Listening circle unites Fargo leaders and Native Americans after fatal police shooting – InForum

FARGO – More than 30 people, including Native Americans and civic leaders, gathered at the first Fargo Listening Circle on Tuesday, September 13 to discuss issues related to the city and the region’s Native community.

Before the listening circle began, attendees, including Mayor Tim Mahoney, city commissioners and others, sat around tables inside the Native Association at 720 First Ave. N. for Native American tacos, prayer, smudging, and Native American drumming.

The goal of the Fargo Listening Circle was to eliminate ignorance on all sides by having a chance to sit down and hear each other, said Stuart Lohnes, a member of the Spirit Lake Nation who was an event organizer with Paige Dauphinais.

Stuart Lohnes speaks while holding an eagle feather next to his father during a listening circle hosted by the Native Association Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 in Fargo.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Lohnes’ idea began to take shape after the July 8 fatal shooting of Shane Netterville, a 28-year-old Native American from Jamestown, by Fargo policeman Adam O’Brien, who is white.

Lohnes and others attempted to address Fargo city commissioners in a regular meeting, but tensions were high and, given the two-minute deadline, many could not speak properly, said Lohnes said.

Some people also felt the city’s response to Netterville’s death treated it more like a Native American issue than a human issue, he said.

“So, I thought it would be a good idea to let them listen to us for once. Our community is scattered, so how can we all get along and sit down and talk about what’s wrong? That’s what it’s all about,” Lohnes said.

He brought the idea of ​​the listening circle from the reservation and described it as a meeting where a sacred object – like a rock or a feather – is passed around a circle of people. During Tuesday’s session, they distributed an eagle feather.

“Only the person holding the sacred object can speak, and because they are holding a sacred object, it brings calm to a meeting,” Lohnes said. “In our way, when one person talks, the others listen, and if we don’t have that, it could be a lot of chaos.”

He hopes to make the Fargo Listening Circle a regular meeting, to facilitate communication between local elected officials and the Native American community.

People walk through a cafeteria style line.
Community members and Fargo officials such as Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, North Dakota House of Representatives candidate Lillian Jones, and Fargo City Commissioner Denise Kolpack get served fried bread tacos before a Fargo listening circle hosted by the Native Association with city leaders to talk about how things need to be changed in Fargo on Tuesday, September 13, 2022, at the Native Association of Central- town of Fargo.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

“You don’t build relationships by meeting your partner, or anyone, once a year,” Lohnes said.

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand attended the listening circle and introduced himself saying he grew up in a small town where he never had the opportunity to learn about Native American issues.

“What I do know is that we can always learn and benefit from listening to each other,” Strand said.

People hold their palms up and arms open in front of them as a man in a button-down shirt exudes sage smoke above them.
City Commissioner John Strand is sage stained by Willard Yellow Bird Jr. during the Native Association’s Fargo Listening Circle on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 in Fargo.

Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

Some people around the circle said city leaders needed to be held more accountable and that Netterville’s murder was unjustified. Others attempted to express to Mayor Tim Mahoney and City Commissioners Strand and Denise Kolpack their fear of the police, which stems from persistent mistreatment on and off reservations.

Tanya Redroad of the Little Shell Band of Chippewa, a Turtle Mountain descendant, has been an active participant in panels preparing to address residential school issues and said she and her daughter know about Netterville.

“When that happened she was broken, I was broken, we didn’t know what to do,” Redroad said.

Tracie L. Wilkie, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said, “This week I watched the murder of Shane Netterville, and it really bothers me. I have worked in criminal justice for 20 years and have known many, many innocent people murdered by the police.

Kolpack broke down in tears before speaking with the eagle feather in hand, finally saying she was raised to believe we were all equal.

“I believe in Fargo, and that Fargo can do better,” Kolpack said.

Barry Nelson, a member of the Commission on Human Rights, said he discovered that the world Native Americans live in differs from what most white Americans can understand, and for some Native Americans, their greatest concern is knowing how to send their children safely out of the house.

A woman in black wipes tears from her face as a woman in a red T-shirt next to her speaks and holds an eagle feather.
City Commissioner Denise Kolpack wipes away a tear as Lillian Jones, candidate for the North Dakota House of Representatives in District 41, shares a personal story during a listening circle hosted by the Native Association on Tuesday, September 13 2022 in Fargo.

Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

“It’s a totally different world from what my wife and I were in. I know that’s the world we live in, and these discussions go on day to day, and it’s a reality and it’s sad, and I don’t know what I’ve been doing during those 15 years to change that. But it starts with having a listening mind,” Nelson said.

Sitting at the end of the listening circle, Mahoney, who said he was from Devils Lake, nodded when Lohnes told him he was from the same place.

“You know, we come from the same area, but we lead two completely different lives,” Lohnes said.

“There is pain and suffering in this world, and I have heard many stories tonight that are hard to hear. The city is very worried. What I want from you here is (for us say), what should we do? How can we help with addiction?” Mahoney said.

Nohemi M. Moore