October 2020 Message from the Chief Executive

Published

Boozhoo! On August 18, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe held elections for the positions of Tribal Chair across all six Bands and for the position of District I Representative at Mille Lacs. I am so honored to have been elected by Band members to serve as your Chairwoman/Chief Executive for four more years.

Miigwech to all Band Members who participated in this election through volunteering, serving on the election board, or voting. I also want to give a quick shout-out to Asin, who took it upon herself to set up a conversation with the candidates and the youth of the reservation. This showed leadership. Miigwech to our Band youth for wanting to establish another forum to hear what the candidates have to say.

Different candidates have different approaches and ideas, but in the end we all agree that the important thing is improving the lives of Band members and securing a bright future for seven generations to come. Representing the people of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe continues to be the greatest honor of my life, and I am very excited about what we will accomplish together over the next four years.

During the month of August, I attended virtual meetings on a wide variety of topics daily. These included meetings with the Governor’s Office, Minnesota tribal leader meetings, economic development meetings, and organizational board meetings, including the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, WEWIN, the Tribal Executive Committee of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Board meeting, Band Assembly, and Cabinet meetings. I was also excited to hold Elder meetings in each district. We were able to meet outside in a social-distancing environment, and it was wonderful to see our Elders in person. The Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST) also held our first virtual meeting of 2020.

We have all had to adjust to this new world of doing business in a virtual environment, and in many ways I think we are becoming even more productive. A continuous challenge tribal leaders face is balancing competing meetings and needing to be in two places at the same time. These days, we can actually be in many different places on the same day without needing to travel. I am excited to continue expanding on opportunities for Band members to be involved in government through virtual connections, and using virtual meetings to keep Band members informed.

There are many priority issues I will be focusing on over the upcoming months, and I am particularly excited about developments in the area of housing in our three districts as well as the urban area. The Band is going to be constructing a community housing complex in the urban area across from All Nations Church that will also include a community gathering space and some offices.

I am establishing a committee of Band members to help guide the design of this new complex, and invite Band members living in the urban area to consider serving on this committee. We will need people with many different areas of interest to advise the Band about topics, including building design, whether housing should focus on rental apartments, condo-style ownership, or a mix of both, artwork, and many other topics.

Band members who are city residents and are interested in participating on this committee should send a letter describing why you are interested in serving on this committee, and I would also like to invite youth to consider serving on this committee. Letters can be emailed to me at melanie.benjamin@millelacsband.com or mailed to the Office of the Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, 43408 Oodena Drive, Onamia, MN 56359.

As always, I want to caution all to continue social-distancing and wearing masks. What I am hearing from the news is that we are a long way from a vaccine for this virus, and there are scientists all over the world working on potential cures. But then there is still the practical problem of getting over 300 million Americans vaccinated, not to mention the other seven billion people on the planet.

The economy will continue to have its ups and downs until a cure is found for the pandemic. Public officials will ponder over whether and when to open schools, public buildings, and businesses. It seems like the entire world is holding its breath while we wait for normalcy to return.

It is moments such as this when we need to remember all we have been through, and all our ancestors went through. Three hundred years ago we moved from rice camps to deer camps and survived off the land. When the Europeans came, many of us died from the illnesses they brought, but the Band continued on. When the United States tried several times to remove us from our lands, we stayed and would not be removed.

Our warriors fought in two World Wars, Korea, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. We have survived hostile federal, state, and county governments.

Now our generation is faced with this challenge. We will fight the virus with all the medical and spiritual wisdom we have. We will survive an economic downturn, and we will come back better than ever.

We draw our strength from our land, from our water, from our spirituality, from the wisdom of our Elders, and we fight for the future of our children and our grandchildren. Tomorrow will be another working day, and so will the next. We will get up, do the work we were meant to do, and then we will get up the next day and do it again.

Our ancestors and our grandparents knew that life was not easy. It is not easy for us. But we carry the blood of a great Ojibwe nation in our veins. We have faced down the worst challenges before and prevailed.

Now it is our moment to rise to the occasion. It is our time to fight the good fight. We will work together; we will fight our enemies — be it those who try to disestablish our Reservation or the disease that is trying to take our lives — and we will get up each day and do our jobs. We will work, we will fight, and in time — we will win.

When you reach you later years, I hope you feel the way I do about my job: It is an honor to serve the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Miigwech!