Saturday September 30th 2023

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Little Earth Celebrates Fifty Years


A view of Little Earth in the early 1980s, looking northwest across Cedar Avenue. A sign for the American Indian OIC is visible in the lower right corner. Source: Hennepin County Library Special Collections

The residents of Little Earth are marking fifty years since the opening in 1973 of what is now the only Native-preference, Native-owned public housing development in the country. Covering over two square miles, Little Earth is a cornerstone of the Phillips neighborhood and an anchor of the Native community, with residents hailing from dozens of tribal nations. Its history is one of struggle, survivance, and accomplishment in the face of many challenges over the last half-century.

Once the site of the old South High School, the project began after the establishment of the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority in 1958 and was funded in part by the Federal Model Cities program in 1966. Construction of 212 living units (apartments and townhouses) began in 1971. When the development opened in 1973, residents were plagued by issues caused by the original poor construction and the rubble left as infill around the site. Subsequent financial problems and tensions between residents and the management saw operations taken over by AIM (American Indian Movement) in 1975.
Organizing the Little Earth Residents Association was started in 1983 by resident and food-shelf volunteer, Elaine Stately. Going door-to-door, Stately and others like Peggy Bellecourt brought the community together to stand against the expansion of the Hiawatha Corridor. The community demanded and won the huge concrete sound barrier along Little Earth’s eastern boundary when construction commenced in the late 1980s.

When the US Department of Housing and Urban Development threatened to foreclose on the Little Earth property, lengthy lawsuits ultimately led to the founding of the Little Earth United Tribes Housing Corporation, and the formal establishment of Native-preference in 1994. The community celebrated the 30th anniversary in 2003 with the renaming of 25th ½ Street to E. M. Stately Street.

There have always been various services available to residents, children to adults, operated by outside organizations and those within; from food shelf to training and employment services, from daycare to urban farm. In 1994, Little Earth purchased the Holy Rosary school building in the middle of the 2400 block of 18th Avenue and opened the Little Earth Neighborhood Early Learning Center. A home ownership program was launched in 2012. As a part of the The Urban Indigenous Legacy Initiative, Little Earth has plans for more good developments in the near future. Here’s to fifty more years (at least!) of empowerment and accomplishment.

The anniversary will be celebrated at the annual Mother’s Day Pow Wow at Cedar Field. Grand entry begins on Saturday, May 13 at 1pm and 7pm, and on Sunday, May 14 at 1pm. The Pow Wow is one of the best regular events in the Phillips neighborhood. Come out and show your love for the community. Congratulations and respect to the people of Little Earth!

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