Boozhoo! Finally, Spring has arrived and the snow seems to be behind us. As I write this column, the spring spearing and netting harvest has begun, and has been going very well. It is inspiring to see Band members engaging our youth in the harvest, so that these traditional ways can be passed on. Spring also means that graduation season is around the corner, so I am looking forward to all the graduation celebrations this spring, from Head Start through college.
April was a busy month for planning. In the Housing arena, the Band is currently exploring a partnership with Native American organizations to create new housing opportunities for Band members in the urban area, which is very exciting. Providing more housing options is always a top priority, and I look forward to continued work with Community Development and the Band Assembly on this initiative.
On April 7-8, I held a Cabinet meeting with Band commissioners, and we spent our time discussing program priorities and updates about each area. During our Cabinet meeting, we focused on discussing current programs and progress, as well as strategizing about challenges and future opportunities. The Executive Branch has been planning community meetings to provide budget information to Band members and discuss the Net Revenue Allocation Plan (RAP) with the community, which is the plan that designates exactly how gaming revenue is spent by the Mille Lacs Band. We need your input, so please look for more information about these meetings. My office is also in the process of scheduling Elder meetings in each district, so keep an eye out for information about those meetings as well.
We were joined at our Cabinet meeting by our newest member, Commissioner Joycelyn Shingobe, who was ratified by the Band Assembly as our Commissioner of Education to complete the remainder of the current term vacated by Rick St. Germaine. As a lifelong educator, Joyce has previous experience as Commissioner of Education and valuable expertise to share, so we were grateful for her willingness to serve in this position.
On the legislative front, the State Legislature is currently in session, and we have been busy working to advance legislation that will benefit Mille Lacs Band members as well as fending off the occasional legislative proposals that could be problematic for tribes, as well. One issue we are working on is protecting funding for Ojibwe-Dakota Language Preservation program, which is a grant program administered by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC). The Band has benefited from this program and is partnering with other tribes to protect this funding.
On the topic of law enforcement, we are working closely with the Prairie Island Indian Community, which has put forward legislation that would empower tribal governments to continue to enforce state criminal codes and maintain law and order in our tribal communities whether or not a cooperative law enforcement agreement is in place with a county government. This legislative push grew from concern by Prairie Island and other tribes that they could also find themselves with a law enforcement crisis similar to that which the Mille Lacs Band experienced, unless the law is changed. This will be a wonderful accomplishment if we can get it done this year.
Another exciting development is that Governor Walz has signed Executive Order 1924, which strengthens a previous Executive Order signed by Governor Dayton requiring that state agencies consult with tribal governments and engage in Tribal State Relations Training. The New Executive Order 19-24 expands the number of state agencies that must comply with the order and also expands the pool of state employees that are required to participate in the training. This order ensures that state leadership and agencies consult with all tribal governments in Minnesota prior to undertaking activities that could impact us.
The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) held its annual convention and trade show in early April, which included informative sessions about new economic development opportunities. Ernie Stevens Jr. was re-elected to another term as NIGA Chairman, and I was honored to be his nominator and share remarks about his many accomplishments and service to Indian country over the past two decades.
The Native American Finance Officer’s Association (NAFOA) also held its annual conference April 15-16, which was packed with very valuable information and training for tribal officials on such topics as investments, taxation, Opportunity Zones, economic development and so much more. The level of information we gain through NAFOA has been outstanding. I’ve served as Secretary on the NAFOA Board of Directors over the past two years and was humbled to be re-elected to another two-year term.
As I write this column, we are preparing for our first Elder trip this spring, and I’m very much looking forward to spending time with our Band Elders as they relax, unwind, and enjoy social time together. For Elders who were unable to join us on this trip, a second trip is being planned and you will hear more about this soon. I hope Band families are getting outside to enjoy our beautiful spring weather, and look forward to seeing families at our graduation ceremonies in the coming weeks!