MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Native American leaders condemned the actions of a group working in a homeless encampment in Minneapolis, saying the group has become so aggressive that some outreach workers are afraid to enter the area to help those in need.
The head of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors said in a statement Friday that members of a group called Natives Against Heroin have become too controlling, used violence or threats of violence, and that some members are actively discouraging people from moving to an emergency shelter.
“NAH’s behavior and tactics have the effect of dividing our community, creating distrust, suspicion and fear, and are not Indigenous values,” the Urban Indian Directors’ statement said.
James Cross, founder of Natives Against Heroin, disputed claims that his group has discouraged people from leaving the homeless encampment that currently houses about 100 people. He also defended the actions of volunteers, saying they are defending the camp from those who want to exploit residents.
Cross was among the first people to help the homeless who began putting up tents in an area south of downtown Minneapolis. His group set up a tent in the middle of the camp, and volunteers help distribute clothing and meals. They also have administered naloxone to those who overdose, and they make sure addicts have clean needles. The group also provides security, sometimes brandishing logs or baseball bats.
In recent weeks, humanitarian aid workers said they’re now afraid to enter the camp because they’ve been harassed and threatened. Some camp residents have also complained of abuse. Two homeless men left the camp this week, citing threats of violence. One man filed a police report, alleging that a Natives Against Heroin member wrongly accused him of being a police informant and threatened to burn his tent with him inside.
Officials said they will begin moving residents to a nearby emergency shelter as early as next week. Natives Against Heroin leaders won’t have a role at that center, which is going up on land owned by the Red Lake Nation.
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