Boozhoo! Dagwaagin (Autumn) has been very beautiful, even with an early snowstorm in October. I hope Band families have been enjoying the fall harvest and activities and that everyone had a safe and happy Halloween!
This month included many meetings with Band members on a wide range of topics and began with a meeting of the three branches of tribal government on October 2. This three-branch meeting was an opportunity for Band officials to engage in collaborative discussion and planning. Issues discussed included the General Welfare Exclusion Act, which is a federal law passed in 2014 that allows a portion of payments made to tribal members, their spouses, or dependents to be excluded when calculating a person’s gross income for federal income tax purposes, so long as this portion of money is only used for "general welfare purposes," such as housing or utilities.
In 2016, I proposed to the Band Assembly that we move forward with hiring experts in this field to assist the Band with developing a General Welfare Exclusion Act program for the Band, but that proposal was significantly altered by the Commissioner of Finance at that time and ultimately did not progress. At our recent three-branch meeting, we discussed finding a path forward for this program. We are currently working on a new proposal to bring to the Band Assembly in the near future.
Other issues discussed included the Band’s completion of the biennial budget process, which required significant cuts across the Executive Branch. These cuts are necessary in order to keep pace with per capita payments. While our casinos continue to profit, our enrollment continues to grow each year, which increases the amount of per capita the Band needs to budget for, and has required government cuts. In response to growing enrollment, the Band Assembly and I have been working on revisions to the Net Revenue Allocation Plan (RAP), which is our plan filed with the federal government that stipulates how our gaming revenue must be spent.
Other topics discussed during the three-branch meeting included Secretary/Treasurer Boyd’s plans for conducting a formal review of the Band’s investments and investment policy, electric fines, revisions to Band Statutes regarding the Corporate
Commission, and Minnesota Chippewa Tribe matters. Immediately following the three-branch meeting, the commissioners and I began our 1.5-day cabinet meeting to discuss current and emerging issues and engage in strategic planning. We developed a building use plan for the reservation and made significant progress on the Band's overall strategic plan. On the following day, October 4, the Office of the Chief Executive hosted a Drumkeepers' meeting at Big Sandy Lodge.
On October 7–9, several Mille Lacs Band officials and I attended a meeting of the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA), which was held this year in Minnesota at Mystic Lake Casino. This was an outstanding conference that provided critical information about managing tribal investments, planning and implementing the General Welfare Exclusion Act, as well as information on federal legislation that would impact tribal economies. As a board member of NAFOA, my role was to interview Chairman Neel Kashkari, of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, about the Bank's policies toward Indian tribes.
Nationally, there is a push for tribes to get into sports betting, which the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, and many other tribes across the country have concerns about. On October 14 (Indigenous Peoples’ Day), I served on a panel with Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. to talk about our concerns regarding sports betting at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), an international gaming conference. The audience was mainly non-Indian gaming interests — and many had no understanding of Indian tribes — which made for a very feisty question-and-answer session with uninformed audience members who want to tell us what to do. Moderator Victor Rocha handled this discussion very skillfully. But these are important conversations to have, especially with other non-Indian interests with their own legislative agendas, and just illustrates how critical it is that we continuously educate others about tribal sovereignty and our rights.
I attended the 76th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Albuquerque on October 20–22. NCAI serves as a Congress for tribal nations, and is where we consider and vote upon resolutions that direct NCAI's advocacy work in Washington D.C. We have received important updates from several federal agencies. As a Self-Governance tribe, I attended a Listening Session with the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) about a new law that expands Self-Governance into DOT. This means that tribes are now able to enter into Self-Governance funding agreements with the Department of Transportation to administer federal funds for our tribal roads. I was required to leave early to attend to business at home, so Speaker Sheldon Boyd served as the Band's delegate for the remainder of the convention.
As I write this column, we are preparing to attend the "Not Your Mascot" rally on October 24 outside U.S. Bank Stadium before the Vikings play the Washington team. Band Member Chad Germann produced a powerful TV ad that aired the week of the game. The ad can be viewed at https://redcircleagency. com/NotYourMascot/. The term which the team is named after does not refer to the color of our skin — it actually refers to the bloodied scalps of Indian people killed by bounty hunters in the late 1800s. In this day and age, it is horrific that these racial slurs are still used against us by a major sports franchise who sees us as something from history that is invisible. A large turnout at the rally showed we are proud, strong, a major economic engine in our regions, and still here! Chi Miigwech to everyone who is committed to standing up to racism not just at events like these, but every day. Miigwech!