Boozhoo! On September 8, I was humbled to be sworn into office as Chief Executive for another four-year term. I was proud to share this moment with our new District I Representative, Virgil Wind, who is already doing a great job representing District I on the Band Assembly.
In the past, I have always provided an Inauguration Address, and several people have asked when I’m going to provide the address this year. With the current pandemic, I will be sharing a video address with Band members and through the Band newspaper. Miigwech to everyone who participated in our election this year!
The COVID-19 pandemic is suddenly spreading rapidly through our three districts and Minnesota, which is of grave concern. As of September, nine Band members have passed away from COVID-19. The number of Band members testing positive for COVID-19 has continued to increase. Minnesota had its highest one-day record of positive COVID-19 cases very recently, and this past weekend the death rate in Minnesota reached 2,000. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just designated Minnesota as being a state where the coronavirus spread is now "Uncontrolled," which is the worst rating possible.
I want to remind all Band members and employees that under no circumstances is anyone allowed to enter a Band-owned building or business or be inside the building without a mask. This mandate was issued by Commissioner’s Order 20-02, which was signed by Commissioner Nicole Anderson and upheld by the Band Assembly. This Order carries the weight of the law on all Band lands and property and is valid until it expires, and was just recently extended.
This means that no one is exempt from following these requirements, no matter who they are. Also keep in mind that once inside a Band-owned building or business, masks must continue to be worn when walking through office suites or the building, and when meeting with any other person. This is not just for employee protection, but for protection of our entire community.
It is absolutely critical that all Band members and community members wear your masks when in any public setting, abide by vigorous and frequent hand-washing, and avoid all public gatherings that are not essential. If you must attend a public gathering, it is imperative that you wear a mask. Minnesota health officials have confirmed that public gatherings are now one of the top causes of outbreaks in Minnesota. At one funeral in rural Minnesota at the end of September, 33 attendees became ill with COVID-19 because mask-wearing and social distancing were not enforced. If this were to happen at a gathering in our Mille Lacs Band community, the entire reservation could become infected because we are all so closely related and connected, and the consequences would be devastating.
If you see anyone without a mask on Band property, please kindly remind them to put on their mask because this mandate carries the weight of law.
We are still conducting the majority of our government meetings on-line using Zoom or by conference call, which in my case included meetings with the Band Assembly, weekly Cabinet meetings with the commissioners, weekly staff meetings, and many meetings on specific issues involving our COVID-19 response as well as many other topics.
There was one in-person meeting, however, that was the highlight of September. On September 18, I was invited to greet former Vice President Joe Biden at the Duluth International Airport at the end of his visit to northern Minnesota. I had a chance to speak with him one-on-one, and I brought up the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the United States. Vice President Biden acknowledged the importance of maintaining that relationship, and has a strong record of supporting tribal sovereignty. I was very honored to have been asked by the Biden campaign to attend this event. Also in attendance were Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Quinn Nystrom, who is the DFL candidate for our congressional district. Quinn discussed her work fighting for insulin for diabetic Minnesotans. I also had a great conversation with Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth.
An on-line highlight during September included an invitation from NCAI to serve as a panelist during a virtual roundtable discussion with Senator Tina Smith, who serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. My question dealt with Public Law 280 and the importance of the federal government intervening when a county or state refuses to provide adequate law enforcement. I was very excited when she answered that she would work with us to develop a legislative fix in the event this ever happens again to any tribe.
Early in September, I submitted testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples regarding the federal Bureau of Indian Education’s advice about schools reopening. Congressman Pete Stauber is now the Ranking Minority Member of that Subcommittee, and we worked closely to provide the Subcommittee with information for this hearing.
We had a great turnout on September 15 in the urban area to discuss the new Band housing complex that will also include community meeting and office space for the Urban Area Office. This is only the first step in the planning process, and it was great to see Band members in person and feel their excitement about this new complex.
The Commissioner of Administration and I also spent two days in strategic planning meetings to begin mapping out goals for the next four years, and on September 23, a representative of the Governor and Lt. Governor’s office visited the reservation to tour and discuss tribal-state relations. These are just a few of the highlights from September.
Finally, I want to ask every Band member to mark your calendars for November 3, which is the state and federal Election Day. I urge every Band member to vote early, which you can do right now. If you are voting by mail, please get your mail-in ballot into the mail now. Every election is important, but this election will have far-ranging implications for Indian tribes and people.
To assist Band members in making your decisions, we will be sending an Election Guide to each household. This guide will be a little different this year. Rather than just including the names of each candidate and a sample ballot, we will be providing a profile of each candidate’s policy and record regarding tribal nations, so that Mille Lacs Band voters can consider these issues in deciding who will get their vote.
In closing, I ask all Band members to continue to keep yourselves and your family safe, and please vote! Miigwech.