[Marxism] Racism in the Northern Plains [personal perspectives -- experienced]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 31 11:34:55 MDT 2005


[North Dakota, although geographically large, has a very small population:
about 360,000.  Many people know many other folks across the entire state.
Not many secrets.]

Immediately following this prologue of mine is a letter to Wayne Stenehjem,
AG of the State of North Dakota, whose home town is Grand Forks.  The letter
is from Ms Roma Law, a good friend  and former UND student of mine who is
from the Forks.  Now residing in Arizona, she keeps in pretty close touch
with developments in and around Grand Forks and the adjoining town [across
the Red River] of East Grand Forks, Minnesota.  In this [non-solicited]
letter to Wayne, she comments in detail about anti-Indian racism in that
general setting and her concerns about the failure to apprehend the
murderers of Turtle Mountain Chippewas Robert and Damian Belgarde, father
and son, local residents of the Forks who were killed four years ago and
whose bodies were found south of Grand Forks in a rural area.  For more on
that, and info on the unsolved 2002 slaying of 19 year old Russ Turcotte, a
Turtle Mountain Chippewa, west of Grand Forks, see

During the many years that I was at Grand Forks, North Dakota -- a full
professor of Indian Studies,  departmental chair for a number of years, and
a good stint as chair of Honors, I fought many successful social justice

Among them:

Various police and related discriminatory issues in the Grand Forks region.

The successful exoneration -- and major religious freedom victory -- for the
defendants in the viciously intensive Federal attack on the Native American
Church [the peyote faith] at and around  the Devils Lake Sioux Reservation
[now Spirit Lake.]

The successful fight against broad-based and deep Anglo racism at the
reservation border town of Devils Lake, N.D.  A hard-fought and long-going
campaign, we made many significant breakthroughs in this 1950s type
situation -- utilizing a wide variety of creatively effective tactics.

The successful fight against the UND administration's Faustian pact with
Union Carbide to "test burn" dioxin-producing PCBs at UND -- which would
have endangered everyone in the whole Grand Forks region.  We ended this
whole scheme forever.

I handled several hundred of advocate cases.

And there were other social justice fights as well.

[For my stormy UND career, see http://www.hunterbear.org/UND.htm  ]


At the beginning of the 1980s, a very negative police situation existed in
and around Grand Forks, North Dakota:   especially bad for Native people,
Blacks, Mexican-Americans, University students, and Grand Forks Air Force
Base Personnel.  I and a colleague, the late Professor Doug Wills
[Humanities] who was a leader in ACLU, approached then Mayor Bud Wessman
with our urgent concerns.  The Mayor was extremely responsive and moved
immediately to set up a Mayor's Committee on Police Policy.  I played a
leading role in that campaign and then in policy matters for years
thereafter. Within a year after the formation of the Mayor's Committee, we
installed Chet Paschke, long-time Chief of Detectives, as the new Chief.
Chief Paschke and I worked very closely together to  successfully transform
the Department into a  very positive human relations model -- frequently
studied by other  police departments and by various government agencies.
I was also in much of the 1990s, Chair of the City's Community Relations
Committee. Some months after the Great Flood of 1997, we left Grand Forks to
return to my native Mountain West.  Chet Pashke retired about a year later.

[The flood, accompanied by fires, wrecked much of the Grand Forks area; and
virtually the entire population of 50,000 plus was forced out into the
hinterland and several adjoining states.]

Since then, human relations problems have once again begun to develop in
Grand Forks and environs -- reflected in worsening community/lawmen
relationships.  From Idaho, I have been active in those issues -- as well as
those right here in the Gem State.  [Very early on [October 2001], right
after these initial Native murders, I wrote a caustic guest editorial for
the Grand Forks Herald -- very critical of the racial and law enforcement
situation.  The "new" police chief, invited by the paper to respond, refused
to do so.]

FROM ROMA LAW [8/30/05]:

I sent this to Wayne Stenehjem and thought you may want to know that others
do really care as well. You are not alone John.
Thanks again for all your info on your website.
With highest regard for you and your causes you always bring such class to,


If your son is Jason, then my son Jordan went to Special Needs class with
him at Kelly Elementary in Grand Forks. My son is Native American from
Devils Lake and I adopted him in 1981 when he was 3 1/2 years old.

I am Norwegian from East Grand Forks, Mn. and grew up there and lived there
until graduation and then off and on (mostly on) since then. I now live in

While shopping by myself prior to my adoption in 1981, I enjoyed the
friendly chit chat of the sales clerks, smiles when I entered a store, even
familiarity and sometimes a first name greeting at Columbia Mall.

After my adoption, with my Indian child in tow, I was greeted by blank
stares, followed around the Home of Economy throughout the toy department
and asked repeatedly if I needed help, which I declined each time. When we
would move from one aisle to the other the salesclerk moved with us and
stood at the end of the aisle until we moved on. I was now made to feel like
a felon without a crime having been committed. Salesclerks no longer greeted
me with smiles, no one seemed to know my name at JC Penney's where I had
repeatedly shopped and purchased jewelry for years. I became an outcast
among my "own people" due to the child whose hand was attached to mine.

I went on to major in Indian Studies at UND and found in the Indian Studies
Dept that I was accepted on my merit, white or not. All I had to bring to
the table was a lack of prejudice and acceptance for others.
I happened to have the greatest honor of having John Salter as my first
Professor, Intro. to Indian Studies was my first class and the most valuable
class I have ever attended.

As the mother of a Native American son, I would like to know what the hell
is wrong with Grand Forks? I heard all about Dru when she went missing. My
mother, who had a stroke and was living here in Arizona at the time, knew
her late grandmother and kept me informed each day on what was going on. I
have not heard one thing on the news in regard to the Belgarde murders. From
growing up in the Forks, I know from experience that Indians are held with
as much regard as dogs. I listened all my life while riding the rural East
Grand Forks bus, the boys in the back of the bus picking on the migrant kids
and making fun of them, as if they were less than human. I was hoping upon
hope, that in a world that has so many tragedies going on at all times, that
North Dakota would have come so much further in their endeavors to become
civilized in their thinking in regard to equality among their brothers. We
are all on this earth to help one another, we need to vibrate in unity so as
to bring better Karma to each other. What we do to others we do to
ourselves. Prejudice is a learned behavior, not inherent at birth. We need
to teach understanding in our schools, to embrace each others cultural
differences, and to not have the need to make ones self feel important by
trodding on another's basic human rights. I for one would like to see the
Grand Forks Police Dept care as much about a Native's murder as any other

Thank you for your time and hopefully your unbiased desire to find the
murderer or murderers' of two Native Americans.

Roma J. LaVoie

 Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'

Check out Surprise Tribute:

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear

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