Boozhoo! July has been a busy month for new legislation and exciting policy discussions. The Band Assembly proposed several legislative amendments this month to Band Statutes for the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) (Title 18) and our Judicial Branch (Titles 1 and 5). Chi Miigwech to Speaker Boyd, District I Representative Blake, District 2 Representative Bruneau and District 3 Representative St. John for their hard work on behalf of the Band. Both branches of government have roles to play in the legislative process, so I would like to talk a little bit about where we are at.
There are strong merits to amending (changing) certain Band Statutes to improve Band government’s ability to serve Band members effectively. At the time of printing this newsletter, in the case of three of these bills, the Band Assembly members and I are currently in what our Band laws call a “compromise hearing,” which means we are discussing this legislation together and working to perfect the language so the final versions that may eventually be signed into law will achieve the most benefit for Band members. Compromise hearings are a good thing, because more time is provided to ensure language is as effective as possible and that our Band laws and processes are precisely followed. These compromise hearings are an excellent example of our checks-and-balances system working as it was intended for the Band membership.
On July 8, the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) held a meeting at Northern Lights Casino on the Leech Lake Reservation. The MCT is currently engaged in a Title Reconciliation Project regarding Band and MCT lands, which involves pouring through thousands of historical documents housed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A previous TEC decision to pursue legislation that would transfer title of MCT lands to the individual Band that already exercises jurisdiction over those lands on its reservation was discussed. White Earth TEC members requested that this legislative process be halted for the time being, and have proposed that MCT membership be able to vote on this question during the next TEC election in 2020. This request will be further discussed at the next TEC meeting.
A very interesting development involved an Enrollment Impact Summary Report that was shared at this TEC meeting, resulting from White Earth’s discovery that 1,089 tribal members who were reported as White Earth full-bloods in the year 1910 were reported to have “lost” their full-blood status in 1920. During the Allotment Act era, which in Minnesota was called the Nelson Act, the federal government had a strategy to break up reservation lands and turn them over to timber companies and settlers. The Nelson Act allotted, or assigned, 160-acre parcels to each “eligible” Indian. After all the eligible Indians received their allotment, the remaining land on the reservation was called “surplus” land, and sold or given to non-Indians, timber companies, and mining companies. However, Indians who were less than full-blood were not eligible for a 160-acre allotment of land. Historians believe that government officials changed the full-blood status of thousands of Indian people in Minnesota from full-bloods to 7/8 or less during those years, in an effort to collude with timber companies and others engaged in land-grabbing at the time. Many Mille Lacs Band Members also have ancestors whose blood quantum was supposedly 7/8 – which is mathematically and genetically impossible.
White Earth Enrollments Office selected five names from the 1,089 people whose blood quantum was lowered from full-blood status to mixed-race in 1920 and conducted genealogical research to determine what impact it would have today, if those five people from 1920 were restored to full-blood status. Research determined that if the blood quantum for just these five people were restored to full-blood status, the number of enrolled tribal members today whose blood quantum would change is 1,992, potentially resulting in hundreds or thousands of new tribal members across the whole MCT. Imagine if the blood quantum of all 1,089 were corrected. This is a matter that could have a significant impact on enrollment across the entire MCT, and many of our Mille Lacs Band families as well.
On July 17, representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development visited the reservation and we had a good meeting about the housing needs of the Mille Lacs Band. Deputy Assistant Secretary Heidi Frechette, from the HUD Office of Native American Programs in Washington D.C., spent time touring the reservation and learning about our programs. She was extremely impressed with our Home Loan Program and three-branch system of government, and she said it was well known that the Mille Lacs Band is one of the most progressive tribes in the country. She provided information about new funding opportunities from Opportunity Zones and Veteran Housing, which Commissioner Benjamin is following up on.
I was happy to be able to attend the all-graduate celebration on July 17 and be part of honoring all our Mille Lacs Band graduates. This was a wonderful event, celebrating the successes of Mille Lacs Band members from fifth grade all the way through completing a Ph.D. I reminded each graduate that they are role models to someone else — to a younger sibling, a friend, or even to people they may have never met, so it is important to make good choices and to also surround themselves with good role models.
We held our summer meeting of the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST) on July 18-19. This was a short meeting but very productive. Federal representatives from the Indian Health Service, the Census Bureau, and Congress attended this meeting and shared important information about everything from funding opportunities to new legislation.
One of the really great moments during MAST occurred when Tyler LaPlaunt, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Area Tribal Health Board, was discussing substance abuse prevention and best practices. I had made a comment about Sober Squad being a powerful force in our community. Mr. LaPlaunt launched into a long discussion about how effective Sober Squad has been not just at Mille Lacs, but across the region. He had invited Colin Cash and others to the Great Lakes Opioid Summit meeting the previous week. He talked to the MAST leadership about what a powerful experience this was, and he stated that people suffering from or recovering from addiction are seeking help and staying sober with the grassroots assistance of Sober Squad, and responding to Sober Squad more than they would have ever responded to outreach from any tribal government program in the four-state area.
Mr. LaPlaunt encouraged every tribal leader in the room to request to join the Sober Squad Facebook page, and immediately after, MAST President Frank Cloutier announced to everyone that he had joined that very minute. So a shout out to our MLB Sober Squad members — your wonderful work is being held up at regional and national meetings as the model for battling addiction in Indian Country! We are very proud of the work you are doing, and very grateful for your community service. Chi Miigwech!