On Sept. 5, the Executive Branch cabinet was once again complete after several months of transition.
Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin hosted an end-of-summer picnic at Grand Casino Mille Lacs for Band members and employees to meet the new commissioners: Shelly Diaz (Administration), Rick St. Germaine (Education), Rebecca St. Germaine (Health and Human Services) and Bradley E. Harrington (DNR).
The newcomers joined Commissioner of Community Development Percy Benjamin, Commissioner of Corporate Affairs Joe Nayquonabe and Commissioner of Finance Adam Valdez, who is supervised by the Legislative Branch.
Melanie introduced “Famous Dave” Anderson, who catered the picnic, before handing the microphone to Joe Nayquonabe.
Joe introduced Percy and the new commissioners, each of whom said a few words of introduction.
Percy talked about his duty “to build our people — not just roads and houses” as Community Development Commissioner.
Bradley told his story of going to prison before turning his life around through immersion in culture and ceremonies. As DNR Commissioner, Bradley said he is advocating for an Anishinaabe perspective on natural resources, which includes “all the life-giving things we have here on earth,” including language and traditions.
Shelly introduced herself as an urban Band member. “When Melanie called me, I felt like I was coming home, even though I never lived here,” said Shelly, adding that her goal is to keep the community strong and help everybody live a good life.
Tiger said he owes a big debt of gratitude to the Chief Executive and Band Assembly for hiring him, and he is looking forward to doing the best he can for the Mille Lacs Band.
Rebecca talked about her long career in health care, from a nursing degree to a Master’s in Public Health, to
a Ph.D. in Pharmacy. “What I bring to the Mille Lacs Band is long experience of what education and health and welfare mean to our people,” she said.
Rebecca’s husband Rick, the new Education Commissioner, expressed appreciation for the hospitality and talked about his career not just in education but also in tribal government as Chair of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band in the 1970s, when he got to know Art Gahbow and other Mille Lacs leaders. “I believe we have the potential to do great things,” he said.
Joe finished the introductions with a brief summary of developments in Corporate Affairs. In five years, he said, Corporate Affairs non-gaming jobs have increased from 50 to 250, and wages have increased to $15 for all Band members at any business. “We were losing money on non-gaming businesses for 20 years,” he said, “but in the past five years, we’ve distributed substantial funds to the Band.”
Joe concluded with some thoughts about what it means to be a commissioner for the Mille Lacs Band. “We work for you,” he said. “We are a reflection of what you want the community to be. It’s not a popularity contest. We want to do the right thing.”