A New Warriorism — 2018 State of the Band Address

Published

By Chief Executive Melanie Mandaamin Benjamin

Madame Speaker, Members of the Band Assembly, Madame Chief Justice, Judges of the Court of Central Jurisdiction, fellow Band Members, and honored guests, it is my duty under Band law and my honor as Chief Executive to deliver the 2018 State of the Band Address.

I want to begin by saying Miigwech to my family. To my son Clayton, and daughter-in-law Candy, to all my grandchildren, and my sisters and brothers: Miigwech for your support, which keeps me going.

Also, Miigwech to the other elected and appointed officials, especially those people who have worked so hard in the spirit of cooperation on behalf of all Band Members. And chi miigwech to all Mille Lacs Band Members here today.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is not the government. It is not those who lead the Band. The Mille Lacs Band is you, the Band Members. The Band is our ancestors who came before us, those here today, and the children who have yet to be born. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is the People.

Our Band Statutes include language in Chapter 3 that states, “to the People is reserved the power.” And one thing you have proven again and again, is that the Power of the People is always greater than the People in Power.
The State of the Band Address is a report of the past year and the progress we have made. It is a report of the challenges we have faced and a sharing of our goals for the New Year.

In our language, there is a phrase our grandparents used: Gwayakocchigewin. It means “making decisions the right way.” When we set goals for our Band, this is what we try to do.

Making decisions the right way means honoring our connections with one another. As Band Members, we are each connected to our families … our families are connected through the Band … our Band is connected with all Anishinabe … and the Anishinabe are connected to the Creator. Each one of us can impact everything and everyone around us.

Young or old, we all have wisdom and gifts to offer our Band. Making decisions the right way means respecting the gifts of all people, and listening to all voices.

This is how I strive to lead: By following the collective advice from you, the People. This is also how our commissioners are instructed to carry out their duties.

Band Members should be part of every decision we make. You should be encouraged and welcomed into every public meeting. You have a right to transparent government. You have a voice, and the right to know exactly how decisions are made, who made them, and a full explanation of why they were made … because this is your government!

As a Band government, we made progress together in many areas in 2017. Still, this was a tough year for our Band community. We faced many challenges, but none so heartbreaking as losing so many people to the drug epidemic. This was a year of profound sadness and loss for many families.

For those who lost loved ones and for those who right now have loved ones trapped in addiction, I know it can seem hopeless. Especially when we are surrounded by negativity.

There are those in the community who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about our future. At times, giving up might seem tempting.

But whether those messages come from skeptics from the outside or naysayers from the inside, one thing I know for certain – they are wrong!

Feeling hopeless can become self-fulfilling, which is why we cannot – we must never – give in to those feelings and allow them to impact our willingness to fight. To fight for our families, our rights and our future.

There is hope of a better day. Because the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe never gives up and never gives in. We are fighters who stand our ground, and that is why we are called the Non-Removables.

Last year at the State of the Band Address, we had just finished the 2016 Presidential election, which was driven by the politics of fear, ignorance and racism. We did not know what lay ahead, but we knew that allowing fear of the unknown to take hold was something we could not afford. This election was an awakening for many … a time to get busy getting involved as activists, like never before.

We talked about the 1980s, when our elders created our division-of-powers system of government, and how they modeled our government after the Ceremonial Drum. On the Drum, everyone has a role to play and a way to use their gifts, and no person is more important than anyone else.

Each person is critical. That is how our founders wanted government to run. They did not want Band Members watching from the outside. They wanted you actively involved from the inside, being part of making change.
In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about how, throughout history, too many people don’t pay attention during great periods of social change. He said that every society has its protectors of the way things are as well as some people: “…who are notorious for sleeping through the revolution.”

Dr. King said, “Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake…”

At Mille Lacs, over the past year and a half, something has happened throughout our Band community, in every District, in every family, in every home. This is the Band’s revolution … against drugs, crime, violence, and environmental destruction. As a Band, we are awake!

That spark of political activism we talked about last year - the kind our elders wanted for us - has caught fire.
2017 was not just a year of Band Member interest. It was not just a year of Band Member Activism. 2017 was a year of a New Warriorism for the Mille Lacs Band! And it is one of the most profound changes to happen in our community in decades.

Band Members have come forward in new ways, stepping up as New Warriors, to defend our community, defend our rights and fight for our future.

They are those people who testified at the Line 3 pipeline hearings; the busload of Band Members who traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest pipelines at the March on Washington; and more than 100 Band Members who took a stand at the Un-Cuff Our Cops Rally at the State Capitol.

From Bobby Eagle, to Tania Aubid, to Mick Davis – Band members from all parts of our lands and all walks of life engaged in the battle to help and protect our community in whatever way they could.

Our New Warriors are the 200 adults and youth who walked in the Smudge Walks; the Per Cap Patrol who tell drug dealers to get off our reservation; those in the March for Family Peace; the kids in the Chameleon Run; the Sober Squad; Mothers for Tradition, and Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations. These Band Members are New Warriors for justice and peace.

The slide show you are seeing today includes photos of our New Warriors in action!

After attacks on our division-of-powers government started at the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe meetings in 2016, I asked Band Members to learn all they could about our government and our Constitution.

More than 30 Band Members volunteered to take the Certificate Course in our history, our Band government, and federal Indian law. These are New Warriors who gained new wisdom.

A record number of Band Members have been attending MCT meetings and the Constitutional Conventions, to defend our system of governance, our right to be self-governing, and our right to make our own decisions.

Mille Lacs Band Members are not grand-standers. It is not our way to talk over others and be the center of attention. We don’t insult and attack others. That is not our way. For us, humility is a virtue.

Instead, Mille Lacs Band Members are defending our system of governance by being respectful, and by sharing their knowledge. The number of Band Members who understand the MCT system today has greatly increased in just one year.

The MCT system that was once a bit confusing for many is now talked about every day on Band Member Facebook pages. These are New Warriors getting involved in government.

Individual Band Members also came forward. At the Smudge Walk, several brave youth told stories of how addiction has impacted their families. At the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless conference, Curtis Sam and Brad Jones shared their experience of homelessness. Many Band Members began attending Band Assembly and APB meetings. People like Kevin Stobb even took time off of work to speak in Band Assembly about the drug epidemic.

There are people of amazing strength right here in this room…role models who have survived hardship and lived through bad times … especially our Ogitichdaa who fought and lived through wars, and chose to protect our country.

There are those who faced down the demons of alcohol, of pills, and of needles and have become leaders in our community in the fight against drugs. They are leading our battle to save our culture and language.

And most important, the silence has been broken. Our New Warriors are the mothers and fathers, the grandmothers, the uncles and aunties and kids speaking out against drugs, violence and crime. Even grandmothers in their 80s and 90s are taking on drug dealers on Facebook!

We are grateful for elders like Letitia Mitchell, who is always looking out for the kids, and Frances Davis, who spent her life protecting our health. They are warriors!

Last year, we lost one of our greatest cultural warriors. Larry “Amik” Smallwood led by example. He lived the good life and will be remembered as a role model for all of us. Amik kept the language, culture and traditions alive. We must remember him by trying to live our lives as Anishinabe.

What I know about our history is that Band members are at their best when times seem to be at their worst. The fear has lifted and the code of silence has been broken.

Our voices are heard, our New Warriors have risen up, and we are awake! This is why I believe – and I want you to believe – we can and will beat this epidemic.

There are no Band Members too young to make positive change in our community, and sometimes it is the youth who lead the change. At this time, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the work of some very special young Band Members.

Last summer, at our annual convention of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations, these young ladies had the powerful experience of being part of a gathering of strong Native women leaders. They attended workshops that inspired and motivated them to believe in themselves – and help their people at home.

After returning home, they wanted to keep meeting and keep the momentum going. They wanted to share the gift of empowerment with other Native youth. So, we formed a Breakfast Club.

Every few weeks, these young ladies and I have been meeting at the Cedarwood Restaurant before school. They have been talking and planning about how they can contribute to change. Later I will be inviting them up to talk about their plans. They are great examples of New Warriors. You will hear more about that later in the program.

COMMISSIONERS’ UPDATES AND DIRECTIVES

2017 was a year of transition for the Executive Branch. We said farewell to several commissioners. Some were not ratified for another term, and some pursued other opportunities. At this time, I want to acknowledge Samuel Moose, Michele Palomaki, Susan Klapel, Catherine Colsrud, and Ed Minnema. I especially commend Sam, who served the Band for 16 years, and I commend Michele because for a while she did every Commissioner job by herself – without complaining. Miigwech to each of you for your service to the Mille Lacs Band.

Chi Miigwech to the many Band Members who allowed me to nominate them for these Commissioner positions, and did not make it through the legislative process. It takes courage to step forward, and I am deeply grateful for your willingness to offer your gifts to the Band.

Today, we finally have a full Cabinet of strong leaders, and new commissioners have been sworn into office. I would like to introduce them at this time. Commissioners, please stand when you hear your name:
Commissioner of Administration Shelly Diaz; Assistant Commissioner of Administration Tiger Brown Bull; Commissioner of Education Rick St. Germaine; Commissioner of Health and Human Services Rebecca St. Germaine; and Commissioner of Natural Resources Bradley Harrington. Joe Nayquonabe was finally ratified for another term as Commissioner of Corporate Affairs. And last but not least, our one Commissioner whose term did not expire … Commissioner of Community Development Percy Benjamin. Miigwech, Commissioners.

CORPORATE COMMISSION

2017 was a challenging year for gaming tribes. Our region of nine Midwest states had the lowest growth in gaming nationwide. But as the lake recovers, which is happening – so will our businesses.

The good news is that due to very smart planning and forecasting, we were prepared for decline. Declining gaming revenue was offset by new revenue from our off-reservation hotel investments. 2017 was one of our best years for revenue from these hotel properties.

With a directive to maximize Band member employment, Corporate Ventures created two new programs to help hire and keep Mille Lacs Band Members. The “YouPick” program was created, which allows Band Members to work at times and dates that fit their schedule.

Also, a Band Member loyalty program was created to ensure Band Members are making a livable wage, to encourage attendance and to reward outstanding work ethic. So far, 80 Band Members have received their first bonus payout from that program.

For 2018, I’ve directed Commissioner Nayquonabe to continue growing our non-gaming investments, maximize non-gaming job creation, and support more small business opportunities for Band Members.

ADMINISTRATION

The Commissioners are continuing to work on the strategic plan which is based on the existing plan. This new plan is being created with community input. I want the Commissioners to continue to hold public meetings on the plan and present it to the people by August 1.

In Administration, the Executive Branch meetings we began two years ago are ongoing. Through Band Member feedback, we are working toward Economic Justice.

We must reduce government spending while moving Band Members off government programs and into self-sufficiency. Our goal is to transfer the savings to hard-working Band Members who seldom use our programs.

In the Band Department of Labor, we now have many exciting changes coming, although problems resulting from turnover in leadership and staff had to be addressed first. Several months ago, the Commissioner of Administration notified me of discrepancies in how 477 support service benefits were being issued. Services were immediately frozen, and as Chief Executive, I ordered the Solicitor General to begin an investigation. The Commissioner of Finance has since joined the investigation, and an audit was just completed.

Federal programs are required to follow guidelines to maintain compliance and receive federal funding. For DOL, corrections have been made, and this program is now on course again.

To date, despite the audits, reviews and inquiries, none of our programs have ever lost federal funding, although other tribes have. We continue to operate in accordance with federal guidelines.

One exciting opportunity DOL is pursuing: After many years of Band Members requesting that we open an auto shop, we are now positioned to make this a reality, and I am issuing a directive to make this happen.

This will be a partnership between the Department of Labor and Community Development. Besides offering mechanic services for Band vehicles, this venture will also serve as a training program for Band Members who want to become certified mechanics.

Administration is also proposing a radio station on the reservation to broadcast information to Band Members.

NATURAL RESOURCES

In Natural Resources, I am happy to report that 2017 was a good year for our ogaa – the walleye. They appear to be recovering well in Mille Lacs Lake. New funds will allow us to conduct our own research rather than waiting for the state’s numbers. 

The Band fought very hard this year on the legal front to stop the Line 3 Pipeline that is proposed to follow the same path as Sandpiper. The Band is now a party in the legal process – and we stay on top of these issues through our lawyers.

Because of the actions of tribes and those who want clean water, Enbridge is now required to also examine other route options much farther south from our watersheds and lands. This fight is not over, but we will keep fighting until it is.

For 2018, we will continue protecting our resources and improving habitat. Also, Commissioners Harrington and Rick St. Germaine are working to transfer the Cultural Grounds back to Natural Resources. This is being done to ensure there are no federal restrictions preventing Band Members from working in our cultural programs.

EDUCATION

In Education, transitioning Nay Ah Shing School to an Ojibwe Language Immersion School is very close to becoming a reality. Five teacher trainees will be teaching students both in the elementary and secondary classes at Wewinabi and Nay Ah Shing. Immersion classes in pre-school and kindergarten were launched last fall, teaching students only in Ojibwe.

We are very proud that Nay Ah Shing reading scores have greatly improved in kindergarten, as well as the first through the fifth grades. We expect scores to continue rising this year. Miigwech to our teachers, staff and students!

For 2018, we will continue to work on the Immersion School transition and are very close to becoming one of a handful of immersion schools in the Nation. We will also pursue an exciting opportunity to create a vocational high school at the site of the old college. In today’s job market, trade and skill jobs such as mechanics, welding and plumbing are in the highest demand they have ever been. A reservation vocational school will provide more opportunity for Band Members who are passionate about skilled, hands-on work.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

In Community Development in 2017, a beautiful new community center was completed in District 3. This building will serve as a hub for family and community activities, wellness programs, language, and cultural offerings.

Also, plans were finalized for the new District 1 community center, which will break ground early this year. Lady Luck Estates is moving forward, which will create affordable housing for Band members in the Hinckley area. HHS was very excited to propose a new clinic in District 2, but that is pending Band Assembly approval.

We have a very exciting housing initiative underway. Currently, there are 267 Band members on the home loan waiting list. I instructed Commissioner Benjamin to find a way to clear that list. After analyzing the waiting list, more than 60% appear to be qualified for a home loan.

Commissioner Benjamin recently presented this information to the Band Assembly and requested an appropriation for loans. If all goes as planned, we are close to being able to offer loans to about 100 Band Members on the waiting list. They will be given an opportunity to purchase houses at very little cost – and use their loans to renovate these homes for ownership. This way we will move renters to home ownership. Miigwech to the Band Assembly for their strong support for this project.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

In Health and Human Services, our Four Winds Treatment Center and Healing Lodge is now operational. Four Winds Healing Lodge is the only tribally owned residential treatment center in the region.

We are finally close to a decades-long goal of establishing our own Mille Lacs Band Dialysis Center. Located in Isle, this center will serve Band members and others with nine dialysis chairs, new equipment, and provider care. We anticipate opening in the fall of 2018.

My top directive for Commissioner Rebecca St. Germaine continues to be attacking the opioid crisis with a comprehensive prevention and treatment approach.

For families whose loved ones are suffering from addiction … we know how frustrated you are. Band government cannot stop a person from trying drugs or becoming addicted. But what we can do is offer help to those who are ready to receive it.

Tremendous work has been done in both prevention and treatment. Our HHS Department has developed a Harm Reduction Response Action Plan, and this plan is a cultural approach to prevention and healing that involves 30 initiatives.

You will find on your table a description of these initiatives, but I’ll highlight a few. We have begun a Precision Medicine Initiative, which studies a person’s DNA and tailors medication to fit their unique genetic needs. We are working toward a drug court, bringing together social services, physicians, attorneys, and probation officers to come up with the best plan for those addicted. We are also looking at alternatives to State of Minnesota Rule 25 Assessments. All of this is a much better approach to recovery than jails.

Finally, I strongly believe that we must require all elected officials and our staff to submit to regular, random drug-testing … several times each year. It is a privilege and an honor to serve Band Members in an elected capacity, and also a privilege for our staff.

In the midst of this drug crisis, we should be held to a higher standard than everyone else when it comes to setting an example for the community. As Band Members, you should demand that from us, and I hope that you will.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

Finally, we come to the issue that has consumed the majority of my time as Chief Executive this past year, along with our Government Affairs staff and legal team. Last January, the Tribal Law and Order Act had just gone into effect, despite the objections of Mille Lacs County. The Band, the federal government, and the State now share concurrent jurisdiction over major crimes in Indian Country.

Rather than working with us to improve law enforcement, Mille Lacs County has done everything it can to interfere … including ending the law enforcement agreement with the Band in July 2016. In 2015, we had 7 drug overdoses. Since the County revoked the law enforcement agreement, we have had more than 75 overdoses and 15 deaths.

Instead of working to protect our community, the County not only terminated our law enforcement agreement – it demanded that other counties terminate their agreements with us, sought to strip our police officers of their state licenses, and threatened our officers with arrest if they did their job.

In general, the County has refused to carry out its full responsibility under Public Law 280 to provide adequate public safety for Band Members in District 1.

And for the most part, the highest officials in the State of Minnesota, including the Attorney General, have refused to intervene. There is an institutional problem when it comes to some Minnesota counties and Indian tribes. A tribal attorney from North Dakota pointed out the racial tensions Native Americans experience in the states that border Canada. He calls it the “The Deep North”.

That title was definitely earned this past year in Minnesota. Last summer, it appeared help might be coming from the State, when the Governor seemed to be laying down the law. After calling Mille Lacs County’s approach “dangerously irresponsible” and “morally indefensible,” he gave the County and Band until September 29 to re-sign the 2008 Law Enforcement agreement. We immediately signed and sent it to the County and the Governor.

But the County refused.

At the end of the day on September 29, the Governor did nothing other than request more mediation and complain about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding our treaty rights. The Mille Lacs Band has always behaved honorably and kept our word, but we are not descended from fools.

At this point, the Band Assembly and I met…and we instructed our attorneys to prepare for legal battle.
On November 17, 2017, the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band filed suit in federal court against Mille Lacs County, Sheriff Brent Lindgren, and County Attorney Joe Walsh.

The County seemed to think we were afraid of a lawsuit. We are not. The only thing we fear is the impact a lawsuit has on individual Band Members, especially our children and youth. I am asking the non-Indian community: If you feel you have a dispute with the Band, please do not take it out on our children, our elders, or the Band members.

For our neighbors and fellow taxpayers living in Mille Lacs County, know that this lawsuit the county wanted will likely cost you more than $2 million dollars.

In contrast, the Band was providing $3 million dollars of law enforcement services to citizens in this county, and the county chose to turn that away. I guarantee that property taxes will go up. Please ask your County commissioners to explain why they believe this is good public policy.

But do not let them tell you it is necessary to prevent the Band from asserting authority over non-Indians. Let me go through the list of things we cannot and will not do, regardless of the reservation boundary: We cannot tax non-Indians, we cannot zone non-Indians, and we do not have criminal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indians. If anyone tells you otherwise, look at Mille Lacs County Attorney Janelle Kendall’s memo from 18 years ago.

We put off the lawsuit as long as we could. The County used the best leverage it had to force us into court – it terminated the law enforcement agreement and sought to strip Band police of their authority to enforce the law. The County then pretended there was no problem as drug dealers roamed free on the reservation and as our people died because of the crime. We suffered, some of us died, and we buried our Band members. We could not find anyone to help.

But help suddenly came from a very unexpected place: From the United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

With only 48 hours advance notice, Secretary Zinke suddenly decided to fly to Minnesota to visit the Mille Lacs Reservation. At that meeting, he offered to send in federal law enforcement to do the job the State of Minnesota and the County refused to do … and we immediately agreed. With the backing of the BIA federal police force, our federally deputized tribal police officers made more than 40 arrests during the December per cap week.

The BIA’s federal police force provided the support and assistance the State and County would not. At the last minute, the Governor did order the State Patrol to come up to the reservation and assist, which was appreciated.
Years ago, Congressman George Miller – a friend to the tribes and a liberal Democrat – told tribal leaders to never allow the Democrats to turn us into their ATM machine. He told us to make demands of the party in exchange for support and votes.

When it comes to state and national politics, like most tribes, the Mille Lacs Band has always had good friends on both sides of the aisle. We have supported and voted for those who support us.

It is true that many of our strongest supporters in recent years tended to be from one party. So it is very ironic that we have received more help from the current administration in Washington, D.C., than we have received from the Democratic leaders and officials in the State of Minnesota.

Ever since the execution of Dakota warriors in Mankato the largest mass execution in American history, the State of Minnesota has allowed land to be taken, allowed treaty rights to be trampled, and stood by doing nothing while our people died.

This is not just history – it’s happening right now! They are still earning the title of “The Deep North”.

In 2018, there will be several key races in Minnesota. The seats for Governor, Attorney General, Members of Congress, the State House, and two U.S. Senate seats will all be up for grabs.

We must let all candidates know two things: First, do not take our votes for granted; and second, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will not be your ATM machine. We will target our support and votes to defeat those who let our people die. We will only support candidates for state and federal races who support us and our rights, regardless of political party … and we will spread that message to tribes across Minnesota and the nation.

One of our police officers told me this story. After the morning drum ceremony at school, a first grader came up to an elder who works at the school. They had talked about breakfast that day. The little boy said, “My mom cooks breakfast for me and my brother every morning,” and the elder responded that he thought that was nice and good.

Then the boy said, “While we’re eating breakfast, she wraps this big rubber band around her arm like this. Then she takes a needle and puts it into her arm. And then she gets really sleepy right before we go to school.”

There are those in the County and State of Minnesota who have issues with us as a Band: whether it’s because of walleye, or treaty boundaries, or just because of who and what we are. But what about that little boy? What about his brother and his generation? What pleasure do County leaders who used law enforcement to force a boundary lawsuit get out of the life they are creating for them?

The County and Governor both wanted us to sue on the boundary. But we sued to end the drug epidemic. We sued for that little boy and every other child’s life. Because when we needed help, the County and the State turned their backs.

One thing is certain: History will not treat them well.

On a much brighter note, Miigwech to our friends in Pine County. We renegotiated our law enforcement agreement with Pine County in May. Pine County not only ignored pressure from Mille Lacs County to walk away from us, but Pine County expanded our law enforcement agreement!

To our friends in Pine County, we are very grateful for your support, your friendship, and for being committed to a partnership in which everyone benefits – Indian and non-Indian.

Many New Warriors have also emerged this past year. Young and old are speaking out and getting involved in the war against drugs … and tribal police and the community are closer than ever before. There is one warrior in particular I want to acknowledge.

Band Member Sara Rice has served as our Interim Chief of Police for the past year and a half. We knew she was an excellent officer, but I’ve learned she is also a natural born leader and warrior for the rights of the Band.

She has fought for our Band members in the Governor’s office and on the mediation team. She fears nothing in life that I know of -- except she is no fan of flying. Despite that, she got on a plane multiple times with me to fight for you in Washington, D.C.

Her courage, her wisdom, and her ability to tell your story as a Band Member and police officer made her an indispensable member of our team. When we were meeting with law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., it was Sara they wanted to listen to, not the attorneys. When a person gets very angry, it is normal to become tongue-tied. But the opposite happens to Sara – the angrier she gets, the more articulate she becomes!

She helped us get the attention of the United States government, and is a big part of why we have received so much help from the BIA. She has been an outstanding leader of our police force during a time of great stress and uncertainty … and she has the full support and confidence of the officers she leads.

That is why today, I am making this official: Sara Rice, Miigwech for your service as Interim Chief of Police ... but your title is changing. You are now the permanent Chief of Police of the Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police Department. May you serve many years, Sara.

We have also learned that Sara is the newest member of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training. To our knowledge, she is the first tribal police chief to serve on the POST Board. Congratulations on this honor, Sara!

THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE

The Mille Lacs Band is not new to fighting for our rights. In the early 1860s, an Indian agent who was not very good at his job had a meeting in Crow Wing with several Bands of Chippewa from all over in the region. He made this speech:

“My red brothers, the winds of fifty-five winters have blown over my head and have silvered it with gray. In all that time I have never done wrong to a single human being. As the representative of the Great Father and as your friend, I advise you to sign this treaty at once.”

As the story goes, as quickly as a flash of lightning, Sha-bosh-kung, the head chief of the Mille Lacs Band, sprang to his feet, and said:

“My father, look at me. The winds of fifty-five winters have blown over my head and have silvered it with gray. But – they haven't blown my brains away.”

And then the gathering erupted with laughter from the other Indian people present.

The first year I worked for Chairman Arthur Gahbow, he made a speech about the Nelson Act. He said,
“I see a people who stayed on their own land after the Nelson Act tried to move them … I see a people who stayed on their land in spite of the burning of their houses by the County Sheriff … I see a people who are proud and strong … In your veins is the blood of Shaw-Bosh-Kung and Shaw-go-Bay. In your hearts, there is the spirit of … warriors…”

During the last major lawsuit, another great warrior, Chief Executive Marge Anderson, led the Band. Her time in office saw many changes, and under her watch the Band found prosperity and won a Supreme Court case against the State for our hunting, fishing and gathering rights.

After receiving permission from Gina Anderson, today I am issuing a proclamation that the Mille Lacs Band Government Center will be renamed after Marge Anderson. The building itself will be a monument to her work and leadership. We will announce a date soon for the renaming ceremony, so look for that announcement. Miigwech to the Anderson family for allowing us to do this in Marge’s honor.

The great Lakota Chief, Sitting Bull, once said, “Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights … He is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”

You, the Band Members, are the New Warriors! Warriors put others first. Their foremost concern is protecting their families and their communities. A Warrior is forceful and effective without being overbearing. A warrior is someone of character, wisdom and insight.

The true warrior is engaged in a struggle, and it is a daily fight. Warriors have honor; they never desire to harm others. They are people of peace and compassion.

I look out into this audience and see a room full of warriors. You will lead our people into a new time of peace and justice. We will continue to fight all things that are toxic to our community – whether drugs, racism or injustice.

We stand together at this time and have the Great Spirit on our side. We have our goodness, our decency, our beliefs, our language, and our traditions. We have our sovereignty as our sword and our shield.

I am so humbled by all the Band Members who have come forward this year as Warriors … who are speaking out against injustice … there are hundreds of you, young and old. I am very grateful to every one of you.

You give me strength … you give us all strength … and I have never felt stronger! Because the Power of the People is always greater than t