By Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin
Boozhoo! It has been a beautiful winter with lots of snow, but I am looking forward to warmer spring weather and our spring dances!
We had a lot happening this past month. March began for me with participation on a Women in Leadership panel at my alma mater, Bemidji State University, in celebration of Women’s History Month, followed by attending the annual conference of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, which focuses on bringing economic development to Indian reservations.
That same week, the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) held a special meeting at White Earth to consider a motion made by White Earth Chair- man Terry Tibbetts to censure and remove from office White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason, as well as a motion made by Secretary-Treasurer Mason to censure Chairman Tibbetts. When voting, we were only allowed to consider the evidence that the petitioners provided at the previous meeting when the motions were made.
The vote to censure Chairman Tibbetts failed, by a vote of 8–1. The vote to censure Secretary-Treasurer Mason passed, by a vote of 5–4, 1 silent. Censure means that White Earth will only have one vote at future TEC meetings, as Secretary-Treasurer Mason will not be allowed to sit at the table or vote. The MCT Constitution requires that the Reservation Business Committee (tribal council) hold a hearing and vote on whether or not to remove the censured person from office, or hold a re- call election. Unfortunately, this meeting devolved and ended in a bad way.
As a Band, we have been very busy pushing a number of important bills at the state and federal levels. Fixing the law enforcement issue is a top priority. In the State Legislature, there are bills pending on the House and Senate sides that would remove the requirement of an Indian tribe needing to have a law enforcement agreement with the County. If these pass, the current law enforcement crisis would come to an end. However, we have opposition from Representative Sondra Erickson and others, and it will be an uphill battle to pass this bill this year. In spite of this opposition, we will continue to push until we get the state legislation we need.
We have also been busy at the federal level. First, we are working on language that would allow us to keep drug dealers off our lands. Second, a bill to improve the Tribal Self-Governance Act, which we have been pushing for several years, was introduced in March. Finally, the Band Assembly passed a resolution for Mille Lacs to join a coalition to place pro-tribal provisions into the federal Farm Bill, which will go through Congress this year. This will help us pursue our goals of food sovereignty and extend tribal self-governance to the Agriculture Department.
During the week of March 12, I was very happy to see the many Elders who turned out at our Elder meetings in Districts I, II, IIa, III, and the Urban Area. These were wonderful meetings, and I received valuable input from Elders about the issues they care about and current events. This week ended with a meeting of the Minnesota Board on Aging, where we discussed improving access to services for American Indian Elders and other under-represented ethic groups.
One of the most exciting meetings this month was a two- day strategic planning meeting with the Executive Branch Cabinet. We reviewed the Band’s previous five-year strategic plan (which has since expired) and worked together with a facilitator to work on updating the goals to reflect new challenges like the reservation boundary, law enforcement, and the opioid epidemic. We want the plan to be “evergreen,” which means to keep it current and fresh based on new opportunities or obstacles, while staying true to our core values, culture, and traditions. The previous plan was outstanding, and many com- munity members and Elders played a huge role in writing it. Our goal is not to replace that plan, but to build on it and make it stronger. We will be bringing this revised plan out to the Band members for feedback in the near future.
Finally, please remember to get out and vote in the Primary Election for the position of Secretary-Treasurer and Districts II and III representatives on Tuesday, April 3, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Primary Election matters! Chi Miigwech to all Band members who are running for election to improve our community; it takes courage to put yourself out there as a candidate. Good luck to all! Miigwech!