Boozhoo! After one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory, the sounds of spring have finally arrived. Robins, which are among the first birds to return from the south, can now be heard filling the air with their song in the early morning.
On February 26, we held our quarterly meeting of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) at the Band’s Intercontinental Hotel in St. Paul, followed by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe’s annual Legislative Dinner. This MIAC meeting was one of the best I have ever attended. Both Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan attended the meeting along with most state commissioners.
Tribal leaders had lunch with Governor Walz and discussed several key issues, including the Wild Rice Task Force as well as strengthening of Executive Order 13-10, first issued by Governor Dayton. Executive Order 13-10 required that state agencies consult with Indian tribes on matters impacting tribes, develop formal consultation policies, and require that employees interacting with tribes attend the two-day Tribal-State Relations training. Executive Orders are only in effect as long as any sitting governor chooses for them to remain in effect, so during this state legislative session, we are working on making this policy part of state law.
The dinner included a moving tribute by MCT President Cathy Chavers and Governor Tim Walz honoring the late Chairman Norman Deschampe, of Grand Portage, who served as President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe for 22 years.
Sadly, we experienced another loss of a great leader with the recent passing of Chairman Terrance "Terry” Tibbetts, of White Earth. Chairman Tibbetts served on the tribal council at White Earth since 2006 and was elected Chairman in 2016. He was a strong leader, a very kind man, and a good friend who will be missed.
On March 5-7, Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Boyd and I attended the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST) Impact Week in Washington D.C. Also in attendance were HHS Commissioners Nicole Anderson and DNR Commissioner Bradley Harrington along with other Band staff. (See page 3 for a photo of our group.)
The purpose of this meeting was to talk with key members of Congress as well as federal agency officials with jurisdiction over Indian programs about our collective needs in the Midwest region.
This meeting is very important because, historically, our Midwest region has been one of the most under-funded in the country when it comes to the Indian Health Service and BIA programs. When tribes come together as a group, we have more strength in numbers to advocate for issues we have in common. I had the chance to speak with BIA Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney about our need for more aggressive federal prosecution of violent crimes committed on the reservation, and she agreed to take the message to the Department of Justice and White House that the federal trust responsibility is not just with the Interior Department, but extends to the Department of Justice as well as all federal agencies.
I was invited on March 8 to serve on a panel at the "Indigenous Women Have Always Been Leaders" event held on International Women's Day by the Native Governance Center, the Tiwahe Foundation, and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The auditorium was filled with American Indian women and youth, and the energy was incredibly inspiring. All of the panelists had powerful messages to share with and were so inspiring: Minnesota State Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock), Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig (White Earth), North Dakota State Rep. Ruth Buffalo (Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara) who appeared via Skype, and former Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs Karen Diver (Fond du Lac). Finally, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan also spoke and gave a very inspiring speech that motivated the entire room to become change agents in their communities. It was very exciting to see other Mille Lacs Band women at this event, and Miigwech to Jayme Davis and everyone who made this day possible!
On March 12, the Band Assembly and I met to discuss our Net Revenue Allocation Plan (RAP). This is the plan that determines what percentages of our net gaming revenue are spent on various needs. Currently, our RAP allocates 25% to government programs and services, 35% to per capita, 15% to Long-term Savings, 8% to economic development, 7% to Permanent Initiative, 5% to Circle of Health, and 5% to Housing Initiative. Discussions are underway to make possible changes to this plan. In general, implementation of the RAP is one of the smartest moves Band government has ever made. During the recent federal government shutdown, Band Members did not experience cuts in services because due to our RAP, we had funding available that could float our programs until federal funding resumed.
As a Board Member of the Minnesota Board on Aging, I attended a Board meeting on March 15. The Tribal Executive Committee of the MCT has a number of concerns about funding for elder daycare programming being cut, which I addressed with the Board. MCT President Cathy Chavers and I also held a meeting with MBA officials in Duluth on March 20 to discuss these same issues.
Two interview committees that were established to review candidates for the positions of Commissioner of Administration and Commissioner of Education concluded their process in March. These committees included representatives from both the Executive and Legislative branches. There were a number of strong candidates who applied for both positions, all of whom brought unique strengths to the table, so this was a difficult decision for both interview committees. Based on their decision, I recently sent nominations for both positions to the Band Assembly. As of the print deadline for this edition, the Band Assembly has not yet made a final determination on these two candidates.
At the request of the Mille Lacs Band Members who are serving as delegates on the MCT constitutional reform process, on March 21, I brought an appropriation bill to the Band Assembly to request that they authorize the Mille Lacs Band member delegates to continue their work on behalf of the Band. The bill authorized appropriation of funds to support the work of the delegates during this process, as well as officially sanctioning their work as an independent body on behalf of the Band. The appropriation was adopted by the Band Assembly, although there are technicalities that we are meeting about in a compromise hearing which should be resolved by the time you receive this in the mail.
I held many meetings with Band members throughout the month of March, including an excellent District III community meeting as well as an urban area meeting. It is always great to speak with Band members and get your feedback and ideas. As a reminder, my office is still taking applications for the New Warriorism Grants (see page 4). Remember that budgets must be submitted along with the applications in order to be considered for funding. Elder Meetings are being scheduled in each District, so please look for information about those meetings.
I hope everyone makes time to get out and enjoy warmer weather and participate in our spring harvest activities as they are able; to those harvesters who always make a point of sharing with our Elders, chi miigwech for your thoughtfulness and for living out our values. Happy Spring to all!