The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City TRC Indigenous Commissioners resign

Following the resignations of two commissioners, the Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission is left without any representation of Indigenous individuals.
Photo contributed by Sikowis Nobiss

Two commissioners on the Iowa City Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC, resigned within two months, citing numerous concerns.

The commissioners, Sikowis Nobiss and Marie Krebs, are the only commissioners on the TRC who identify as a part of the Indigenous community.

While Krebs cited time constraints due to the unpaid role, Nobiss’ resignation stemmed from ongoing frustrations, culminating in two recent events within the TRC that proved to be the tipping point.

Nobiss described the eruption of conflict between Commissioner Chad Simmons and ThinkPeace facilitator David Ragland at a March 21 truth-telling event as the “nail in the coffin” in her decision to resign.

Nobiss also expressed frustration toward the decision to appoint a white commissioner, Louis Tassinary, in August 2023.

Nobiss is a Plains Cree/Saulteaux citizen of the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan and founder of the local Indigenous-led nonprofit Great Plains Action Society. She served as a TRC commissioner from April 2021 until her resignation in March 2024.

Krebs also works at the Great Plains Action Society as managing director. Krebs joined the commission in October 2022 and stepped down in February 2024, one month before Nobiss.

The TRC was created in 2020 in response to national protests surrounding the death of George Floyd with many citing racial injustice and police brutality as the cause. Several protests also took place on the University of Iowa campus during this time.

Nobiss said she applied to the TRC to contribute to its mission of combating racism, but experienced her first setback when the Iowa City City Council passed a motion in 2021 to appoint a white pastor instead of her.

City council meeting notes reflect the council passed a motion to appoint Iowa City pastor David Borger Germann to the commission. Germann did not join the commission after being approved.

“There were no Indigenous members of the commission at that time. I was the only Indigenous person to apply, plus my extensive work in this realm is perfect for this commission,” Nobiss said. “Who in their right mind would choose a white guy over an Indigenous woman for this position on a commission about experienced racism?”

After Germann did not join the commission, the city council appointed Nobiss on April 12, 2021. Nobiss was the first appointed commissioner who is Indigenous.

Nobiss found it concerning that the TRC, established in response to police violence, lacked Indigenous representation from the outset. This, she felt, was a form of erasure because of the disproportionate impact of police brutality on Native American communities.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, Native Americans make up 0.8 percent of the U.S. population, but 1.9 percent of those killed by law enforcement.

This translates to a 3.1 times greater risk of being killed by police for Native Americans than white Americans. Comparatively, Black people are killed by police at a rate 2.8 times higher than white people.

“For years we’ve been trying to get attention toward police brutality faced by Native people. But we never get the visibility that other folks do.” Nobiss said.

While Nobiss said Black Lives Matter is an important movement, she emphasized the need to include the experiences of Native Americans in the conversation.

Despite initial frustrations, Nobiss entered her role as a commissioner eager to contribute to the work of the TRC.

Her enthusiasm was dampened when her first assignment involved fine-tuning the existing land acknowledgment used at city council and select commission meetings. Nobiss described this task as “tokenistic,” or a perfunctory symbol of Indigenous inclusion with no meaningful action.

“The fact that they had a land acknowledgment without having an Indigenous person on the commission says a lot about how erased we are,” Nobiss said.

Nobiss said her most meaningful work as a commissioner was to ensure the inclusion of Native American partners to facilitate healing circles, which are a restorative justice practice rooted in several Indigenous cultures.

Local facilitators V Fixmer-Oraiz and Annie Tucker proposed the inclusion of healing circles at TRC meetings in December 2021. When Fixmer-Oraiz and Tucker expressed their willingness to lead these circles themselves, Nobiss advocated for Indigenous leadership.

“I appreciated that they wanted to do this,” Nobiss said. “But it wasn’t right. I’m tired of people taking our Indigenous ways and not including us.”

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Fixmer-Oraiz described making adjustments to the healing circles in response to Nobiss’ concerns.

“When we first brought the idea of healing circles to the TRC, Sikowis [Nobiss] brought up that if we were doing healing circles with Native practices, that is appropriation,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. “And of course, we wanted to be very responsive to that.”

Native partners to the TRC Manape LaMere, who identifies as Isanti Dakota and Ho-Chunk, Terry Medina, who is Santee Sioux and a citizen of the Isanti Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and Donnielle Wanatee, who served as the precinct Democratic chairperson for the Meskwaki Settlement, were involved to lead the healing circles.

“That was entirely due to Sikowis [Nobiss], as a Native person, being in that seat of the TRC,” Fixmer-Oraiz said.

Nobiss and Fixmer-Oraiz both described the healing circles as deeply impactful. But, Nobiss said, a financial disparity cast a shadow on this achievement.

Iowa City budget documents reveal that the Native American partners were paid $125 per hour.

This rate stood in contrast to the $285 hourly rate paid to Larry Schooler, senior director of Kearns & West, an out-of-town consulting firm brought in to assist the TRC with training and data collection.

Nobiss said this difference in pay was deeply troubling.

“That’s disgusting to me,” Nobiss said. “The Native partners did a significant amount of work and some of the most impactful work.”

Schooler declined a request for comment from The Daily Iowan.

This financial frustration extended beyond the pay gap between partners and consultants. Nobiss and Krebs both expressed disappointment with the city’s refusal to allocate compensation for the commissioners themselves.

“The TRC is like an unpaid part-time job,” Krebs said regarding the workload of TRC commissioners.

Nobiss echoed this sentiment, arguing that the lack of compensation perpetuated the very issue of systemic racism the TRC aimed to address.

“Why are you expecting Black and Brown folks to do this work for free?” Nobiss said, regarding the city council and Mayor Teague’s rejection of the TRC’s request for a $1,000 monthly stipend in August 2021.

Nobiss and Krebs both expressed admiration for TRC commissioners, who they described as tenacious, good-hearted, and dedicated. However, both said they believe the TRC was “set up to fail” due to budget and timeline restraints imposed by the city council and the bureaucratic nature of a commission.

“I am skeptical that we can fix colonial dysfunction using the tools of colonial dysfunction,” Krebs said.

In an email to the DI, City Councilor Josh Moe commended Nobiss’ service on the commission. All city council members other than Moe did not respond to requests for comment.

Nobiss’ mounting frustrations as a TRC commissioner were exacerbated when Louis Tassinary, a white man, was appointed to the commission.

“This has nothing to do with white people. It has to do with white supremacy,” Nobiss said. “If we’re trying to build power and give voices to people that have experienced racism then we need those people in the lead. So to have this white person come on really upset me.”

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Tassinary said Nobiss directly confronted him about her disapproval of his appointment.

“I understand where she’s coming from,” Tassinary said. “I don’t agree with her on that. I think it’s important to have different voices.”

Nobiss said Tassinary’s appointment contributed to her resignation, but the heated conflict between Commissioner Chad Simmons and facilitator David Ragland at the March 21 truth-telling event cemented her decision to leave the TRC.

The conflict started when Simmons brought a retired Chicago police officer using a pseudonym to speak to the commission via Zoom. Nobiss expressed her disappointment in Simmons bringing a police officer from outside the community to an event intended for residents to share experiences with systemic racism.

The situation escalated when Ragland intervened, taking the microphone from Simmons and using a racial slur to express his frustration.

RELATED: Nonprofit supports traditional practices, empowers Iowa City Indigenous communities

“I can understand why Dave [Ragland] was upset because I was upset,” Nobiss said. “But I can’t condone the word that he used at all.”

Nobiss said her resignation reflects her deep disappointment that both a commissioner and a hired facilitator acted in ways she felt were destructive.

When responding to a request for comment on Nobiss’ resignation, Simmons said Nobiss added “great value” to the TRC and “will be missed.”

Ragland did not respond to a request for comment.

Although the TRC now lacks Indigenous representation, Krebs and Nobiss plan on continuing to be involved as community members.

“I’m going to show up to meetings as a citizen because I still have a voice in that capacity,” Nobiss said. “And I want to do my best to advocate for the healing circles to continue because they’ve been such a success. I want to see them keep happening.”

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