Meet Anne LaFrinier-Richie

By McKenzie Schwark
Features Writer

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m Annie! I live in Moorhead and work for an organization called Some Place Safe where I’ve worked for two years. I’ve been in anti-trafficking work for the past five years. I’m a mom to one daughter and my cats. My job is the regional navigator, which is essentially training and technical assistance in understanding and responding to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. I’m also on a board called The Indigenous Association in Fargo-Moorhead.

How did you get involved in the work you do?

I grew up on the Fond du Lac reservation. My family is Native and we lived on the reservation, but I didn’t feel what it meant to “be Native.” My dad is Native, but he grew up in Duluth and didn’t have a lot of ties to the culture. I didn’t think much of it until I was a young teenager and moved to rural Minnesota and started facing significant racism. I didn’t understand at that time that we’d grown up fairly liberal. I was taught to be welcoming and kind to everyone, and so it was weird to meet people who didn’t act that same way.

When I went to college, I found a small, thriving community of Native students. We were working on learning what it means to be Indigenous. I focused on learning about and serving Indigenous communities because I had learned that there was a lot of harm in not understanding what it means to be Native, and there were things that had really impacted my family on that, and in many other families. I wanted to educate people on that and I wanted to be part of something bigger with the Native community. So I graduated from college and went into advocacy. I ended up working for a tribal social services agency. There were all of these traumatic things happening, but we felt sort of powerless in our position to make changes. Then I found this position as a regional navigator, which was an opportunity to talk to people in all kinds of different systems like child protection, law enforcement, and school systems about what was happening in our society – things that were putting people at risk for human trafficking, so things like child abuse and lack of resources. It’s a smaller piece of a larger puzzle, and I think if we talk more about it and learn more about it then we’re better able to change things.

What does it mean to be Native?

I think I’ll forever be on the search for that. When I say that phrase and what I mean by that, is when I was growing up there was a lot of negative imagery and news stories around being Native in the larger world around me. Especially growing up in a tribal community, we really only saw the bad parts of being Native and not so much of the good stuff. Not from my family, but from society more at large, I saw this message that Indians were drunk, lazy, homeless, starting fights. It was all the bad stereotypes. There wasn’t a lot of education from my household on our background, like where our family came from, what our beliefs were, or even what our family and relatives looked like. There’s this large piece of connection and community that was missing. So, when I think of what it means to be Native, it’s the culture and the strength, even amidst that negative messaging. Now there are Native TV shows, and we have political representatives like Ruth Buffalo, so I think there’s a lot more positive representation showing that we’re not just negative stereotypes.

As a mother is that a message you care to pass along?

Yes, as a mom, a relative, and a community member. I think one of the biggest things I feel and see as a Native person is that my connection isn’t just to my family, but also to my community. I want other kids in my community to have that opportunity too. When we talk about community connectedness in Native communities, it’s not just the kids but entire family systems that I want to learn about the positives, but also parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles.

What is Some Place Safe?

We are a nonprofit crime victim agency in west-central Minnesota. We serve nine counties through our larger agency for all victims of crime. We have a human trafficking program which is where I am, and I serve 16 counties in west-central Minnesota.

How do safer homes equal safer communities?

I think it happens in the home when we teach kids acceptance of people of all cultures and backgrounds, and have a willingness to talk about the difficult things happening in our communities. I think it’s important to understand that kids can understand trauma behaviors, so when people are acting out around us, how can we stay calm and show empathy and care. I also believe in teaching our families that we’re responsible for everyone around us. We owe everyone in our community more, and we inspire a desire to serve and care for everyone’s needs in our communities.

Being aware of the issues in our communities and figuring out what activism looks like in each household is important. Whether it’s providing financial or emotional resources, everyone is able to give something back to their community.

The work you do is really personal and, I assume, really emotional. How do you take care of yourself so that you can continue doing this important work?

I’ve done this work for a long time, and I’ve been fortunate to have fantastic mentors and supervisors that have helped teach me strong boundaries and encouraged self-care. I’m great about turning my brain off work-wise outside of work hours. I’m really firm on that. This is personal work, and it’s difficult work, and I think people go into it believing “I love my work and I need to give it 110% all the time.” I love my work, but that’s not sustainable. It takes recognizing that you can love something, but also take time to do other things. I really like to travel, which is kind of selfish, but that’s okay. Whatever you need to fill your cup. Also, I make time for self-care activities even when I don’t want to, because it’s preventative. So, like being outside is great for my mental health. I try to recognize that that needs to happen even when I’m not stressed or burned out so it doesn’t get to that point.

What is something you wish more people understood about the work that you do?

I think recognizing that Indigenous people are here, and they experience different kinds of adversity. We are coping with a myriad of traumas that we or our communities have experienced. Also, understanding what human trafficking really is and what it looks like in our communities, because there are so many myths and stereotypes around that as well.

How have you stayed connected to your community this last year and a half?

I work in many communities, and we do monthly meetings to check in with people to see how everyone’s doing, how we can lessen the burden. I’ve been connected with the Indigenous community in Fargo-Moorhead. We do monthly meetings online and different activities in the communities like drives. It makes me feel like I’m doing things that are meaningful and helpful and being a meaningful part of these communities.