by BEN HEATH
As part of the 2022 Minnesota Book Awards, scholar David Hugill is the recipient of the Minnesota History Prize for his book Colonial town of settlers. Hugill’s book, published last year by the University of Minnesota Press, is a critical look at some of the social forces in Phillips after World War II. Our current city and neighborhoods are not neutral places where history hangs, but rather are grounded in settler-colonial relations, where white supremacy and non-white oppression are intentional. The author lived and worked in Phillips while completing his research.
Hugill describes the Phillips neighborhood in terms of “sites of articulation,” that is, places where the interactions between two or more social factors are particularly visible. Minneapolis is the colonial town of the settlers, and Phillips is where the record is rich in material. This is a study on racism and inequity. It should come as no surprise that our community has seen a lot. Over the years and decades since white colonization, our municipal and state institutions have flourished due to the prevailing attitudes of settler exploitation and domination codified by government policies of dismissal, expulsion and relocation of Indians. These policies continue to affect many residents of our neighborhood. In response, our community is also the site of resistance.
From the start of the book, Phillips is established as a community of people largely excluded from the decision-making and rewards of so-called urban renewal or urban change. Largely because of this exclusion, the community attracted the interest of well-meaning liberal anti-racist organizations who unfortunately used the racist thinking of the settlers to develop and administer their programs. The author implicates these organizations in the perpetuation of inequity, rather than as major adversaries against it.
There are other examples of these relationships. The most visible settler-colonial relationship is found in racialized policing and police brutality in our neighborhoods. In response, the community developed AIM and neighborhood counter patrols as police violence and intimidation reached new lows. Corporations like Honeywell have used our neighborhood to promote their own moral and ethical virtues even as they take advantage of our people to manufacture their weapons of war (even as our neighborhood becomes the new home for refugees fleeing the use of these same weapons).
Material of the small street the newspaper’s more than 46-year history makes an appearance in the book. Eric Almond’s 1986 and 1991 cartoons offer commentary on both police brutality and the weapons of war being made in our neighborhood. The research also includes writings by Wizard Marks, Steve Compton, Steve Parker, Chuck Robertson, and Bob Woligora. One of the photos on the book cover is of longtime collaborator Paula Williamson.
As you might have guessed, this book was not easy to read, both because of the college audience and because of the sadness and anger I felt as the dots were connected , as the evidence mounts. At the same time, we all have much to learn from these stories. It is an honor for our community to have our story told, even if some of it is hard to think about. But it is vital to stop denying the foundations of our country and our states. We must be able to see the connection between the unresolved violence of the past and the systems of oppression that surround us today.