Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin's September 2017 Letter

Published

Dear Band Members,

Aaniin, Boozhoo! It is that time of year again when kids are getting ready for school. I know many Band Members were appreciative of the stimulus payment to help with school clothes and supplies. I hope all our children from our youngest to our college students get off to a good start this year. As I write this column, we just finished up the 51st Annual Traditional Powwow at Mille Lacs. It was a wonderful weekend, and a joy to see so many of our families together enjoying the powwow!

I am excited to announce that by the time this newspaper arrives in your homes, we should have a full Cabinet of Commissioners at Mille Lacs; at long last, all commissioner positions have been filled. We welcomed Shelly Diaz as our new Commissioner of Administration; Bradley Harrigton Jr. as our new Commissioner of Natural Resources; Rick St. Germaine (LCO) as the new Commissioner of Education; Rebecca St. Germaine (LCO) as our new Commissioner of Health and Human Resources; and Darrell “Tiger” Brown Bull (Lakota) as our new Assistant Commissioner of Administration, who will be sworn in on September 5. Immediately following Tiger’s swearing-in, there will be a community picnic at the Government Center to welcome all commissioners on board. All are welcome to attend!

We also just completed the first Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitutional Convention at Mille Lacs on August 21-22. This is a process that allows MCT members to consider whether they want to see changes to the MCT Constitution. Conventions are scheduled to take place at each of the other reservations as well. As the first Band to have a convention, I think ours went reasonably well with the help of the Native Governance Center and Native Nations Institute. Many Band Members were vocal about the changes they want to see, and there was a call to respect the forms of governance that each of the Bands chooses to operate under. We also repeatedly heard from many Mille Lacs Band Members that you want to talk more about whether Mille Lacs should remain under the umbrella of the MCT. There have been separation discussions happening since the 1980s, and recent challenges to our system of government by other MCT members have renewed these discussions. We will continue talking about MCT issues over the next year. Band Members may also attend conventions on any other reservation if they choose to do so, and conventions will also be scheduled in Duluth and Minneapolis.

July and August were very busy months, including many, many meetings with Band Members and community groups. In late July, I met with the Drum Keepers and we discussed many issues important to the Band, such as the law enforcement issue, the Mille Lacs fishery, MCT issues, the opiate crisis, and other matters important to the Band. Earlier in August I held Elder meetings in each of the Districts and in the urban area. These are always wonderful meetings and a chance to share information with elders and get their thoughts about what we are working on and what they want to see happen.

July also included meetings in Washington D.C. with the Department of Justice, Interior and even the White House about specific issues facing the Mille Lacs Band right now that we needed to update our federal partners about. These meetings coincided with a White House meeting with tribal leaders. The President was not present, but some of his advisors and Cabinet members attended. The meeting focused on ensuring that if legislation moves on tax reform or infrastructure, that the tribes benefit. I was invited to moderate one of the sessions, which I agreed to do. Regardless of my personal politics, I have to ensure that the Mille Lacs Band has strong relationships and connections with decision-makers in Washington D.C., because one day we might need them to pick up the phone when there is a decision they need to make that is critical to the Band.

We had a wonderful convention this summer of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations (WEWIN), which many Band women and youth were able to attend. There were many fantastic workshops offered, such as Community Activism; Combatting Negativity and Lateral Violence; Gender Bias in the Workplace; Sovereignty 101, and many more. This was an outstanding convention that had a profound impact especially on our youth who attended, and many young women returned home inspired to get involved with social justice to make their schools and community better. Miigwech to all members of our local WEWIN chapter!

The Band Assembly and I held a compromise hearing on new legislation that reorganizes the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO). We agreed to create a new TERO Commission, which will be comprised of Band Members who are knowledgeable about Band-Member employment and contracting matters, and who will advise the TERO Office.

There are so many other projects, issues and developments happening that it would be impossible to list everything that we’ve been working on. I know there are other important issues and concerns that Band Members want to discuss. If you have questions or concerns about any topic, I encourage you to contact me by calling our office at (320) 532-7486, or email me at Melanie.benjamin@millelacsband.com or message me on Facebook. If we work together, I know we will make strides in building a better future for our children. Miigwech!