Brett Larson Staff Writer
Six commissioners and Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin came to the Hinckley Assisted Living Units on Monday, June 12, for an Executive Branch meeting attended by a dozen District III residents. The Executive Branch has been holding meetings every other month in each District: I, II, IIa, III and the Urban Area.
Community Development Commissioner Percy Benjamin talked about the Hinckley Community Center, which is expected to open in October. He called it a state-of-the-art facility that will be more impressive than anything in the area. He also said there is an opportunity to help pay the bills by opening the facility to the wider community.
The Community Center project was initiated by District III Rep. Harry Davis, who also helped with the planning. It was approved by the Band Assembly and Chief Executive.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Samuel Moose reported that Pine County Human Services Director Rebecca Foss and the office of Congressman Rick Nolan were impressed by the Heroin and Opioids conference held in May at Grand Casino Hinckley. He said they are asking the Band to help plan a similar conference on mental health. “Kudos to everyone who was involved,” Sam said.
Conversation ranged from housing to education to crime and drugs. One Band member asked why people can continue to live in Band housing when everyone knows they’re using and dealing drugs.
Percy said the Community Development Department is doing a good job of filtering out those who don’t qualify for housing, and they are attempting to transition from rentals to home ownership. He said there is an eviction process, but it is difficult to evict some- one unless a major crime occurs.
Melanie explained that the Housing Department and Tribal Police can’t evict or arrest anyone based on hearsay, but they need evidence. Otherwise it’s a violation of rights. She said Percy and other commissioners are doing all they can, but it’s the community’s responsibility to report crime. Unfortunately, many community members are unwilling to turn in neighbors or relatives for fear that the children may be affected or someone they know may lose their home. “That’s the dilemma we’ve had over the years,” Melanie said.
Another community member asked Education Commissioner Ed Minnema about Home Economics classes at Nay Ah Shing, saying it’s important that kids learn to cook and sew. Ed said the main campus in District I had added a home ec room that all students spent time in this year. He also said Pine Grove Leadership Academy is adding a state-of-the-art kitchen that can be used to help students learn to cook.
Another Band member asked if the new Hinckley Community Center could house a teen pregnancy prevention program.
Sam replied that the Health and Human Services Department has identified teen pregnancy as a critical issue and is working to address the problem. Ed said HHS employees have been coming to Nay Ah Shing regularly to teach about healthy relationships.
In response to a complaint about lack of communication from Band government, former Commissioner of Administration Catherine Colsrud came to the defense of her former colleagues, saying commissioners are busy with many meetings and are not always able to take phone calls. “They are not going to fix things for us,” she said. “They need our help.”
Sam said it’s the government’s responsibility to offer Band members opportunities, but what they do with those opportunities is up to them and their community. “Our tribe has done an incredible job providing people with things, but that opportunity can be enabling, or assisting. We definitely want to assist our people to reach their full potential, and our tribe does it so well, we sometimes cross over into enabling.”