U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke visited the Mille Lacs Reservation Nov. 16 and 17 to meet with tribal leaders about law enforcement.
Zinke and members of his staff spoke with commissioners and elected officials, toured the reservation, and attended the Corporate Ventures Fall Feast at Grand Casino Mille Lacs.
Upon arrival just after 3 p.m., Zinke’s delegation was greeted in the foyer of the government center by Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin and District I Rep. Sandra Blake and welcomed by a drum group composed of Pete Gahbow, Percy Benjamin, Chris Gahbow and Quintin Sam.
The Secretary took time to shake hands and introduce himself to many government employees before retreating to the media room for a closed-door session with elected officials, commissioners and tribal police.
Chief Executive Benjamin said, “This visit comes on the heels of a recent letter sent last week from Interior to Mille Lacs County, informing the county that it is the position of the United States that our reservation remains intact and was never diminished, and that under no circumstances should Mille Lacs County law enforcement impede our federally-deputized tribal police officers from carrying out their duties to investigate crimes under federal law and inherent Band authority.
“Secretary Zinke wanted to hear from us about this issue and listened intently, and promised to do what he can to help. Miigwech to Secretary Zinke and his team for deciding to travel to Minnesota to see for themselves what is happening in our community.”
(For more on the letter from the Department of Interior to County Attorney Joe Walsh, click here.)
The Chief Executive introduced Zinke to the community at the Fall Feast Thursday evening, where he was presented with a Mille Lacs Band Pendleton blanket and flag. Zinke is the highest-ranking official to ever visit the Mille Lacs Reservation.
Following an overnight stay at Eddy’s Resort and a Friday morning tour of the reservation with Interim Police Chief Sara Rice, Zinke met with Mille Lacs County officials at the courthouse in Milaca.
He was accompanied on his trip from Milaca to the airport by County Sheriff Brent Lindgren.
Zinke thanked Chief Executive Benjamin and other leaders for engaging in government-to-government dialogue. On Twitter, he said, "Great to be w/ @millelacsband Tribal law enforcement & hear about challenges. We stand together to fight the #opioidcrisis & are committed to upholding our treaty obligations for public safety both on and off the reservation."
He said he was looking forward to bringing the Mille Lacs Band flag to the hall of tribal flags at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Band will hold a rally on Monday, Nov. 20, at the State Capitol Rotunda in St. Paul, to encourage lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton to pressure Mille Lacs County to restore the law enforcement agreement. For more on the rally, click here.
Above: Photo courtesy of Department of Interior
Below: Photos by Steve Premo