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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday February 22nd 2024

Frances Fairbanks: 1929 ”“ 2017


An all-night beginning of the mahjon for Frances Fairbanks took place on November 8th at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. This was a place she knew intimately, because she worked there for nearly all of the Center”'s 43-year history. She was one of a kind, having worked her way up through the operational and leadership ladder through talent, resolve, and a deep understanding of the community she served.

She was a member of the Red Lake Nation and often spoke of her life there. When giving advice to others she would talk about her young life at Red Lake and she would relate the advice her father would give her from time to time. She found this advice useful, not just in its content, but also in that it was something to be remembered, considered, and applied to different situations from time to time.

She was unique in two ways: she was a natural leader who had little formal training but who used well what she had learned at Red Lake; and she knew how to interact with other leaders to promote the overall American Indian community. This is an area where she compares with many of the men in Indian leadership. In her work, however, she chose not to go to other parts of the country: she wanted to change local conditions for Indian people in Minneapolis. She positioned the Indian Center to do its best work in the areas of job training; middle school education; adult education; and community discussion. She brought people together to work on issues ”“ some the most sensitive at the time ”“ such as perceived homophobia. Margaret Peake-Raymond led a discussion that cracked open the silence on homophobia and Frances supported this major moment of recognition for Two-Spirit people whose talents and presence were under pressure and being ridiculed. This is just one of her outstanding moments as a community leader. There were dozens of issues where convening at the Indian Center gave them more light and more understanding.

The Center shone with an art gallery, the thrill of basketball games and pow wows, the solemnity of feasts and mahjons for those who died and whose families wanted the services to be at the Indian Center. A corner store full of beadwork, beads, and many other Indian cultural and art items filled out one area and a restaurant filled out another.

Frances was a member of many boards in the community. She shared her leadership skills widely, but took the time to always have her family close to her. She had great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren. And beyond that, she was a foster mother for many years.

She had a personal way of interacting with others and she will be remembered for that. But there should be no doubt, she took leadership seriously and major leaders from the Mayor to corporate representatives took Frances Fairbanks seriously, too.

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