There are fundamental differences between the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul that a long-term denizen of either town could readily define. Jesse Ventura will point out, in jest, that the biggest difference is that the streets in St. Paul were laid out by "drunken Irishmen," but his jibe has little basis in fact. The dense thatch of one way streets in Minneapolis can be more maddening to the tourist than the haphazard combination of randomly named and numbered avenues in St. Paul.

I've spent most of my life with one foot in each city so my observations are well researched, if less than unbiased. I could relay stories of bigotry and intolerance from either perspective but my home is in Minneapolis on purpose. If asked to sum up the distinction between the burgs I would tell the outsider that Minneapolis looks forward while St. Paul looks back.

A good bartender is sort of like Switzerland and the ideas I whisper to you through this keyboard are not necessarily the ones I would tell you out loud, across the bar. Accuse me of duplicity, if you must, but understand that I am working without a tip jar here and enjoy a kind of diplomatic immunity.

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In the ongoing debate over reparations for slavery I have seen comparisons drawn to Nazi labor camps and America's forced internment of citizens of Japanese descent. A more obvious correlation can be drawn to the plight of the Native American. In spite of ourselves we arranged for the well being of our original genocide victims by setting aside huge tracts of land that they could forever claim as a sovereign nation.

At the time these reservations were created it seemed a hollow gesture, wholly without benefit to the oppressed race. It wasn't until the advent of casino gambling in the late twentieth century that the true Americans began to realize the potential of their autonomy. The hundreds of billions of dollars in profits from the gaming business is a puny bandage on a gaping wound but it is a step in the right direction. I am left to wonder how America might be different had we granted a similar autonomy to the enslaved Africans. Forty acres and a mule was not about compensation, it was about owning a piece of America for the blood you shed on her.

In an amazing display of cultural resilience, the Native Americans are emerging, however gradually, from their sorrowful plight. In addition to the profits from casino gaming, the reservations were equipped with a time-released payoff that their creators could not have envisioned. A massive exchange of dollars is currently being brokered with the various American tribes for the rights to erect cellular and microwave communication beacons on reservations across the country. The potential value of the deed to these lands is incalculable and will eventually make the blackjack bucks look like chump change.

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The Federal Communications Commission hosted the bar and the buzz was that the Chairman himself was going to speak. Representatives from every Native American tribe and every major communications concern were in attendance to determine a dollar amount for their digital right of way. The most often discussed stigma that the white invasion visited on these serene people was the burden of alcoholism and I thought it odd that the FCC would host a bar for such an event.

As we set up the portable bars my colleague insisted that we stock them to capacity for the onslaught. She told me that some idiot was going to host a bar for five hundred Indians and that, at hotel prices, the gesture would cost him dearly. Banquet bartenders receive a percentage of the gross on a hosted bar and she was giddy over the potential arithmetic. I told her that her stereotypical drunken Indian would probably not be in attendance at such an event and that she should prepare herself for the opposite extreme.

Driving across the river from Minneapolis to St. Paul is something like flipping the Television channel from PBS to All in the Family. This generalization is harsh and no less flawed than the idea of the drunken Indian but it would hold up to scrutiny at least as well. The Native Americans in attendance avoided the free firewater like Archie Bunker avoided reason.

After the opening speech by the FCC Chairman the banquet became a traditional Powwow. The lights were dimmed for an intense theatrical play to the haunting rhythm of the drums. The presentation was a dramatic display of gratitude to the creator for the gift he gave us in womankind. In full-feathered regalia the noble Americans chanted and danced, sang and cried. It was the most soulful display I had ever witnessed and while I shuddered under the crimes of my forefathers, I rejoiced with the Indians over the potential for grace in the human animal.

I felt privileged to have witnessed the display and was not at all bothered by non-existent liquor sales. The only place a white devil like me could ordinarily experience such a thing would be on Public Television and I remember thinking that old St. Paul might just be outgrowing its provincial bounds. At the climax of the Powwow all five hundred souls joined hands and danced in a huge circle of humanity around the hotel ballroom. As the lights were raised I had to struggle a bit to compose myself and dry my moist eyes.

My St. Paul colleague caught my gaze, rolled her eyes and said, "I'm glad I'm white."


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