US (MN): Indigenous-led team is transforming a Minneapolis superfund site into an urban farm

Cassandra Holmes got involved in environmental justice organizing after her 16-year-old son, Trinidad Flores, died in 2013 upon suddenly developing dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that scientists have found to be associated with exposure to air pollution.

A member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Holmes was born and raised in Little Earth of United Tribes, a 9.4-acre, 212-unit Housing, and Urban Development subsidized housing complex in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the country’s only Native American preference Section 8 community.

Founded in 1973, Little Earth provides support services for its nearly 1,000 residents—who represent 38 different Tribal affiliations—designed to help eliminate systemic barriers and address challenges many Indigenous communities face. It’s located in East Phillips, a neighborhood that has long been home to many heavy industry tenants and the so-called “arsenic triangle,” an area resulting from ongoing ground contamination by a chemical manufacturer over a 25-year period. Today, East Phillips residents—70 percent of whom identify as people of color—have some of the highest levels of asthma, heart disease, and other pollution-related ailments in the state of Minnesota.

Holmes serves as the director of the East Phillips Improvement Coalition (EPIC) and a board member of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI), two organizations fighting environmental racism in the area. Now, she’s also at the center of a high-profile effort to bring fresh, local food to the neighborhood.


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