Melanie's January LetterAaniin, Boozhoo! December seemed to fly by, as it always does. The Band Statutes charge the Chief Executive with conducting external relations with other governments, and a good deal of my time over the next several months will be spent establishing our working relationship with the new President-elect’s administration. While civil servants employed by the federal agencies usually maintain their jobs when a new President is elected, most political appointees (there are several thousand) are planning their departures.
Maintaining strong working relationships with federal officials is essential to ensuring that our initiatives are not disrupted or progress lost during the transition. During the week of December 12, I held meetings in Washington D.C.with federal officials toward that goal. I was also invited by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), a Cherokee Congressman from Oklahoma, to attend a December 14th Listening Session he coordinated for tribal leaders with members of the President-elect’s transition team in D.C. It was a good start toward laying a foundation to ensure that our sovereignty and legal rights are protected in this new administration. I asked the incoming administration to commit to protecting each tribe’s homeland, sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship that exists between tribes and the United States.
Law Enforcement in District I continues to be a critical issue facing Band government. We have had multiple discussions with the Governor since the County broke its agreement with the Band over tired old arguments about whether our reservation exists. While I’ve had several conversations with the Governor about this topic, we have been dissatisfied with the State’s response, until the Governor accepted my invitation to hear first-hand how this has impacted public safety for our Band members. On December 5, Governor Dayton came to the Government Center and talked with our police officers about their concerns for the public safety of Band members. He also met separately with the County. As a result of these meetings, the county has agreed to enter into mediation with the Band.
It should be noted that the Band has always been willing to mediate this issue. In fact, last summer a mediator from the Department of Justice came to the reservation and we agreed to federal mediation. Mille Lacs County, however, rejected federal mediation. It remains to be seen whether the County will engage in good faith negotiations with a state mediator, but I am hopeful that we might come to some resolution soon.
In the meantime, our police officers are doing their best to keep Band members safe and will continue to do so, no matter how mediation goes. The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) goes into effect on January 1, with or without cooperation from the County. Under the TLOA, our officers will be federally deputized and the U.S. Attorney will have the option of prosecuting offenses committed on the Reservation that fall under the Major Crimes Act in federal court.
Other business I conducted this month included meetings of the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, joint meetings with the Band Assembly, many meetings with individual Band members and economic development meetings with potential business partners. I am also spending time preparing for the State of Band Address, which this year will be on January 10 at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs Convention Center and I hope to see many of you there.
These are challenging times for the Band, but I remain hopeful that if we rely on our customs, culture and exercise our tribal sovereignty the way our predecessors intended us to, we will overcome all of these challenges. I wish all Band families a safe holiday season, and hope to see you on January 10! Miigwech!
About Melanie Benjamin
As Chief Executive of the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band of OJibwe, Melanie Benjamin leads the Executive Branch of tribal government, which implements Band laws and programs. As Chief Executive, Benjamin is statutorily responsible for conducting external relations on behalf of the Band with all other governments and political subdivisions. Benjamin was first elected Chief Executive in 2000, and was re-elected in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Benjamin first gained experience in tribal government in 1989 when she was recruited by the late Arthur Gahbow to serve as his chief of staff in the position of Commissioner of Administration, a role which she held between 1989 and 1997, and which is the top appointed position in Band government. After Art’s passing, Benjamin continued in this post throughout 1997 under the late Marge Anderson. Benjamin has also served as Senior Vice President of Administration and Finance at Grand Casino Hinckley, and as Interim Director of the Pine Grove Leadership Academy. Benjamin has been active on many boards and organizations throughout the state and nation and currently serves as Secretary for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. She is a Board Member of the American Indian Law Resource Center, the Minnesota Board on Aging, Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations, the U.S. Attorney General’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council, the National Indian Gaming Association (Alternate).
Benjamin earned an M.A. in Education from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and a B.A. in Finance from Bemidji State University. The daughter of Frances Reynolds and George Staples, Benjamin is the mother of Clayton (Candace) Benjamin and the proud grandmother of four beautiful grandchildren.