Aaniin. On September 18, the County reinstated a new joint powers law enforcement agreement with the Band. At long last, our public safety stand-off with Mille Lacs County has ended. Since the County revoked our joint law enforcement agreement in June, 2016, our tribal police have been unable to fully enforce state criminal law on the reservation or in the north end of the county. While the current Mille Lacs County attorney claims he saw no spike in crime over this period, we know differently. These past two years have been devastating for our Band community in terms of loss of life.
The County’s termination of the law enforcement agreement was about the reservation boundary – the County sought to use public safety to force us to make concessions regarding the boundary, turning a blind eye to the enormous suffering it unleashed in our community. I want Band members to know that we refused to make those concessions. The County’s many demands related to the reservation boundary were rejected by the Band in mediation and never made it into the agreement.
So what changed? The new law enforcement agreement is very similar to the previous one except that it has been updated to recognize the authority, independence and professionalism of the Band’s police force. Specifically, it recognizes our inherent tribal sovereignty and the authority of our police as tribal, state and federal officers; recognizes that the Band police may utilize their own dispatch office, records management system, and radio communications; requires the County to refer calls to Band police; provides for shared authority at crime scenes; and provides a better mechanism for resolving disputes (compared to the County’s unilateral termination of the prior agreement). What the County thinks it won, I don’t know, but the new JPA allows County officers to resume working with Band police and acknowledges the sovereignty of the Band, and that is what matters.
On September 19, we also received a decision from U.S. District Court dismissing the County’s counterclaim relating to our lawsuit over the reservation boundary. This is a first win in what will be a long series of motions and hearings which will likely last for several month or years. In her decision, Judge Nelson re-affirmed the decisions in the County’s 2002 lawsuit, in which the courts held that the County has suffered no injury from the Band’s position regarding the Reservation boundary. We remain profoundly perplexed by the County’s ceaseless pursuit of this issue and its willingness to expend millions of scarce taxpayer dollars on legal fees
when it cannot establish even the slightest harm from the Band’s position. The Band will continue to keep Band Members updated on the lawsuit.
On September 6th, I attended a meeting with Governor Dayton and MCT leaders in response to Minnesota Chippewa Tribe opposition to the Wild Rice Task Force the Governor convened. The MCT is on record opposing the task force due to heavy representation from industry interests, so we met at his request to discuss another path forward. A follow-up meeting with the Governor’s staff was held in conjunction with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, and this matter is still being discussed. Whatever happens, the Mille Lacs Band is committed to ensuring that industry does not write the rules for sulfate standards for wild rice.
During the afternoon of September 6, Governor Dayton held his last Tribal Leader’s Summit, which he has done annually. We heard about his work preparing a transition plan for the next Governor, and discussed recommendations for continuation of policies requiring that state agencies consult with Indian tribes.
On September 19, I was invited to a meeting in Washington, D.C., with the new Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeney and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. We spent Wednesday morning hearing about this Administration’s focus for Indian Country, and providing feedback about how the BIA could better serve tribes. Secretary Zinke assured us that Indian tribes will not be part of the reorganization plan for the Department of Interior. Sometimes, “reorganization” is code for budget cuts. We were assured that the BIA would not be part of reorganization if the tribes didn’t want it.
We also discussed the Secretary’s plans to decentralize BIA services and provide more authority to BIA regional offic- es rather than Washington, D.C., which is actually what the self-governance program is all about. I reminded him that Mille Lacs was the first tribe in the country to negotiate a self-governance agreement back in 1990, and our hopes to expand it throughout more federal agencies.
Last November, Secretary Zinke had visited the Mille Lacs Reservation to discuss the law enforcement crisis. His visit had an immediate impact by way of critically needed assistance from BIA law enforcement. I updated Secretary Zinke about our new law enforcement agreement and thanked him for his help.
Federal priorities change with each President. There are times when tribes can be very proactive, while other times we need to fight to protect what we have. Regardless of who is in charge, it is important that the Band have a seat at the table when these discussions happen, which is the statutory duty of the Chief Executive.
There were many, many other meetings and happenings over the month of September, but I most appreciated the op- portunity to spend a few days with 42 Band Elders attending the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA). This was a wonderful meeting, with great information.
These past two years have been very difficult for the Band. My sincerest condolences go out to all the families who have lost loved ones. The new law enforcement agreement means that our tribal police are back to work, but they have a huge job ahead of them. It will take a very long time to fix what the County broke, but the work will involve each of us. It will take a collective, focused community effort to overcome the epidemic of addiction that plagues our community.
Personally, I believe we can and will beat this. I see change happening – I see Band member warriors speaking up and taking action. I see those who have beaten addiction fighting to help others win the same battle.
Chi miigwech to Police Chief Sara Rice for her leadership and hundreds of hours spent in mediation and meetings. Chi miigwech also to the police officers who stuck with us throughout this difficult period, and to the Band member warriors who are there on the front lines fighting to protect our future. You have our gratitude. Miigwech!