Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin delivers 2021 State of the Band Address


Chief Executive calls Band members 'a light of courage and compassion amid the darkness'

MILLE LACS RESERVATION – In her 2021 State of the Band address, Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin summarized 2020 as a year in which “some of the worst things we could imagine happened, but in many ways, it brought out the best in us we could ever hope for.”

During one of the darkest times in our modern history, Benjamin said that many Mille Lacs Band Members became a light in the darkness, “being the best ancestors they could be.”

“Small sparks together lit a great fire of community service, of fighting against injustice and of adapting to a new world. As Band Members and employees, you stepped forward to serve our Band with courage and compassion, risking your own safety to protect others. Together, we did not cower in the face of crisis. We faced it head on and we fought it. We took decisive action, and quickly changed the way we do nearly everything so we could keep Band Members safe.”

Normally delivered to a ballroom filled with Band members and dignitaries, this year’s State of the Band was delivered via an online webinar to protect the community from COVID-19.

Highlights from the Speech Include:

Band Employees Thanked for Service During Crisis
In her speech Benjamin thanked Band employees who endured a temporary furlough during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as those whose job duties required them to continue to work during the pandemic. “All of you sacrificed for our Band, sometimes at great personal cost,” Benjamin said.

Major Economic Development Tool Announced
Benjamin announced that the Mille Lacs Band received 8-A certification from the U.S. Small Business Administration for its Makwa Global companies. The 8-A program is for businesses owned by women, minority groups and tribes, and the 8-A status gives the Band preferential treatment for federal government contracting. “In March, four of our Makwa Global companies were accepted into the 8-A program. This is a very big deal. In just the past few months, Makwa Global has landed several government contracts around the world that are very exciting.”

New Healthcare Center
In 2020 the Band opened its new healthcare center, a state-of-the-art facility where Band Members can get health and wellness services. “The move was very difficult due to the pandemic, but we did it.”

Line 3 Pipeline Opposition Continues
“In 2020 we continued our legal battle to protect our lands and waters from a new pipeline through the courts, which is the proper role of government. Individuals worked at the grassroots level.”

Urban Housing and Multi-Use Development
The Band purchased property in Minneapolis across from All Nations Church, where it will be building new housing in a multi-use building that will include a community gathering space for Band Members.

Eagle Feathers Permit
The Mille Lacs Band is one of two tribes in Minnesota that received a special Eagle permit, which removes the challenges that made it hard to obtain eagle feathers. Band Members now have a much more fair and consistent process when eagle feathers are needed.

Acknowledgement of Depression, and Available Resources
Depression in the United States has tripled since the COVID-19 crisis, affecting one in three Americans, and is higher in communities of color. The number of Band Members who have passed away this year is double from the previous year. Hearts are broken from the loss of life and so many funerals. “It is important to acknowledge that there is great sadness in our community right now. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, we have help available. Every Band Member’s life is a gift. Your families and your Band need you.”

Resilient Band will Emerge from the Pandemic Even Stronger
“As we begin this new year, many have asked, when will the world return to normal? That depends on what ‘normal’ means. All of us have been impacted by the pandemic. We have all changed in some way. Things can never go back to the way they were, but that does not have to be a bad thing. Our future can be better than before the pandemic. If we move safely and continue to be smart, we can reemerge as the community we want to be, and know we can be. We can get through this pandemic together because we are resilient.”

About the State of the Band
Mille Lacs Band statute requires the Chief Executive to “present to the Band Assembly an annual State of the Band Address on the second Tuesday of January of each calendar year” [4MLBSA 6(i)]. The first State of the Band Address was delivered in 1983, making the Band the first Minnesota tribe to provide a formal update in this way.

About the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band
Mille Lacs Reservation is located in east central Minnesota and is the perpetual home of the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe ( More than 2,300 of the Band’s 4,700 members live within reservation boundaries. The Band supports its members with a variety of services for economic, social and cultural advancement, including health services, early childhood and youth centers and economic development planning.

To read the entire address, go to, or click one of the following links:

2021 State of the Band Address — Word version
2021 State of the Band Address — PDF version