All My Relations Arts | NEVER HOMELESS BEFORE 1492, Courtney Cochran
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NEVER HOMELESS BEFORE 1492, by artist Courtney Cochran

In 2018, one of the largest homeless encampments in the history of the state of Minnesota developed on MnDOT’s highway right of way in Minneapolis in the American Indian Cultural Corridor on TH55/Franklin Avenue. The site was eventually occupied by between 200-300 residents, and many of the residents of the camp were American Indians representing many tribal affiliations. The encampment had difficult public health conditions, multiple deaths and fires. Residents of the camp deemed the adjacent noise wall the Wall of Forgotten Natives and an emotional connection to the site was felt by many.

NACDI partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in the creation of a temporary art installation located on the chain-link fence currently at the site of The Wall. 

NACDI/AMRA contracted artist Courtney Cochran to lead the artistic design, community engagement, and community art fabrication of the project. The artwork is composed of 23 4’x4’ fluted polymer panels that each have a letter in the foreground and visual imagery of a relevant Native topic or theme in the background. When affixed to the fence the letters spell out, “N-E-V-E-R H-O-M-E-L-E-S-S- B-E-F-O-R-E 1-4-9-2”.

This artwork is an acknowledgment of the experiences of those impacted by the housing crisis in 2018 which led to the Wall and addresses the issues causing homelessness within the Native community. The artwork remembers what happened at the site while also celebrating traditional Native values, lifting up Native voices, and encouraging dialogue on contemporary issues from a Native perspective that are impacting the ongoing housing crisis in urban Native communities. The artwork will remain on display for a period of 2 years while the 55 bridge undergoes re-decking restoration.

“Since 2018, the Franklin-Hiawatha encampment site, known as The Wall of Forgotten Natives, has been central to community dialogue and action addressing American Indian homelessness in a culturally responsive manner,” said Jessica Oh, MnDOT Strategic Partnerships Director, Sustainability and Public Health Division. “MnDOT listened to community and stakeholder feedback and conducted additional public engagement and we are pleased to collaborate with NACDI and Courtney Cochran on this project to elevate the voices of unsheltered Native community members, support community-art making and create space for healing around this important site in the American Indian Cultural Corridor.”

About the Artist: Courtney Cochran is an Anishinaabe multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker and community organizer based in Minneapolis. Her approach to documentary filmmaking comes from a decolonized lens where she abandons the use of the camera as an authoring mechanism and works against any directorial or production hierarchies. Outside of her film practice, she is a teaching artist, jewelry maker, painter and screen printer and often incorporates mixed media elements into her designs.

Her work often addresses issues and ongoing effects of injustices and colonialism inspires healing through creative collaboration, to restore traditions, and to foster connectivity across divides. 

MnDOT: The Minnesota Department of Transportation oversees construction and maintenance of about 12,000 miles of roadway in Minnesota as well as all other modes, including land, water, air, rail, transit, walking and bicycling. MnDOT is responsible for maintaining a safe, accessible, efficient, and reliable multimodal transportation system that connects people to destinations and markets throughout the state, regionally and around the world.