Boozhoo, Band members. Miigwech to everyone who voted in the November 3rd election, especially with new processes in place and health and safety issues that had to be considered. Like many of you, I am relieved this election season is behind us. Normally at this stage after the election, other tribal leaders and I would be busy working closely with the incoming President’s transition team to ensure a strong government-to-government relationship is at the core of the new administration’s federal-Indian policy.
At the time I’m writing this column, the current president has yet to admit he lost the election and is stopping President-Elect Biden’s transition team from getting the work done that is necessary to ensure a smooth transition. This state of uncertainty in the midst of a global pandemic is unfortunate, but it hasn’t stopped us from conducting all outreach we can. It is imperative that the Biden Administration appoint people who understand and support tribal sovereignty and our priorities as the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and assuming that President Biden follows through on his commitments, that is what will happen.
The spread of COVID-19 is still out of control in Minnesota. Across all three districts, we have had more than 60 positive cases. According to state data, COVID-19 is impacting American Indians three times more than it impacts the rest of the population. We are also three times more likely to end up in an ICU with a ventilator, and three times more likely to pass away from COVID-19-related complications. This is why we continue to urge you to wear masks and to stay home if possible.
The State’s data shows that the primary cause of spread has been happening around family dinner tables and in restaurants, when people must remove their masks to eat. This is why the Governor has closed all indoor dining and is asking Minnesotans not to invite anyone to their homes to dine who are not already living in the household.
One of the greatest difficulties we face right now is that many Band members who are sick are not getting tested, and spreading the disease to others. Another major issue is that some Band members are getting tested at outside facilities, where tests can take up to eight days to get back. During this time, infected people are spreading the virus throughout their families because they do not know they are positive. Please, Band members, go to our Ne-Ia-Shing Clinic where you can get same-day test results, and the Band can coordinate in getting you quarantine packages and other assistance.
We also need everyone to get your flu shots. The outcome for someone contracting both coronavirus and the virus which causes seasonal flu could be deadly, so flu shots are as important as wearing masks and social distancing.
One bit of good news: According to State officials, data shows that tribal casinos have not been a source of large COVID-19 outbreaks in Minnesota, due to the health and safety precautions we have taken to protect our employees and guests. On a Zoom call with other tribal leaders on November 16, Governor Walz informed us of this. He said that if the rest of Minnesota were handling the pandemic the way the tribal governments and tribal casinos have been handling it, Minnesota would not have an uncontrolled outbreak today. This is one reason we have elected to keep our casinos open to the public. Our Corporate team has put tremendous planning and thought into safeguards for casino guests and employees, and that is why casinos have not been a source of major outbreaks.
The Band is committed to continuing to do whatever we can to protect our Band members, including transitioning nearly all our Band services to an online environment so that Band members and employees can safely interact without danger of spreading the disease. On January 12, 2021, we will even be holding the State of the Band online, so please mark your calendars for that date and look for your invitation in the mail.
NCAI also held an all-virtual fall conference this year, and I participated as a guest panelist during a session on how the Federal Reserve can better support tribal economic development. Usually when a bank invests in an economic development project for a non-Indian entity, the land and the buildings on it are used as collateral. This means if a project fails, the Bank can seize the land and buildings, then sell it to another buyer. That is impossible with federal trust land. Oftentimes, the big banks are reluctant to do business with Indian Country because trust land is forever protected by the federal government. I shared some of our ideas about how the Federal Reserve could work better with banks and Indian Country.
On November 9-10, I attended a meeting of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC), which is comprised of 10 of the 11 tribal governments of Minnesota. MIAC is a state advisory agency, and we hold quarterly meetings to exchange information with state agencies and elected officials.
I also participated in several meetings with Band Assembly this past month and continue to be impressed by the efforts of Secretary-Treasurer/Speaker Sheldon Boyd to shift all business to an online environment and to make the meetings so accessible for Band members. The Band Assembly’s use of technology for virtual meetings has been impressive and has not slowed down business a single bit. As a government, we have been working to ensure that Band members continue to be served during these difficult times.
My favorite meeting in November happened on the 6th, when nearly 60 Band Elders from the three districts, the urban area, and even out-of-state joined me for a Zoom meeting to talk about our current issues and to answer questions. I was so pleased that very many Elders were able to join this call, and that it worked so well. This is new technology for me, as well, and to be able to see so many of you and talk with you was wonderful. I hope to hold more meetings like that in the near future.
With the pandemic and the near constant stream of concerning issues that we are bombarded with every time we turn on the news or even just look at our phones, it can be easy to get stuck in a doom-and-gloom state of mind. This can be especially hard when families are used to celebrating the holiday season together. It is important to remind ourselves that we are resilient people who have been through worse. It is important to rely on our culture, ceremonies, and whenever possible experience nature’s gifts to help us.
Even though the holiday season will be very different this year, there are many opportunities to keep closely connected with family and friends through phone and video calls, cards, and gifts left outside a front door. In the meantime, your Band government will continue doing everything we can to protect Band members. If we all work together, we can all be together again for many more holidays to come. Miigwech.