Toya Stewart Downey Staff Writer
At a recent meeting that included Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin and three commissioners, Band members in the urban area had an opportunity to hear from leaders as well as share some of their biggest concerns.
Topping the list of discussion points were questions about job opportunities at the Band-owned hotels in the Twin Cities, housing options in the metro, the upcoming vote on blood quantum, and the commissioner vacancies yet to be filled.
The Chief Executive and the commissioners – Sam Moose, Percy Benjamin and Joe Nayquonabe – offered short updates and then opened the floor for questions.
“We came to meet with you to provide an update on these pretty big issues we’re facing as a tribe,” Melanie told the 46 people who gathered at the meeting. “We want to make sure you’re aware of these things so you will know what’s up.”
Melanie shared that a big topic being discussed within the Band and statewide was blood quantum and how it impacts tribes’ enrollments.
As reported in last month’s Inaajimowin, the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) held a special meeting to discuss a Secretarial Election to allow enrolled members to vote yes or no on two resolutions. The first resolution involves language on whether to change enrollment requirements to include Canadian First Nations blood. The other resolution asks if MCT members want other Ojibwe blood from federally recognized tribes in the United States to be included in blood quantum. The two questions would be attached to the same ballot as the June 2018 general election for Secretary-Treasurer and District II and III Representatives.
“All the members of MCT get to vote on the question of blood quantum,” Melanie said.
Melanie explained how the blood quantum has to be verified and then deemed adequate for someone to be considered for enrollment.
People may be 100 percent Native, she said, but they may have bloodlines in other tribes, which impacts their blood quantum and determines enrollment status.
“When the Band didn’t have casinos, we were one of the poorest tribes in the state. People enrolled their kids in other Bands and then when things changed we got this big wave of people who wanted to be enrolled in Mille Lacs,” explained the Chief Executive.
A previous Band Assembly created a resolution that said they wouldn’t accept transfers into the Mille Lacs Band from other tribes.
Since the election is a year away, it allows time to get information out and to answer questions so that every Band member understands the issues. “There have been pros and cons about this, but everyone needs to know,” Melanie added.
“As Indian people it’s weird to have blood quantum, but it’s the federal government’s way of trying to erase us. We are the only people who have to have a blood quantum. The blood quantum is not the way of the Anishinaabe ... it was the federal government’s way,” she said. “In a couple of generations we may not have anyone with Indian status.”
Melanie said more information will be available and there will be training and meetings so people better understand the issues before they vote. She also told the attendees that 30 percent of MCT members had to vote to move forward or to keep things the same as they currently are. There are about 4,700 Band members and more than 40,000 in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
Under Band statute, commissioners are nominated by the Chief Executive and ratified by the Band Assembly. Currently, there are vacant commissioner positions. Joe Nayquonabe’s term as Corporate Commissioner expired Dec. 31. He was nominated again by Melanie and is awaiting ratification by the Band Assembly. The four-year terms of Commissioners of Administration, Education, Health and Human Services, and Natural Resources expire on June 30.
“There are a lot of things that can’t happen without a commissioner,” Melanie told the attendees. “We will have a majority of new commissioners. Once you step into these positions you have to start running. These are high-level jobs.”
The expectation is that the Band Assembly will ratify commissioners who are nominated, but until that happens the law reads that if there are vacancies then the Commissioner of Administration must fill their roles. Authority can also extend to executive directors and directors until commissioners are rati ed.
One issue, though, is that government business starts to slow down when there are commissioner vacancies and “that’s what is happening now,” Melanie said.
The commissioners shared that there were budget reductions in the works and that program directors were looking critically at their spending.
“We’ve been going through the budget process to review pro- grams and services,” said Sam. “We’ve made cuts to program dollar amounts, and we’re getting close to where we need to be.”
For example, Commissioner Moose noted, Education Commissioner Ed Minnema made $4 million in budget cuts to programs even though he was hoping to expand some programs. Those expansion plans are on hold.
Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures (MLCV) was created by the Mille Lacs Band to ensure the economic future of the tribe by diversifying the Band’s business portfolio. MLCV is also proud to own businesses that create job opportunities for Band members. In the past, employment opportunities used to come solely from the Band’s gaming businesses or locally through non-gaming entities like the convenience stores, market or cinema.
By purchasing the hotels in the metro area, new career path options are available for tribal members to explore. Joe Nayquonabe pointed out that the hotels are a part of MLCV’s capital development approach, which is an approach created to help ll a revenue gap from declining casino revenue.
“Indian Gaming in our region as a whole has declined, and casino revenues are flattening out,” Joe said. “Gamers aren’t spending as much time or money as they used to. Meanwhile, the needs of the Mille Lacs Band continue to grow each year.” He reminded attendees that the tribe could get even bigger, which would require MLCV to grow even more revenue streams.
“The hotels are making money and remain the biggest investment MLCV has made outside of gaming,” he continued. “They are performing better than when they were purchased.”
To continue to operate successful investments, they need hardworking, dedicated employees – like Mille Lacs Band members, Joe shared. He said MLCV would create a seamless process for Band members who are interested in applying for a job at one of the metro hotels, and he has delivered:
How it will work
– Visit greenwoodhospitality.com; click on careers
– Once you find a position you are interested in, start the application process.
– Be sure to click “MLCV” when it asks how you heard about the position.
– Be sure to complete your profile and the online test.
– After you complete that process, email MLCV’s Chief People and Cultural Officer, Tawnya Stewart, at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will connect with you and follow up on your application.
– MLCV strives to fill as many positions as possible with qualified Band members. This process ensures that your application and/or resume will be professionally expedited to the correct individuals.
Percy Benjamin, the Commissioner of Community Development, said he’s aware that a concern that is frequently discussed is lack of housing in the Twin Cities.
“Housing for Urban Band members has been a big topic of discussion,” he said. “It’s something that we take very seriously and have been working on for the past six months.”
Percy said he’d like to propose an allocation for urban housing and for apartment housing.
“The Band is currently looking at properties and ideas to identify areas we could invest in or develop – whether it’s available land or an unoccupied building,” he said. “We’re also looking at what other tribes are doing. We’re a little behind the other tribes.”
Band members Donna Bullchild and Deanna Bullchild said the information presented was interesting and informative.
“The blood quantum discussion is most interesting to me,” said Donna. “I’ve been trying to get my son enrolled and he got denied. I have lots of questions. His dad’s family is Red Lake and he’s not quite at the blood quantum.”
Donna added that she was appreciative that the leaders came to the urban area to provide updates.
“I like when Melanie comes down and gives us info. It’s important for Urban members to hear from our leaders.”
Deanna added that she hopes people vote in favor of chang- ing the blood quantum rules.
She also likes the idea of having Band housing in the Twin Cities but wants something “outside of Little Earth.”
Before the meeting ended, the commissioners urged Band members to call their elected and appointed leaders to share their thoughts.