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  • Metropolitan Transformation and the Colonial RelationThe Making of an “Indian Neighborhood” in Postwar Minneapolis
  • David Hugill (bio)

East Franklin Avenue emerged as one of South Minneapolis’ principal commercial corridors at the end of the nineteenth century. Early residents tend to remember the area affectionately. One who spent her youth on East Franklin in the first decades of the twentieth century described it as the attractive center of a tightly knit urban community, a place that “came alive” with the bustle of salubrious commerce in and around meticulously maintained family-run shops.1 Yet such fond reminiscences jar with the descriptions of East Franklin that began to appear in local publications in the decades following World War II. By the mid-1950s, mass suburbanization had begun to hasten the decline of vast stretches of the city’s urban core and East Franklin had begun to suffer some of the most deleterious effects of metropolitan reorganization.

Local journalists took note of these changes and were soon filing dispatches that described the area as an emergent urban slum, teeming with conspicuous signs of economic insecurity and decline. Indigenous people were often at the center of these reports, increasingly associated with the area and counted among the ranks of an inner-city population that had been largely excluded from the spoils of postwar prosperity. In the period following 1945, the Twin Cities Indigenous population grew substantially; while the number of Indigenous people living in Minneapolis and St. Paul numbered only a few hundred at the start of the war, it mushroomed to more than six thousand by the formal end of hostilities in Europe and the [End Page 169] Pacific.2 This migratory process only accelerated after 1945, and by the late 1960s conservative estimates pegged the local population at ten thousand, with many residing in the inner-city.3 Thus by 1957, Minneapolis Tribune reporter Carl Rowan was already describing the presence of an “unofficial reservation” in South Minneapolis. Here, he found “Indian families” living in “wretched” apartment blocks and “dark, squalid, bug-infested dwellings.”4 By 1969 Gerald Vizenor was writing about a crisis that had amplified in scale and intensity. “Thousands of cockroaches infest the kitchens of substandard dwellings rented by Indian families in the poverty area,” he reported of the residential districts that straddled East Franklin Avenue.5 “Many children sit on mattresses close to space heaters in dimly-lighted rooms watching television. They seem happy and oblivious of their surroundings, but their lips are cracked from the dry heat.” By the mid-1980s, a City Pages reporter could describe East Franklin as “one of the most tawdry strips in the city.”6 In his estimation, the Avenue remained “afflicted” by high vacancy in its mature building stock, the damaging effects of a spiraling crisis of unemployment, and a “very visible problem of drunkenness, vagrancy, and panhandling among its predominantly American Indian Street people.” Popular understandings of East Franklin Avenue and the Southside Phillips neighborhood transformed markedly in the wake of the Second World War, as the area came to be associated with poverty, deprivation, and the metropolitan region’s Indigenous population, above all else.

In what follows, I consider the material and immaterial practices that lie behind this metamorphosis and the dominant forms of its interpretation. To do so, I pursue a line of inquiry that differs from the two most common approaches that animate existing work on these questions in the context of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. In the first place, I consciously seek to break with a long line of academic, institutional, and journalistic analysis that has approached urban Indigenous marginality as a consequence of dynamics that are internal to Indigenous communities themselves. Here, I am thinking of a range of studies that have sought to make sense of this phenomenon by explaining it as a consequence of the trauma of reservation-to-city migration, the unpreparedness of Indigenous people to cope with the demands of urban life, or the incommensurability of Indigenous “lifestyles” with those of the “dominant society,” among other factors.7 Of course, this problematic approach has long been offset by studies that demonstrate that Indigenous marginality was and is the product of...


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pp. 169-199
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