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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 30, 2002 - Issue 75


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McKnight honors 11 Minnesotans with the 2002 Awards in Human Service.

by McKnight Foundation Press Release
credits: Photos courtesy McKnight Foundation
Three Native Americans in Minnesota have been recognized for their volunteer service.

Minneapolis, MN (November 22, 2002)—The McKnight Foundation will honor 11 Minnesotans with Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service for 2002.

The annual McKnight awards recognize exceptional volunteers who demonstrate the difference one person can make in serving others. This is the 18th year of the awards, named for the Foundation's honorary chair and former president.

The awards, each including a $7,500 check, will be presented at a private ceremony on Friday, November 22, in Brooklyn Center. Nine people from the Twin Cities metropolitan area and one each from Ponsford and Worthington were selected by a statewide committee of seven people who work in human services.

The McKnight Foundation created the awards in 1985 to honor Minnesota residents who give their time and energy to enhance the quality of life in their communities. This year's recipients include two immigrants who help other newcomers and refugees feel at home in Minnesota, a Native American elder who drives across the reservation delivering traditional foods to homebound people, an accountant who helps low-income and elderly people prepare their taxes, and a couple who have been volunteering together for 54 years.

"One of the great rewards of our work at The McKnight Foundation is the chance to meet people who set aside their own interests to make life better for others," said Virginia McKnight Binger, the Foundation's honorary chair. "They do good work quietly without expecting anything in return, even though it may involve considerable personal sacrifice."

Candidates are nominated anonymously by someone who knows their work. Ten awards are given annually. Since 1985, 187 people, including seven pairs, have received the awards.

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Recipients include:

  • Margaret Smith, a founder of the Upper Midwest American Indian Center, who now spend her time delivering traditional meals to the elderly and diabetic;
  • Ron Schwartz, a member of the Leech Lake Ojibwe Tribe, who leads a weekly support group at the St. Paul American Indian Family Center for fathers; and
  • Gayle Weigle, a businesswoman who helps homeless Indian youth.

Margaret Smith, Ponsford
For bringing traditional food to elderly and diabetic people on the White Earth Reservation

With nearly 200 packages of mino-miijim-"good food"-packed into her car, Margaret Smith drives across the White Earth Reservation, delivering wholesome, traditional meals to homebound people. Knowing that many elders and shut-ins couldn't afford healthy food or couldn't prepare it, Smith created the program through the White Earth Land Recovery Project. "She is a cherished elder who makes herself available to those who need her," says Winona LaDuke, director of the Land Recovery Project. Smith spent several years in the Twin Cities, where she was one of the founders of the Upper Midwest American Indian Center. She moved back to the reservation in 1972. At 84, undaunted by her long days on the road, she says, "The people are expecting me, and they invite me in and we talk. It's fun."

Margaret Smith
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Ron Schwartz, St. Paul
For helping Native American fathers strengthen their parenting skills

A Leech Lake tribal member, Ron Schwartz shares his leadership skills generously. He serves on the boards of the Elders Lodge in St. Paul and American Indian Family and Children's Service. He leads a fathers' support group at the St. Paul American Indian Family Center. "I've been involved for more than three years, and I'm still learning things from other dads-not them learning from me," Schwartz says. "We share experiences and strengths and hopes." A single parent to three children, he also has a demanding job as a counselor at a center for chemically dependent men. Gabrielle Strong of the Grotto Foundation nominated Schwartz, saying, "He is a dedicated father and includes his children in many of his activities. He is funny and compassionate and is genuinely interested in his community's welfare."

Ron Schwartz
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Gayle Weigle, Minneapolis
For working with Project OffStreets to enrich the lives of homeless teens

A customer at Earth Circles, where Gayle Weigle sells Native American arts and crafts, introduced her to Project OffStreets. The drop-in center for homeless teenagers soon became part of her life. "Her lifework focuses on redistributing resources to ease the disparity between those who have and those who have less," says Susan Raffo of YouthLink, the sponsor of Project OffStreets. Weigle teaches skills and instills pride in Native American homeless teens through their culture. She has helped them make and sell dreamcatchers, and currently they are creating a book and website about frybread ( She organizes an annual benefit for Project OffStreets-the FryBreadLove concert. Frybread has become a metaphor for feeding the spirit. "Frybread is kind of like loaves and fishes," Weigle says, "only it's frybread."

Gayle Weigle
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