Gallery: Indigenous culture on Franklin Avenue

Photo essay by Hunter Hotulke & Lyric Aquino

Thomas LaBlanc speaks to NAJA student fellows about the history of Franklin Avenue while standing next to a mural celebrating Pat Bellinger and other integral leaders of AIM. LaBlanc is an American Indian Movement member and resident of Minneapolis who lived near Franklin Avenue for the creation of AIM. Franklin Avenue is home to many Native activists such as LaBlanc and Bellinger. Bellinger was a driving force and voice for Native Americans in Minneapolis. LaBlanc said “Community leaders such as Bellinger continue to inspire Indeginous people across the nation and serve as reminders of the roots the American Indian Movement has on Franklin Avenue.”
The All My Relations Art Gallery gallery showcases fine art created by Native American artists. The gallery is located in an area known as the American Indian Cultural Corridor and is surrounded by Native-owned businesses. The current exhibit is Changing Horizons, a gallery celebrating the 100th birthday of George Morrison. The gallery was developed by the Native American Community Development Institute. The mission for All My Relations is to interest youth and elders in the fine arts by providing classes, tours and showcasing artwork by Native artists.
Powwow Grounds coffee on Franklin Avenue is the entrance to All My Relations art gallery. A staple in the community for seven years, the shop supplies patrons with fresh coffees and teas, homemade pastries and sandwiches. Powwow Grounds is adjacent to All My Relations and is part of the American Indian Cultural Corridor, a coalition of Native businesses and organizations.
LaBlanc shares how he remembers Franklin Avenue over the years to NAJA fellows. He remembers the streets were lined with liquor stores, prostitutes and bars. “We were young back in those days,” said LaBlanc. “This street had 11 bars. Only three of them were safe for Indians.” While recounting his own experiences with police brutality, LaBlanc recalls often being a victim of racism including an altercation where police said, “You got a big mouth. We’re gonna scramble your brains until you can’t talk.”
Stores like Franklin Dollar were once Native-owned, but are now owned by non-Native members of the community. According to the 2018 American Community Survey, 1.2% of the Minneapolis population, or around 4,500 people, identified as Native American, whereas, 74,000 people identified as being Somali live in Minneapolis. The Somali Native Friendship Alliance aims to bridge the cultural gap between the two groups and bring them together for the betterment of the community.
With art ranging from murals, sculptures and sidewalk art, Franklin Avenue showcases Native influences. This water fountain, designed by Peter Morales, depicts a fish, turtle and crow. LaBlanc views the works as a local art movement. “The feelings about Franklin Avenue are not all bad,” said LaBlanc. “There’s a major renaissance of young Indian artists.”
The Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) provides Native artists the opportunity to showcase their works in public spaces. Public works boxes like this exist all across Minneapolis. The artistic themes vary from the American Indian Movement, environmental conservation and historical landmarks in Minneapolis.
LaBlanc and Alan Gross (right) discussing the importance of not self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. LaBlanc and Gross have both experienced problems with substance abuse. CREATE is a substance abuse clinic that provides help and support to those struggling with addiction and provides services that finds employment and housing opportunities for struggling addicts.
The Indigenous Journalist Association Empowers Indigenous Voices in Journalism.
IJA © 2023 All rights reserved.