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Local Native American Center board to address suspension of services

The board of directors of the Native American Center of Southeast Minnesota will meet next week to discuss the center's recent suspension of cultural and counseling services in Rochester.

Services were suspended late last month because of what board chairman Jim Wilson says were anonymous letters from people claiming they're "tribally enrolled Native Americans in the city of Rochester." Wilson said in a press release dated June 20 and in an open letter to Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede that the letters "contain defaming accusations about myself and our non-native and white members, stating we are thieves and are a disgrace to the community and make 'real' Indians look bad."

Wilson said in an interview with the Post-Bulletin on Friday that he believes he knows who sent the anonymous letters that started the dispute. "We've got a real short list" of people who may have sent them, he said.

He said the anonymous attacks are "basically a hate crime" and that he has reported the matter to law enforcement officials. The center's board will meet July 11 to discuss the matter and to decide whether to continue the suspension of services in Rochester. Those services include cultural and educational programing, chaplain visits and counseling, such as counseling of prisoners at the Federal Medical Center.

The organization was founded in 1984 and is "technically" based in Rochester, Wilson said. "We're a fairly small group and don't have offices," he said, but the center has about 30 active volunteer members, plus others around the United States.


Wilson, 61, lives in Zumbrota and works at Crenlo in Rochester. He's been chairman of the Native American Center for six years. He said he's white but his "cultural identity is Osage" because he was "adopted into an Osage family" in Oklahoma, and regardless, the center was founded as an organization to promote understanding between native and non-native people, he said. "You do not have to be a Native American to be a member of the Native American Center."

He said the center has heard objections in the past, "where tribally enrolled people get up and say" the organization is not properly presenting ceremonies and traditions. The anonymous attacks, however, prompted him to suspend services.

"I'm not going to have my reputation tarnished by anybody," he said.

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