Lisa Bellanger


If Ms. Frizzle walked among us, she would take the form of Lisa Bellanger, and her Magic School Bus would be the 15-passenger van she bought with a $2,000 grant back in 2007. She wheeled it herself, with every seat occupied by a young Native person in her community. With no institutional support, they pooled gas money and went on road trips that took them all over Minnesota.

“I wanted to take my children out of the city, out of their element, to have some kind of cultural experience — whether it was a pow-wow or medicine picking or canoeing,” she says.

She has since retired the van, but her commitments to both young people and the preservation of Native traditions are stronger than ever.


Though her world is oriented around the generations that will come after her, it is informed by those who came before — all of the pain, joy, and traditions of her Ojibwe and Dakota ancestors. Lisa’s mother was involved with the American Indian Movement (AIM) from its conception in 1968.

“As a little girl, I would attend these meetings. I would help do dishes, set food out, clean up tables, and finally, when I was old enough, I got to learn how to cook the fry bread,” she jokes.

It’s no surprise that her work with AIM continues in adulthood. In the summer of 2020, as uprisings reached their peak in response to the murder of George Floyd, she worked with the organization to create community patrols that helped protect American Indian businesses. Lisa wants her legacy to be like that of Muskogee/Creek Elder Phillip Deere, whose words she often draws upon, “If there is any young person that wants to go back to their original way of life, I’m going to take their hand, and take them home — home to their traditions.”

Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards recognize the significant impact four honorees have had on the state of Minnesota and its communities. 



Meet the other heroes:


Hani Jacobson

Patti Ballan

Desralynn Cole