Minnesotans of a certain age will note the passing of Roger Erickson with nostalgia and sadness (“ ’CCO legend made mornings, snow days a joy,” Nov. 1). It was a time before the worldwide internet, when hip urban kids who normally listened to AM radio top 40 hits on WDGY turned their radio dial to WCCO and listened patiently through farm reports to find out if their school was closed or starting late. Today, when you get text updates on severe weather and school closings, when radio and cable television talk-show flamethrowers feed red meat to an audience uninterested in other viewpoints than their own, and civility is for wusses; this child of the ’60s misses the voice of a kind, jovial, perfect gentleman who could hold your rapt attention, even while reporting the price of corn and soybeans.
Benjamin Cherryhomes, Hastings
DENNIS BANKS, 1937-2017
Recalling the engaging humor and gravitas of a leader
Dennis Banks, who died Sunday, (“He fought for Indian rights,” Oct. 31) was hired by Honeywell Human Resources in the late 1960s to assist with hiring Native Americans. He did a great job, including getting rides to and from work for the new employees, most of whom had just arrived from reservations. The program was a success until the economy went south and the “last hired, first fired” union rule took over and most of the Native Americans were laid off.
Dennis became a friend of everyone in my Honeywell department, corporate communications. During the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupation of Alcatraz, our department received a collect call from “Admiral Banks” at the island prison. We got a firsthand update on what was happening.
Dennis was a funny, smart, engaging man who did a lot to educate the general population about Native Americans and the devastation they faced from the U.S. government over the decades. Humanity was enriched by this singular man. He will be missed by people of all cultures.
Judy Ryan Haaversen, Minneapolis
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When I worked at Honeywell from 1965 to 1974, one of my assignments was to assist Dennis Banks and other leaders in the American Indian Movement in the recruitment of Native Americans for possible employment at Honeywell. While Dennis always showed a naturally grim visage as his public face, he had a great sense of humor. Once, when we attended together a regional meeting of personnel recruiters in Oklahoma City, at a Hilton hotel, just before a dinner meeting, Dennis summoned me to his room. He was wearing his full head-to-toe feathered regalia and other Native garb.
“What,” he asked me with a mischievous smile, “do you think the reaction will be when I walk down that winding staircase to the dining room?”
I soon found out. The dining room and adjacent bar went silent. The hotel manager eased over to Dennis and asked, “May I help you, sir?” “Yes, I’ll have a [whatever drink he ordered] and so will my brother,” meaning me, an ordinary business suit. “Of course, sir, and these will be on the house.” Dennis winked at me, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing. Dennis kept his cool.
When we joined the other Honeywellers at a special table for our group, they, too, were silent.
“What’s the matter with you?” Dennis asked them. “Haven’t you ever seen an Indian all dressed up for dinner?” Then he laughed and sat down.
The ice was broken, normal conversation resumed and dinner was served, but before the evening’s agenda was addressed, Dennis stood up and delivered a stirring impromptu speech about the sad treatment Native people had suffered at the hands of the white man. Not only the Honeywellers but everyone else gave him a standing ovation.
That’s how I’ll always remember my working partner and friend, Dennis Banks. Rest in peace.
Willard B. Shapira, Roseville
LAKE CALHOUN/BDE MAKA SKA
What 20 percent can do with a thoughtful civic commitment
I’d like to strongly commend Tom Austin for his thoughtful, committed community research into the issue of renaming Lake Calhoun (“I asked 350 people who live near the lake about renaming it,” Nov. 1). His process and reporting are a much-needed antithesis to the fake news we’re too often fed in our echo chambers.
In reading his article, I couldn’t help but make the connection to the following groundbreaking cultural insight from the anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” To the 20 percent of us who want to change the name of the lake in Uptown: We need to follow the lead set out by Austin and Mead, and make a thoughtful, civic commitment of our own.
David Muench Huebert, Minneapolis
• • •
According to Austin, some of his neighbors asked him: “What exactly have the Dakota Indians done that is a positive contribution to all Minnesotans? What is the heroism or accomplishment that we are recognizing in order to justify renaming the lake to Bde Maka Ska?”
What a painful question. The Dakota people faced genocide here. The U.S. government broke treaties, left Dakota people starving and provoked the war of 1862. The United States, at Minnesota’s urging, exiled the Dakota from their homeland. Alexander Ramsey put bounties on Dakota scalps, resulting in the indiscriminate deaths of Dakota and other Native Americans. It’s a horrific history.
In subsequent years, through boarding schools and other U.S. assimilation policies, we tried to destroy the Dakota and other native languages, cultures and religions. As a nation, we still struggle with everything from removing offensive Indian mascots to being honest about our history.
It is ludicrous to ask what heroic acts the Dakota have done. It is heroic that the Dakota and other Native people have survived at all. Yet here they are, trying to preserve their traditions, standing up for water and environmental protection, and looking out for seven generations into the future.
Scott Russell, Minneapolis
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Two of Wednesday’s Opinion Exchange pieces very neatly illustrate the conflicting constructs in this year’s very unusual Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board election. Area resident Tom Austin writes about personally interviewing his Lake Calhoun neighbors and discovering that 80 percent do not think changing Lake Calhoun’s name is appropriate. Brad Bourn, a candidate for re-election in the Sixth District, offers a slate of candidates and states that, “Together these candidates will move us into the future. We’ll advocate for our shared DFL values on the Park Board, particularly around racial equity, LGBTQ rights, environmental stewardship and labor solidarity.” (Incidentally, Bourn was one of the major Park Board proponents for the lake’s name change.)
The primary mission in running the Minneapolis parks is not about correcting society’s ills, and it is difficult to see how LGBTQ rights and labor solidarity should be highlighted at the forefront of an election plank for leadership of the Park Board. This is another instance of a small and vocal group pushing an election agenda that is far removed from the center. These far-left, DFL-endorsed candidates no more represent the wishes of the majority of citizens than the far-right groups who are now controlling the national scene.
Tom Austin’s neighbors (even if they do live in one of Minneapolis’ wealthier neighborhoods) much more accurately reflect the feelings and wishes of mainstream Minneapolis citizens and voters. I say this as a liberal who can see what happens when the well-organized, fringe elements of a party push their agenda to the exclusion of those in the middle. This time around I’ll be shying away from the DFL endorsement and will be voting for more pragmatic, experienced candidates who understand what most people are looking for in a park system.
Julie Stenberg, Minneapolis