Aaniin, Boozhoo! A few days ago, the Thanksgiving holiday was observed by American families all across the country. Tribes across the nation have their own ways of observing Thanksgiving; some look at this holiday as a way of expressing gratitude that our people survived the diseases and war brought about by colonization, many tribes view this day as a time to feast and celebrate family, and others choose not to recognize the holiday at all.
At Mille Lacs, most families (including mine) get together to feast and spend time with loved ones. We call this day “Miigwech Day.” Renaming Thanksgiving “Miigwech Day” at Mille Lacs was first started under the leadership of former Chief Executive Marge Anderson, who always said that in our culture, every day is like Thanksgiving, because we are taught to use our asemaa to give thanks whenever we hunt, fish, and harvest rice, berries, or birch bark. She said Thanksgiving was not the only day to give thanks, but another day to give thanks. So it seemed appropriate that we choose the week of Miigwech Day to honor Marge Anderson’s legacy and life’s work.
With the permission and involvement of Marge’s family, the building known as the Mille Lacs Government Center was of- ficially renamed the “Biidaabinookwe Government Center" on November 20, in memoriam of Marge Anderson. This was a special day with wonderful speakers. Marge was a fierce defender of tribal sovereignty, our treaty rights, and a pioneer of the early self-governance movement. You can read more about this event in this issue of the Inaajimowin.
One of the biggest events impacting the Band in November was the outcome of the 2018 elections. With the Walz-Flanagan victory in Minnesota, the first Native American in our state history will be sworn into the office of Lieutenant Governor! I am so proud of Peggy Flanagan, whom I’ve known since she was a young woman working as a trainer for Wellstone Action, the organization founded to carry on the work of the late Senator Paul Wellstone. With Wellstone Action, Peggy founded the Native American Leadership Program and was a trainer with Camp Wellstone, where she trained thousands of progressive activists. Peggy will serve as a strong voice for Native people at the State Capitol.
I am also excited about Minnesota’s future under the leadership of Governor Tim Walz. When he first ran for Congress back in 2006, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe came forward as one of his earliest supporters back when not many Democrats or Republicans thought he had a chance of beating the six- term incumbent Republican. Tim defied the political odds and won that race. Ever since, he has been a great friend of the Band and an effective champion of issues impacting Native American veterans, children, and the environment. He has a strong understanding of tribal rights and sovereignty and will be a wonderful governor for Native people as well as all Minnesotans.
I was very honored to be appointed to serve on the Walz-Flanagan Transition Team, and humbled for this opportunity to serve in an advisory capacity to our incoming Governor and Lieutenant Governor as they prepare to take office.
Other significant changes include the shift of power that will take place in the Minnesota State Legislature, where the Democrats will take over control of the State House. Previously, both the State House and Senate were controlled by the Republican party under a Democratic governor. Minnesota is now one of the only states in the country with two parties splitting control over the state legislature, so it will be interesting to see what that means for progress on key issues impacting tribes like education, health, and environmental issues such as regulation of mining and pipeline activity.
Nationally, we also experienced a shift in power as the Democrats prepare to take over control of the House of Representatives. These issues really do matter for us at Mille Lacs, because it can mean the difference between federal policies that support tribal sovereignty and self-determination versus policies that can harm us. The Mille Lacs Band has good friends in both political parties, but this past election is a reason to celebrate that long-time friends such as Congresswoman Betty McCollum (St. Paul) will be taking over leadership of subcommittees and committees that directly impact the Mille Lacs Band and other tribes.
Additionally, with the victories of Deb Haaland in New Mexico and Sharice Davids in Kansas, Indian Country will make history by sending two Native American women to the U.S. House of Representatives! The Band was also an early supporter of incoming Congresswoman-elect Haaland and I’ve had an opportunity to get to know her as well, and am excited about what she and Congresswoman-elect Davids will accomplish in the Congress.
This was a very exciting election year, and we can be proud that Mille Lacs Band members got out the vote. We had a very strong voter turnout in every district, and as Mille Lacs Band members you truly made a difference in the election outcome. Chi miigwech to every Band Member who exercised your right to vote and made your voice heard, and miigwech as well to our Government Affairs team who worked very hard to get out the Native vote!
At home in our community, we are facing many challenges, especially in the Human Service areas within our government. The opioid epidemic, the shortage of social workers, and a record number of children whose parents can no longer care for them have been extreme stressors on our Band families and community, as well as on the Band government’s ability to respond effectively. Much of my time this month has been spent focusing on our HHS Department and Band response to these crisis issues. I will have more to share about this at the State of the Band Address, which will be held on January 8, and I encourage all Band Members and their families to attend.
As I reflected on Miigwech Day about what I am grateful for, I thought about my family, friends and especially Mille Lacs Band members. The best part of my month was spent meeting with Band members, especially at the Elder meetings we held in each of the districts and the urban area. I always hear the best ideas and solutions to problems from the Band members, and I am very grateful to all the Mille Lacs Band members and Elders who have been so generous with their time in working to improve our community and build a better future for our children. Chi miigwech!