Boozhoo. Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is front and center in everyone’s minds. Before addressing this crisis, I want to briefly summarize our work carried out in March. Most important, the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) held conference calls this month to discuss the upcoming primary that had been scheduled for March 31. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TEC voted on March 24 to postpone the MCT Primary until June 9, and postpone the General Election to August 18. After asking the Mille Lacs Band Election Board how they wanted to proceed, Secretary/Treasurer Boyd and I voted to keep the primary scheduled for March 31, at the request of the Election Board. However, the motion passed and the Primary has been officially moved to June 9. Absentee ballots are still valid, and the MCT has instructed they be kept under lock and key by the Election Boards. With the Primary postponement, MCT Members may continue to request absentee ballots and vote by mail.
In early March, my office coordinated an intensive presentation provided by Jay Kanassatega for elected officials about our division-of-powers government. Jay played an integral role in helping to structure our government in the 1980s. Our Band MCT Delegates also attended the meeting, and we all learned a great deal about the cultural considerations that were discussed and thought through in devising our system. My office also held Elder meetings in each district and the urban area, and helped coordinate a Drumkeeper meeting. The Band Assembly and I continued discussions about Title 16 and other matters.
Right now, we are in the midst of fighting a pandemic that is threatening the health and safety of the Band, the nation, and the entire world. Several articles about COVID-19 are spread throughout this edition of the paper. Yet last month, this virus was not even on the radar of most Americans. To most, it feels as if the world changed almost overnight. I want to reassure all Band Members that our government is doing everything in our power to slow the spread of this epidemic and will do whatever is necessary — no matter what — in an effort to protect our Elders and those with underlying health conditions, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Just yesterday, March 25, 2020, the Band Assembly passed emergency legislation authorizing the Chief Executive to implement a Shelter-In-Place order. Shortly after passage of this bill, I signed Executive Order 20-05. This order requires that Band members and enrolled members of other tribes within our jurisdiction stay at home or their place of residence for at least two weeks, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Friday evening, except for obtaining essential supplies and services.
These exceptions include things such as obtaining food, household supplies, and services; activities related to ensuring the health and safety of the family and pets; caring for a family member or pet in another place of residence and any travel related to such care, including transporting a friend or family member to seek medical or behavioral services; engaging in outdoor activities so long as social distancing is practiced. This Executive Order does not apply to at-risk individuals who are living in an unsafe environment. I also want to remind those living off-reservation that Governor Walz has placed a moratorium on all evictions for the time being, so as to ensure that people are not without safe shelter during this time.
Further, nothing in the Executive Order restricts Band members or others from engaging in cultural activities, ceremonial life, or exercising hunting, fishing, and gathering rights in accordance with existing Band law. In fact, this is a moment in time when I would strongly encourage Band members to engage in our cultural traditions as much as possible. There has never been a more perfect time to be outdoors spending time in the woods or near the water. The sap is running, green shoots are sprouting up next to snow banks, and the spring harvest is nearly here. Being reminded of the gifts the Creator gave us can do worlds of good for our children, our families, and our own spirit.
This is a stressful, frightening time for many, but we will get through this together. Tough decisions must be made in order to preserve the health and welfare of our Band community, but I want to reassure you that our Band officials are fully prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect our people.
Often it is in the midst of a crisis that we realize the many heroes among us. We have many, many heroes among us. From the TERC members who have literally worked around the clock and often throughout the night since this crisis began, to the teachers, bus drivers, public health nurses, police, store clerks, housing, and DNR staff who are still out there risking their own health and safety so that our most essential services can continue. You know who you are. We could not get through this period without you. Miigwech to all of our warriors on the front lines fighting for the health, safety and future of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.