As the historic Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitutional Conventions move forward, a group of Anishinaabe people from around the state have stepped forward to help educate their fellow tribal members on the past, present, and future of the MCT Constitution.
The Zaagibagaang website (zaagibagaang.com) describes the purpose of the organization: Zaagibagaang is a grassroots effort focusing on governance and nation building within the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT), designed to encourage everyone to share their gifts and work towards mino-bimaadiziwin by empowering people to GET INFORMED and GET INVOLVED in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
We are living our Anishinaabe values and working towards wholeness in spirit, mind, body, and in balance with all of creation including applying our knowledge and values to exercise our sovereignty, which will secure the future for the next seven generations and beyond.
"Zaagibagaang" describes the buds of trees and flowers as they blossom in springtime. We envision this process for our people, where their individual voices and gifts burst forth.
Band member and Special Projects Coordinator Al Olson has been involved with Zaagibagaang for about two years.
What appealed to Al about the group was its educational mission. He watched videos on the Zaagibagaang website and knew they were doing something important. "We need to get younger Band members involved, and in order to do that, they need to know the history of the MCT and other issues, like how the Relocation Act affected people," said Al. "This should be taught in our schools, but a lot of our kids don’t know any of this."
As the constitutional convention meetings got underway, Zaagibagaang hosted question-and-answer sessions about the constitution, legal topics, and MCT history with video "watch parties" on each reservation.
After that they decided to switch gears and post the sessions on Facebook Live and save the videos on their website for easy access. The Zaagibagaang website now hosts many videos on sovereignty, elections, history, and other topics. Simply go to zaagibagaang.com and click on "media" to see what’s available.
To check out the Facebook Live videos and stay up to date on the group’s activities, go to www.facebook.com/zaagibagaang to like or follow the group’s Facebook page.
The Constitutional Conventions were authorized by the MCT’s Tribal Executive Committee in 2017. Last year, meetings were held on each of the six MCT reservations and in the Urban area to gather Band members’ ideas about how the convention should proceed and what issues are of greatest concern.
It was decided that each reservation should choose 10 delegates to participate. The Mille Lacs Band’s tribal government chose delegates from a pool of interested Band members, with two from each district (including District IIa, Chiminising) and two from the urban area.
District I: Curt Kalk and Danielle Smith
District II: Tom Benjamin and Michael Davis
District: IIa: Michele Palomaki and Todd Sam
District III: Maria Costello and Birdie Roberts
Urban area: Al Olson and Dawne Stewart
The first Constitutional Convention meeting was held in November at Fond du Lac, and according to Al it was mainly about establishing ground rules — where and how often to meet, how to vote, and who would facilitate.
They decided to hold monthly meetings that would be open to all MCT members at rotating locations across the six reservations.
The January meeting, which the Mille Lacs Band hosted in Hinckley, had a more formal agenda and was facilitated by Al. At that meeting, delegates agreed that future meetings should focus on examining each article of the Constitution and discussing possible changes.
It was also determined that each reservation would caucus together to reach consensus on each issue and cast a single vote. A spokesperson was chosen from each reservation.
The meetings have not been without some controversy. The Sandy Lake/Rice Lake bands have chosen delegates and want official recognition and a vote, but that has not been granted by the other six bands.
Since the TEC authorized the conventions through a vote, delegates believe the MCT should take an active role, especially in funding the conventions, but that has not yet occurred. Delegates will continue to request the presence of and feedback from MCT Director Gary Frazier.
Mille Lacs Band delegates have attended community meetings to update fellow Band members on the Constitutional Convention. They want to hear from Band members about their ideas for constitutional reform and their opinions about possible changes.
You can read the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution here.