Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin spoke of a “new warriorism” driving Band members to improve their community at the 34th annual State of the Band event at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs Events & Convention Center.
“Our Band Statutes include language that says, ‘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,” Benjamin told an audience of 1,200 people.
New warriorism in fight against drugs, for law enforcement
Benjamin’s speech focused on the deep involvement of Band members in addressing the drug epidemic and the need for a law enforcement resolution in Mille Lacs County, where District I of the Mille Lacs Reservation – the most populated district – is located.
“Over the past year and a half, something has happened throughout our Band community, in every District, in every family, in every home,” Benjamin said. “This is the Band’s revolution against drugs, crime, violence, and environmental destruction. As a Band, 2017 was not just a year of Band member interest, it was not just a year of Band member activism, it 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.”
“We are fighters who stand our ground, and that is why we are called the Non-Removables,” she went on, referring to the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band, which the federal government publicly recognized as early as the late 1800s. “These Band Members are new warriors for justice and peace.”
Benjamin reminded the crowd that in 2015, the Band recorded seven drug overdoses. Since Mille Lacs County revoked its cooperative law enforcement agreement with the Band in 2016, the Band has had more than 75 overdoses and 15 deaths. After little to no forward progress and an alarming escalation in overdoses and drug-related deaths, the Band filed a federal lawsuit in November 2017.
“We put off the lawsuit as long as we could,” Benjamin said. “The County wanted us to sue on the boundary. The County used the best leverage they had – they stopped law enforcement services.”
Benjamin went on to thank the federal government for its support of the Band and its tribal police department, and to announce that Band member Sara Rice – one of the Band’s “new warriors” – will move from interim to permanent Mille Lacs Band Chief of Police.
“I am so humbled by all the Band members who have come forward this year as Warriors,” Benjamin concluded. “You give me strength; you give us all strength – because the power of the people is always greater than the people in power!”
Chief Executive Benjamin previewed numerous initiatives for the coming year, including:
• The opening of new community center in Hinckley, which will be a hub for family and community activities, wellness programs, and cultural offerings, and the groundbreaking for a new District 1 community center.
• The renaming of the Mille Lacs Band Government Center in honor of the late Marge Anderson, longtime Chief Executive of the Band.
• An initiative to transition more Band renters into home ownership.
• The opening of a Band dialysis center in Isle.
• Continued growth in the Band’s non-gaming investments and job creation, as well as small business opportunities for Band members.
• The opening of an auto shop to service Band vehicles and create training and job opportunities for Band members.
• The continuing transition of the Nay Ah Shing School into an Ojibwe language immersion school, and a new pursuit to create a vocational high school.
• Pursuit of a radio station to serve the reservation and provide information to Band members.
• Continued focus on addressing the opioid crisis with a comprehensive, culture-based prevention and treatment approach. “Band government cannot stop a person from trying drugs or becoming addicted,” Benjamin said. “But what we can do is offer help to those who are ready to receive it.”
For more information on 2018 initiatives and 2017 accomplishments, see Executive Branch Commissioners' Reports.