In the US, there are over 300 federal Indian reservations, covering over 50 million acres of land in 36 states. However, a majority of Native Americans—as many as 78 percent—live off reservations in urban areas. Since the passage of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which encouraged Native Americans to assimilate into the general population by moving to cities, the population of so-called “urban Indians” has been increasing rapidly. But the assumptions behind the Indian Relocation Act and similarly short-sided, callous, and colonialist “Indian Termination” policies—namely, that assimilation is desirable, and that relocation to metropolitan job centers would reduce the poverty endemic to isolated, rural reservations—were deeply flawed. Due to discrimination, disinvestment, and neglect, Native Americans living in urban areas today face poverty, unemployment, and undereducation rates that are nearly double what they are for the general urban population, and account for a disproportionate percentage of people experiencing homelessness.
In response to these (and many other) inequities, an urban, intertribal, indigenous movement emerged in the late 1960s. In no city was this movement more pronounced than in Minneapolis, where, in 1968, a group of activists founded the legendary American Indian Movement—a group that would become synonymous with calls for economic independence, cultural revitalization, tribal autonomy, and the restoration of lands that they believed had been illegally seized. Today, Minneapolis has one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country, and boasts one of the only Native American Districts in the U.S. Located on the traditional homelands of the Dakota people, the District includes Native-owned homes, businesses, and non-profit organizations, most of which are clustered around the American Indian Cultural Corridor (the only urban Native American corridor in the country).
This studio invites students from all departments to work with Minneapolis’s Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) to help make this District and Corridor better reflect the needs of the Native American residents who call it home. Drawing from NACDI’s “Community Blueprint,” students will have an opportunity to work on any number of community-defined architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and urban design projects. These include outdoor public spaces for Native American ceremonies and pow wows, a new Native American urban farm, a new center for indigenous cosmology, strategies for indigenous streetscaping, strategies for affordable housing, and many other projects.
While the immediate goal of the studio is therefore pragmatic, a broader goal is to think about land use in the context of the ongoing struggle for indigenous self-determination. Indeed, how might we help reactivate indigenous ideas about humans' relationship to our natural and built environments? And how can architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and urban design be tools of reconciliation? Of liberation?