that.

“They’re pointing their finger, and it’s just like, `Wait a minute. You just beat up your old lady, and your kids are in foster care, and you’re pointing at these people, like they’ve done something bad to you. But they haven’t done anything to you. So what’s the problem here? Are you just saying what everybody else is saying just to be hateful?”‘ Keezer said.

The friendship committee also hopes to bridge the divide among younger members of their communities. Keezer said he has heard that some American Indian and Somali students have been fighting each other on school buses, and with the weather warming up, youth leaders are predicting more fighting over basketball courts in the area. The committee is planning some pick-up games so that kids can learn how to play together, just as the small group of adults has gradually learned to do.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Sue

    Nothing like “newt neighbors”

  • Kevin

    I’d be irked if Gingrich lived in my neighborhood too.

  • Somali Stew

    Good Lord….does anyone in this State like Somalians? If not….who keeps bringing there here? Maybe we should just arm the Native Americans….and turn them loose….

    • utty


    • Southside Pride

      I’m not so keen on a bunch of Natives running around with arms. Remember what happened in 1862.

  • me

    I don’t like Somalis and I know that’s terrible of me. I really try to be open but I haven’t had the best experiences with them. They’re rude, don’t take showers regularly, smell consequently and frankly, the majority of them can’t drive. That’ s mostly on those that didn’t learn to drive here and already had bad habits before they arrived. I know, it’s on me. I’m trying to change my thinking.

    • Kyle

      No. They need to learn to respect our laws and culture. They moved HERE, remember?

  • Kyle

    Not all that unlike how white people felt when the indians pushed THEM out of Phillips a couple decades ago. All of a sudden, when it happens to them, they get upset. I am no fan of the Somalis, because they have ZERO respect for our laws and culture.

    • me

      When the Indians pushed whites out of Phillips? You mean Native Americans legally moved where the wanted to? I’m working on my prejudices towards Somalis. It looks like you’ve got a few more than me.

  • Bryson Powers

    Take people one at a time not as a group. Don’t love or hate any group of people.

  • Yasmin

    Honestly, people really need to examine themselves and their prejudices. Why does one assume all Somalis are alike and that we all have the same mentality. Some of us are born/bred, so stop assuming we’re all immigrants. No two people are alike in any culture, be it Native American or Somali. We shouldn’t judge others based on the stereotypes that surround their culture, but rather we should judge them as individuals. There is good and bad people in almost every culture, but once we start assuming All Somalis are rude or All Native Americans drink, thats when we put ourselves in trouble. Preconceived notions are what cause so much hatred and animosity. As a Somali-American, I really hope American Indians and Somalis can find unity and harmony, we’re all humans and in the end we realize we’re more similar than different.

    • Sami

      There will be unity and harmony between American Indians and Somalias, when all the Indians convert to the Muslim faith, and only then.

    • Southside Pride

      That’s right, Yasmin!!! White people are such jerks! All of us.

  • keefer

    you can thank catholic charities and lutheran social services for the plague from africa. do your research. wouldn’t it be nice to get a 3 bdrm. apt for 25.00-50.00 a month? how about a free cell phone, health care, food stamps,welfare. sorry you are out of luck…..if you are an american citizen. how can they come over with nothing and open a business? hmmm? do your research! what a country we live in!

  • Ornery.

    I know! I am such a bigot. Oh and a NAZI too. Don’t forget that either.

  • Yasmin

    No one said anything about White people. I was talking about the groups mentioned in this particular piece. In general though we should remember to judge people as individuals based on their character, personality, etc, rather than based on assumptions/stereotypes you hold about their culture. Also for the record not all “White people are jerks”. There is good white people, bad white people, good Somali people, bad Somali people, etc.

    • Born In America

      good or bad why you do u all come to america and want to continue your culture here. this is america, learn it, love it, learn the language and quit living like you are still in somalia once again this is america

      • Yasmin

        I didn’t come to America, I was born here. Also when you say “you” are you referring to me or all Somalis because believe it or not we’re not all the same. I love this country and I know the language, but sometimes people can be so ignorant. Americans don’t have the same culture and for many Somalis including myself our heritage is important, and its possible to balance both our Somali and American Identities. One does not need to give up whats important to them. I can be Somalia and still respect the laws of this country… it is possible. Stop painting us all with the same brush.

  • Tarik Aziz

    Until the Indians submit to the word of the Prophet (praise be unto him), there will be no peace in Philips.

  • Ornery.

    Catholic charities? Oh yea, the missionary men. You will comply. You will be assimilated. Sounds like a Star Trek episode? Well check your history books my friends, Keefer is correct.
    I fell on hard times and not a single f-ing charity or welfare service would do jack shnit for me. Why? well judging by the company in the welfare line, I was a minority being white. Thank god I could still rely on friends to help me.

    • keefer

      my girlfriend works at the housing authority so all my info is fact. If you are an american citizen do not expect help. that is reserved for all the immigrants, war refugees, non american people. once again….what a country

  • Bruce

    Originally thatneighborhood was full of Scandinavian immigrants, then the Hispanics, the Indians,a nd now the Somolians. It happens about once a generation that a new wave if immigrants comes on the scene, this is just the latest. And from the looks of that neighborhood, they don’t have much left to worry about when it comes ti ruining the neighborhood.

    • dog

      yup I remember when the hmongs came our dogs started disappearing………..

    • keefer

      I bet it was a great neighborhood when the scandinavians were there.

      • Ornery.

        Same with North Mpls. All polish/jewish immigrants. And it was a nice place.

  • Ornery.

    Tarik scares me.

  • getoveryourself.

    man..a lot of you people are something else. it makes me sick how you talk about other people, You label everyone in one group the same thing, and now by posting racist stuff like this you are putting me in a label of racist white americans who are ignorant..if you dont like different cultures move out to the farm or the suburb where it is more segregated, and if you dont remember Native Americans were here first…I guess all the ignorance got to your brain too..also if you didnt know. there are white/black/yellow/it really doesnt matter what skin color you are.the point is people suck at driving, they are on wellfare and whatever other stereotype you want to put on anyone, well everyone no matter what color you are. does it..and the sad part is..most of you will never change your views..your loss.i guess.and your kids, and grandkids, hate goes on..stop it now.

  • H Castelli

    All of u ignorant and stupid people here talking about other Somalis need to go back to [your] schools to re-learn YOUR history! You ALL came from others who came from somewhere be it Europe or elsewhere. The only true owners of this country are the Native Americans…so stop talking your small brains and get a life! Didi u forgot the times the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Polish, Russians were labeled “dirty, lazy, criminals, etc, etc? Well, these Somalis will learn to adapt and become more productive than any of u idiots could ever dream of… enough said. I think I lowered myself enough to the gutter to speak ur level of lowly understanding.

    “Tolerance is the true sign of civilization”

  • SIlly

    I just hate everyone equally. DEAL WITH IT

  • sad

    I remember hearing a few years back of the somolli children beating up the litttle indian kids on the why to school. Funny how the indians never had these issues till the somollis came. Funny how no one seems to be able to get along with the somolli’s maybe they should look at their inflexable attitudes toward asimulation.

  • Scott Funk

    I live amidst a whole bunch of Somalis. The only problem I have ever had with any of them is that they used to freak out when a dog would wag its tail and try to say hello. They seem like a decent bunch, actually. Many are trying to fit in, and learn English, go to work etc. There’s really nothing wrong with them, they just speak a different language when they first come here, that’s all. Usually, they are quiet neighbors (I’m in a big apartment building). I tell little kids this: Just because somebody looks different and speaks a funny language, doesn’t mean they’re bad. It just means they’re new here, so if you see one looking confused, offer to help.

  • H C

    Hey Ornery,

    Maybe u should try working as a janitor in one of those Gulf States? since u seem uneducated poor …trash. I used to see quite a number of European-Americans and British who failed in their own countries seeking jobs in Dubai and Qatar . You wouldn’t need to beg ur friends – or rely on my-hard-earned tax Dollars ;-)

  • Me

    Oh my. I no longer feel so bad about myself, not after reading additional comments. At least I know my problem with Somalis is MY problem. Life is too short to go around certain groups because they’re different from you.

  • konjokris

    Yasmin you are very eloquent and I thank you for your thoughts.
    Some of you other yahoo’s get over it. I too have issues with this culture, mine are based on the lack of respect for their women and our culture. The driving thing makes me nuts and TALKING LOUD. I know my short comings and I will work on it and get over it, but please Solmali people try to remember courtesy is the way to go. And I love my dog!!!

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