Commissioner Brings Commitment to Culture


Commissioner of Administration Baabiitaw Boyd, who was sworn in on July 22, is motivated each day by a lifelong commitment to Mille Lacs Band members, Anishinaabe culture, and the Ojibwe language.

As head of the Department of Administration, Baabiitaw oversees a wide variety of departments and programs: Government Affairs, Child Support, Human Resources, AanjiBimaadizing, Information Services, Self Governance, Elder Supplemental, Grants, the Urban Office, and four community centers: Neyaashing (District I), Minisinaakwaang, Chiminising, Aazhoomog, and Meshakwad.

The Commissioner of Administration also serves as the Chief Executive's Chief of Staff, allowing Baabiitaw to work with other commissioners in developing strategic plans, implementing government-wide projects, and preparing the Executive Branch budget.

"I see my role as helping employees solve problems to meet the needs of Band members," said Baabiitaw. "I've been lucky to learn from many tenured employees who have shared their expertise. Those directors and managers taught me a lot in my first few months."

Baabiitaw worked as a Master Apprentice with several Mille Lacs Band Elders beginning in 2005 and said she draws on that experience daily in her new position.

Creative leadership

Baabiitaw also learned about "servant leadership" from Commissioner of Corporate Affairs Joe Nayquonabe Jr. "Leadership is about helping people be comfortable with being uncomfortable," she said. "It can be hard to receive honest feedback, but it's always going to help us put our best foot forward."

Tribal governments, Baabiitaw said, are often in reactive mode, responding to crises or "putting out fires," leaving little time to step back and reflect on what is working and what needs to be improved. "Reflection can be intimidating and scary, because we may see things in ourselves we're not super happy with," she said.

To encourage reflection, Baabiitaw has initiated an employee engagement survey and focus groups in each department to determine what's working well and what needs to change. "The ultimate goal is to develop strategies to make our government a happier, healthier work environment and more effective for those accessing services."

Much of Baabiitaw's attention as Assistant Commissioner and Commissioner has been devoted to the AanjiBimaadizing Program, which has been in transition for several years due a high turnover of directors. The AanjiBimaadizing Program receives funding from the federal government through the Public Law 102-477, a federal law that allows tribes to combine grant funding from different federal agencies into a single plan focused on economic development, employment and job training, higher education, and skill development for youth and adults.

Beginning in 2004, carry-over funds have accumulated due to the low number of eligible Band members who participated.

Baabiitaw and Interim Director Tammy Wickstrom developed a plan to use the carry-over funds for childcare in Districts II and III and for the development of a Rosetta Stone Ojibwe language-learning program. The program will consist of six language levels that target the development of high-level and functionally communicative language proficiency and will result in jobs for Band members.

Culture and language

Baabiitaw grew up in the Chi-manoominikaang (Minnewawa) community in District II and graduated from McGregor High School in 2003. Two years later she became a language apprentice with the Education Department, working with Lee Obizaan Staples, Larry Amik Smallwood, Millie Zhaawan Benjamin, and Marge Biidaabinookwe Anderson. After that she worked as an Ojibwe immersion teacher at Wewinabi Early Education while attending college.

In 2015, Baabiitaw was part of Cohort 6 of the Native Nations Rebuilders, which taught her that "Anishinaabe people face the same social disparities across the nation, and we can learn a lot from working with other communities." The experience also taught her gratitude as she realized that most reservations don't have the resources Mille Lacs does, or the degree of self-determination.

In 2017, Baabiitaw was awarded a prestigious Bush Foundation Fellowship. During her two-year fellowship, she took a global cultures and languages internship with Dr. Brenda Child at the U of M, participated in work retreats with faculty from Stanford Medical School, attended Brene' Brown's "Shame and Vulnerability" seminar, and launched an Ojibwe recording project with Dr. John Nichols, preparing recordings from first language speakers for the Ojibwe People's Dictionary Project.

She also found time to complete a certificate in contemporary Indigenous multilingualism from the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

Baabiitaw sees her new role as a continuation of her efforts to revitalize Anishinaabe language and culture. She wants to reform government to reflect Ojibwe traditions and elevate the culture and language. "The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that we're going to impact the language for coming generations, giving people access to their inherent right to speak Ojibwe and communicate with the natural world the way they were intended to."