2019 State of the Band Address


Aaniin, Boozhoo! Mr. Speaker, Honored Members of the Band Assembly, and Madame Chief Justice: Title 4, Section 6, of our Mille Lacs Band Statutes require 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."

It is my duty and privilege to inform you about the current State of the non-Removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians.  I especially welcome all Mille Lacs Band members here today, as well as those who may be watching on Facebook.

Many family members, friends, and special guests are also with us. On behalf of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, we welcome you all to the Mille Lacs Reservation!

In our democratic form of government where Band members vote for who they want to serve the people, the peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of our system. This past summer, Band members exercised their right to vote, and the transfer of power happened.

We now have three new elected officials on the Band Assembly: Secretary-Treasurer Sheldon Boyd; District II Representative Marvin Bruneau; and District III Representative Wally St. John.

It has been a great privilege to work with each of you, and chi miigwech for your hard work on our behalf. Miigwech as well to District I Representative Sandra Blake, for the knowledge she brings. There are tough decisions ahead of us, and as elected officials, I know we will all continue working together in the spirit of unity.

What Speaker Sheldon Boyd has accomplished in his first five months of holding office has been amazing. His commitment to open government has already brought change, felt in real ways. I encourage any Band member to attend a Band Assembly meeting one of these days, and you will understand better what I mean. The energy in the room is inviting and welcoming of all, with respect shown towards all.

Working together as a Band, we achieved many goals and milestones in 2018 — things we can be proud of, which I will share with you today. 2018 was also a very challenging year for the Band in other ways.

The public safety crisis in District I continued for nine months into 2018, while we went without a law enforcement agreement with Mille Lacs County. During that time, many lives were lost to drugs and violence.

It was not an easy year for the new cabinet in the Executive Branch, with the unplanned departure of three commissioners and the Solicitor General, which was troubling for many Band employees.

And sadly, many dedicated Band members who work very hard each day to bring positive change to the community were targeted by a few people on social media, who were motivated by bitterness and hate.

Someone I admire once said, "Turn your wounds into wisdom," but finding a lesson during hard times is not an easy thing to do, especially when you are in the middle of it. However, as Mille Lacs Band members, we come from some of the strongest people who ever walked this earth, who remained strong even when faced with unthinkable hardship.

What we saw last year was a Band community that demonstrated amazing strength in the face of hardship. We saw a community unite around families who experienced loss, surrounding them with love, compassion, and generosity. We saw grassroots Band members come together, unified by their goal of helping those in need.

We saw Band members who live our Anishinaabe values reject the ugliness that tried to infect our community, and instead spread messages of hope, forgiveness, unity, and love.

Being strong in the face of hardship is not easy. When things happen that we cannot anticipate, we have to find reasons to stay strong, to allow the pain to push us from where we are, to where we want to be.

A few years ago, I spoke at an event hosted by our Department of Athletic Regulation. Other tribal boxing commissions were there. I talked about how working for a tribal government is a lot like constantly being in a boxing ring, every single day of your life.

Sometimes your opponent is the county, sometimes it can be the state, and sometimes it is an epidemic, like drugs. But there is always an opponent. And as tribes, we have to be inside that ring, every single day.

Chief Executive Art Gahbow always said sovereignty is like a muscle — if you don’t use it, you lose it. Nothing we have ever achieved was given to us. We had to exercise our sovereignty and fight for our rights.

From our right to gaming, to our 1837 Treaty rights — from our right to run a tribal school, to our right to a tribal police department — nothing we have today came without a fight and exercising our tribal sovereignty. We must never forget that we are all in the ring together.

At every State of the Band Address for the past five years, we have talked about the drug epidemic that has plagued our community, and the devastation this has caused. Last year, I spoke about a "New Warriorism" that has taken hold.

At an unexpected time, from an unexpected place, a force to be reckoned with stepped forward to protect and defend our community: the New Warriors of the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Movement in the Making

Let me tell a story. It’s a true story, and it does not have an end. It is still going on. There was a young Band member who lived with addiction, made mistakes, and spent time in prison. Like too many young people, an idea had been planted in his mind that being locked up meant he was a "real man."

But deep down he knew better. He saw how addiction was destroying everything he loved and made a choice to change his life and begin the long road of recovery.

At first, he did not want to return to Mille Lacs because he knew the pressure he would face back at home, and that the only way he would make it through recovery would be to isolate himself from old friends who were still using.

People say the only thing as lonely as hiding addiction is going through recovery alone. So, this young man would spend hours online, looking for others who were on his same journey, hoping to find just one more person who was going through the same thing. He was also determined to help others while he worked on helping himself.

He tried working in substance abuse recovery but was told "no," due to his record. But the more he was told "no," the more determined he became to help others. He did something very bold — he began documenting his recovery and sharing it online with the public, taking his message of hope to the community.

Everywhere he went — whether the market, sweat lodge, or community events — he would talk with people trying to figure out a way he could help. He describes that first year as a year of failure, but he said that the more people who died, the harder he would try. He said failure helped motivate him.

He decided that leading group recovery meetings could be a way of helping others, and a way of finding others on his same journey. At four meetings each week, he would sit there alone for the entire hour, waiting for someone else to walk through that door, but for the longest time, nobody came. Months went by of sitting by himself, four times each week.  

Most people would have given up after just one week, but this young man never gave up, even though he was openly ridiculed for wanting to change his life. Others laughed at him for the crime of having hope.

During that first year of being sober, Mille Lacs County walked away from our law enforcement agreement. Dealers and gang members from other states thought District I was a police-free zone, and they began moving in.

As the drugs became more plentiful, this young man saw people who were once healthy begin falling into the same hole of addiction he had just crawled out of. He saw the young, the Elders, and the children all hurt by the pain of losing family members to overdoses. He saw the negative feelings of the community poisoning the community. Drug-use seemed to be normalized.

He saw a community ruled more by gangs, drugs, and death than by traditions that affirm and celebrate life. He knew that was backwards.

After sitting alone at so many meetings, waiting for someone else to walk through that door — one day, that door finally opened. In walked another Band member who also wanted a different life. And this Band member kept coming back. After a few more weeks, another person came. Then another, and another. These Band members became deeply connected with each other, by sharing the same goal of living sober.

They decided they wanted t-shirts for their group, but they needed a name. They decided to call themselves the Sober Squad. And the group continued to grow.

The young man was Mille Lacs Band member Colin Cash.

Colin’s crusade began just three short years ago. Since then, Sober Squad has grown from an idea in one man’s mind, to becoming the fastest growing recovery movement in Minnesota, with almost 3,000 members in its online group. There are over 200 members in the District I group, and there are seven chapters all across the State: Hinckley, Fond du Lac, St. Cloud, Brainerd, Bemidji, Minneapolis, and Grand Rapids.

Just here in District I, at least 25 Band members have become sober and stayed sober through help and support from Sober Squad. That’s 25 families in District I that are healing, and nearly 100 children whose lives now have hope because their caregivers had the courage to choose a life of recovery.

A few years ago, one of the biggest problems we had in the war on addiction was getting people help when they actually wanted to be helped. That exact moment when somebody reaches rock bottom and decides to ask for help can be fleeting. It can last just an hour or two. It can happen in the middle of the night or on weekends, when health services are closed.

And if help is not provided at that moment, the opportunity can be lost. What began as ride-sharing to Sober Squad meetings has become a statewide network of getting people immediate help when they ask for it.

Sober Squad members will give rides to the hospital or detox, and sit with that person until a bed is ready, even helping that person through the Rule 25 process — so that often, as soon as they are released, an inpatient program is ready to take them in.

They stay connected during treatment, and when the person is ready to return home, there is something scheduled every night of the week to help that person stay sober.

If you talk to Colin, he is humble about all that has been accomplished. He will tell you that while he might have started something, it is the collective hard work and strength of every Sober Squad member that is making the change. The membership are the leaders.

Sober Squad and other groups began working together to hold smudge walks, host community events and fundraisers, and take back control of our reservation from the drug dealers. But they have done so much more than that.

To all of you on the "Squad" who are members of other groups, or who support these groups, I want you to know this:   You are doing something incredible. Working together, you are changing the social norms on our reservation. You are changing how people think!

No longer does going to prison make anyone a "man" or "woman." No longer is using drugs considered okay. And whether it is heroin, pills, or weed, selling drugs, threatening others, and making people feel fear — those are no longer signs of power in our community. Those are signs of weakness and cowardice.

Today, recovery is what people look up to. Recovery entails actual strength and true courage. The heroes are those brave warriors who are fighting addiction — all of you who are taking back control over your lives and trying to help others discover the freedom of life without addiction — and how good it feels to be part of life, rather than just watching life go by. To know the beauty of our culture, of who we are, of who we were meant to be.

Sober Squad is not part of a Band government program.  

These are just Band member warriors, deeply committed to helping our community, out of love for our community. When Band member groups like Sober Squad partner with government, there is nothing we cannot achieve together!

It has been said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I have just two words to say to all the new warriors in this room: Keep going!

To our Elders who fought addiction decades ago, and came out on the other side, and who are serving as cultural and spiritual mentors to our young people today as they find recovery, chi miigwech for sharing your wisdom and supporting these new warriors!

There are many lessons we can take away from this story, but the main one is this: You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. We are resilient people who get up after being knocked down and continue fighting. If your cause is just, the right people will find you.

A year of hope and promise

The power of individual Band member warriors can never be underestimated. We honor those Band members today.

We honor our tribal police officers who stuck with us for the past three years, and now have the huge task of cleaning up the reservation.

We honor every Band member who has the courage to stand up against crime, stand up against injustice, and let your voices be heard.

All of you working together provide a light to Band members caught in dark tunnels. You are the light in our community.  Chi miigwech to all of you for making 2019 a year of hope and promise.

One of the great things about the job of Chief Executive is that you get to meet and talk with so many Band members about their dreams for our community. From these conversations, one thing I know is true: Band members are tired of negativity in politics, tired of sadness, and tired of the anger.

But I believe we are turning a corner. The future is looking bright for many reasons. First, our public safety crisis with Mille Lacs County is now over. Last summer, after a year of negotiations that appeared to be going nowhere, Mille Lacs County suddenly dropped its demands.

Together we signed a new Joint Powers Agreement in September.

This agreement has restored the authority of our tribal police officers to enforce state criminal law, and to work together with Mille Lacs County deputies. For the Band, this new agreement is actually better than the previous agreement.

With our lawsuit filed in 2017, the matter of our reservation boundary is now in the federal court system and will be decided there. This lawsuit may take several years to resolve, but so far, the first ruling of the federal judge sided with the Band.

It is too soon to make any assumptions about how this case will end, but we have the best attorney in the nation working on our case: Marc Slonim, who also won our 1837 Treaty rights case in the Supreme Court. We have good reason to feel hopeful.

It has also been a great year for American Indians — and especially Native American women. For the first time, our new President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is a woman — Chairwoman Cathy Chavers, from Bois Forte. For the first time ever, we have two American Indian women in the United States House of Representatives.

I believe we have also started a bright new chapter with the State of Minnesota. Yesterday, our first Native American Lieutenant Governor was sworn into office!

The second most powerful seat in the Executive Branch of state government is now held by Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation. 

Governor Walz understands tribal sovereignty — he will be a wonderful governor for all Minnesotans, including Native Americans.

Our new State Attorney General, former Congressman Keith Ellison, will take the time to get to know us and our issues, and will do a great job.

Finally, one of our former Mille Lacs Band Education commissioners, Dennis Olson, has just been appointed by Governor Walz to the Cabinet-level position of Commissioner of Higher Education for Minnesota. Dennis is a Fond du Lac Band Member and has been serving as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

And there has been a shift of power in the Minnesota State Legislature, as well as in Washington D.C. No longer is the state Legislature or the U.S. Congress controlled by just one political party.

These elections have huge importance for our Band, because it can mean the difference between policies that respect tribes versus policies that can harm us.

The Mille Lacs Band has good friends in both political parties and will continue to support those who support us.

We face the coming year with a new hope for the future of the Band, the state, and our country. But we will continue to stay in the fight until the final bell sounds. Because we always go the distance in our battles.

Our Department of Natural Resources, led by Commissioner Bradley Harrington Jr., had a busy year across all areas.

Our fish hatchery has been a huge success. Since 2016, we have been harvesting eggs from speared and netted ogaa (walleye), and have been hatching them indoors. Our DNR staff redeveloped the old wastewater treatment ponds and turned them into a fish nursery.

Now, after the ogaa are hatched, they are transferred to the ponds, where they grow more, and eventually stock area lakes.

The DNR also obtained a federal grant to study ogaa, which may result in three scientific papers being published in national journals, putting the Band on the forefront nationwide in using technology for fish rehabilitation.

Another exciting development has been the upgrade of our GIS system. Band members can go online and see Band-owned lands, and see what lands are available for residential leasing, and for bow, shotgun, or rifle hunting.

A major focus of 2018 has been on doing everything possible to protect our manoomin, or wild rice. We faced down many threats this year — environmental, industrial, economic, and political.

We worked to convince Governor Dayton to veto a dangerous bill pushed by industry that would have removed a water quality standard designed to protect wild rice from industrial pollution. The new law would have allowed higher levels of sulfates into wild rice waters. It would have exempted Minnesota from having to abide by the federal Clean Water Act.

Instead of signing the bill, Governor Dayton signed an executive order establishing a wild rice task force.

But we were concerned because the task force has heavy representation from the same industries that wanted to lift wild rice protections. Through an exercise of sovereignty, the six bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe formed our own task force, shared our science with one another, and wrote our own Tribal Wild Rice Task Force Report. This report is based on our scientific and cultural expertise and has just been released. There is no entity in Minnesota — including the State — that is better at managing wild rice than the tribes are.

2019 Directives

For 2019, I hereby direct Commissioner Bradley Harrington to develop a food sovereignty program for the Band. Gaining more control over our food system is an immediate need.

Climate change is already disrupting and threatening agriculture in many states, and these changes may be permanent. Restoring our Native food systems and Native food trade is an immediate and basic need for the continued survival of all Native people.

To gain control over our food systems, we must launch our own agricultural program. We must also build understanding among Band members, including our youth, so I further direct you to involve Band members in planning this effort — including gardeners, harvesters, and those who fish and hunt. Band members must be involved in launching our food sovereignty effort.

2018 has also been a busy year for Community Development, led by Commissioner Percy Benjamin, with major projects completed and in progress. The Meshakwad Community Center in District III was completed this year.

This is a beautiful multi-purpose building in the Hinckley area for all Band Members. Ceremonial buildings are also being renovated in all three districts, and the new District I Clinic is on target to open in late spring.

Housing in all Districts is always a priority. In our government, we have a Housing Board made up of Band members. They make housing policy for the Band. Over the past year, our Housing Board has become much more visible.

They have been going out to each district to hold meetings that are open to Band members. Right now, all but one person on the Board is an Elder! Chi Miigwech to these Elders for their hard work to improve housing!

Last year, I announced that Community Development was working on a program to move Band members out of rental housing and into home ownership. This is still the priority. For 2019, I hereby direct Commissioner Percy Benjamin to launch a rent-to-own policy for Band-owned homes this year.

For eligible tenants, every dollar a Band member pays each month for their housing will go toward their down payment on purchasing that home.

I further direct Commissioner Benjamin to work on creating Housing "sectors," which are different categories of homes in certain neighborhoods. One of those sectors will be a Zero Tolerance Zone. This will be a neighborhood for Band members who live a substance-free lifestyle. This is an idea and request that came directly from Band members.

Commissioner Benjamin, please work on legislation to offer the Band Assembly to make this happen this year.

The biggest challenge Housing faces right now involves vandalism of homes. This is one of the symptoms of the drug epidemic.

Time and time again, just when our crew is nearly finished with a home and it is ready for a Band member to move into, the home will get broken into and destroyed by vandals looking for anything they can steal and sell. Vandals go so far as to strip out all the copper wiring. When this happens, and the crews have to start over, it can be another nine months before repairs are finished again, and sometimes the same home is destroyed again.

In response, the crews have been boarding up more homes while they are working on them to protect the asset, but that has not been enough.

They are looking at installing video security systems, which will not be cheap, but it is cheaper than the home being destroyed. This is where we need help from Band members.

If you see something, say something.

The Band will also be providing 30 home loans for Band members for private home ownership, which will greatly assist Band members in the urban area.

There are many exciting developments happening in our Education Department, led by Commissioner Rick St. Germaine. Our language program is growing fast! For the first time this year, we have an immersion class in the lower school, combining Kindergarten and first grade. Our language program now employs 20 people, ranging from language trainees to First Language Speakers, who work at different sites according to the needs of the students. Commissioner St. Germaine, I direct you to work with Assistant Commissioner Boyd to further expand our language programs for children in Districts II and III.

This is also the first year of an all-year school calendar at Pine Grove Leadership Academy. Research has shown that it is hard for young children to retain all they have learned over long summer breaks, so this year at Pine Grove, students will have several shorter breaks throughout the year rather than one long break.

Our Niigaan Program has been doing amazing things with youth programs this year in all districts, including several basketball camps and a leadership camp at Big Sandy Lodge. There are so many exciting youth opportunities right now, that there is no excuse for any child to ever be bored.

The greatest challenge we face with our children and youth today is supporting our youngest victims of the drug epidemic. This past year, more than 300 Band children were in foster care because their parents were unable to care for them. A special chi miigwech to all our foster care families.

The caseload of our social workers is much higher than nearly any county in Minnesota. The hiring of more social workers is being fast-tracked, but that is not the whole answer.  

Last year, I conducted an executive inquiry to investigate our current programs involved with out-of-home placement. We hired two attorneys who specialize in Indian child welfare issues, and they confirmed what we all suspected: the current system is not working well.

The good news is that since August, we have seen a dramatic decrease in out-of-home placement. Fewer than ten children were removed over the past five months!

We need our own Mille Lacs Model of family preservation.  For 2019, I hereby direct all commissioners to work together to make this a top priority. We need one program that will collaborate across all areas to keep our children safe, and to help them heal and be healthy.

Family Services needs to be moved to new space, where families working on reunification can spend time together in a supportive, safe environment. I further direct you to involve Band member input in overhauling the program.

We also need more help for our children. Children who are exposed to chronic, prolonged traumatic experiences can suffer physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive harm that can last their entire lives.

The Education Department recently completed a plan to help children and youth who carry around PTSD, or trauma from their past experiences.

It will use a therapy model that focuses on problem-solving and will be done in a supportive environment to help children begin to recover. A winter camp pilot project was held last year at the Immersion Grounds which had dramatic results, so we know this can work.

Commissioner St. Germaine, I hereby direct you to make launching this program a priority for 2019 and direct the other commissioners to work with you to make this happen.

In the area of scholarships, we need to examine how we are serving our college-student Band members. At the community college level, per capita payments are disqualifying students from receiving certain kinds of aid.

Young parents who go back to school must choose between using their per cap to pay for college or paying for food for their families. At the graduate level, we have young Band members who are working hard to get their advanced degrees in critical professions who face the same problem, and face debt that can be in six figures.

We need to look at how to better support our students, and what to expect back from them in return. Band member Ben Sam is a prime example of a young man who is getting his Doctorate in physical therapy, but who always finds time for community service. This is a win-win for all. Chi miigwech to all our hard-working college students — you are our future!

In the area of Health and Human Services, our new Four Winds Treatment Center — the only tribally-owned treatment center in Minnesota — just completed its first year of offering a cultural recovery program.

This has been a great success. More than 170 Band Members have been helped by Four Winds. Miigwech to Nicole Anderson, Bobby Eagle, and all the staff who are running this wonderful recovery program.

Administration has had its hands full this year with vacancies in other areas. In late 2018, Community Development Commissioner Percy Benjamin took over leadership in Administration until a new Commissioner of Administration can be ratified, and he has been doing an outstanding job of leading the commissioners. Melissa Baabiitaw Boyd was ratified this Fall as the Assistant Commissioner of Administration, and she has very quickly proven herself as an excellent administrator.  Miigwech to both of you for your good work.

Assistant Commissioner Boyd, for 2019, I hereby direct Administration to expand supportive services for our employees by creating an employee development plan that is customized for each worker. These plans will include professional development goals that improve skills and reflect the employee’s own goals. By investing in the future of each employee, we will have happier and healthier employees.

Further, the Department of Labor is currently under-utilized by Band members. I direct you to revamp DOL and expand the number of Band members served, across all three districts. DOL is the key to unlocking the potential of Band members who are unemployed or underemployed, and helping them to be successful.

I also direct Administration to work with Education and DOL to develop early childhood programs in the outer districts this year, to provide childcare opportunities to working families.

Finally, the Corporate Commission led by Joe Nayquonabe Jr. has had a very good year. Gaming distribution to the Band was seven percent higher last year.

This was due to the success of the Property Improvement Plan, along with new restaurants and new gaming experiences. We envision this performance continuing in the future, and I’ve been advised that we are already on pace to have a record year.

The hotels had one of their best years yet, increasing revenue at both the DoubleTree in St. Louis Park and in St. Paul.

Even though the market is getting tougher and more competitive, we were able to host large events such as the Super Bowl, which boosted performance.

Our Band member bonus program is working well — this guarantees a $15 per hour minimum wage to all Band members that work in our businesses. Our Band member front line associates in this program have earned nearly $700,000 in bonuses.

Finally, to all Commissioners: I direct you to complete the strategic planning process this year, with Band member participation. This process must include a plan to educate Band members about our budget, so that the community can participate in a meaningful way in setting budget priorities.

Honoring hard work

Many other exciting events happened in 2018, including the honoring of a warrior from the past. On November 20, with the support and involvement of her family, we renamed the government Center after former Chief Executive Marge Anderson.  

That building is now officially named the Biidaabinookwe Government Center. Miigwech to the Anderson family for allowing us to memorialize Chief Executive Anderson in this special way.

There are new developments with the confederation of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT), as well, which we are a member of. All Bands must follow the MCT Constitution. In 2017, the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the MCT voted to hold a Constitutional Convention. This is a process to consider changes to the Constitution.

Last summer, the TEC agreed that each Band would select delegates to represent us at the constitutional convention meetings, but some MCT members demanded that the Band governments have no role in the selection process.

This past fall, we were asked to submit the names of our Mille Lacs Band Delegates — which was a challenging thing to do without having any involvement in the process.

 Via Facebook and emails, our Government Affairs team put out a call to interested Band members to come forward as delegates. The only requirement was to fill out a form about why they wanted to be a delegate.

We are very grateful to those Band members who officially came forward to take on this work.

They have a table in the foyer here today, with informational material.

These are smart, involved Band members who are deeply committed to our community. They are also concerned about how they can represent over 4,700 Mille Lacs Band members without more information about what Band members want.

Our delegates have many questions about the pros and cons of making different changes to the Constitution that are being discussed, and the impact it could have on our division-of-powers form of government.

They are not there to push their own agendas; they want to push an agenda that reflects what you, the Band members, want. They are not there to achieve short-term changes; they are thinking one hundred years into the future!

To do this, they need more information about your concerns, and have requested the government’s help in getting that feedback.

If you haven’t already filled out the survey on your tables, please do so, because you will need to turn this in before you can receive your gift.

To all who have already filled these out, miigwech. Delegates need your input, because the best government is the government closest to the governed.

 There are many new warriors who have come forward this past year. Band members have been organizing in their districts, holding meetings about their local concerns, even doing research and sharing information with other Band members. Many times, in the past, the Band government has tried to get community advisory councils off the ground in each district, but these never took hold for very long.

What is different with these new groups is that, just like Sober Squad, these new groups were started by Band members, not the Band government.

First Lady Michelle Obama wrote, "Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?" All over, Band members are getting busy in our community, as activists, working for the world we want and know we should have. 

This year, small grants will be available to Band community groups, which they can use to support their work. Look for more information about these grants in the coming months, and chi miigwech to all our community activists!

I also want to honor another group of warriors who don’t get thanked very often: our everyday employees, the people who come to work each day or night, who are working hard to make a decent living and raise their families on a modest income.

These are the workers who do the work that many of us cannot do or don’t want to do: The people who plow snow and shovel sidewalks. The people who wash dishes and wash windows. Those who are vacuuming floors and cleaning bathrooms at midnight while most of us are sleeping. Those who open the doors in the morning, who make sure the water flows.  

Work is an honorable thing. We honor those who work hard, and who go home at the end of their shift to even more responsibility.

We honor the grandmother who cleans hotel rooms during the day, then goes home and cleans the house. We honor the dad who cooks in our restaurants, then comes home to change diapers for his babies and cook some more. 

We honor those who do for their families and do for others, who preserve the beadwork, our stories, the language, and the traditions of the Band.

For those of you who work every day, you know the satisfaction of providing for your family. You know the joy of giving. You know the meaning of hard work — as our ancestors did.

We thank the Band members who work hard, the people with the strong backs. You are the backbone of the community.

We honor those who give to the community rather than take from it.

Those who live the best of our traditions; those who share their manoomin and venison with the Elders; those who foster children; those who served our country and now serve as our ogichidaag and ogichidaakweg. We honor those who don’t complain, don’t beg for handouts, and don’t ask for more than they need. There are Elders in our community who have lived this way their entire lives, and after working hard, have quietly retired without any fanfare — some so quietly that many never knew about it.

They did the work that needed to be done, without expecting anything in return other than the satisfaction of doing a good job for their families and their community.

There is one person I want to acknowledge today who was one of our longest-serving employees, who worked his whole life, and who truly lives our Anishinaabe values and is a role model for others.

Last year, Elmer Nayquonabe had to have some surgery. He had a long recovery and had to stay home longer than he had planned. After almost 40 years of working for the Band, without a retirement party or even a gift card, his working days came to a close. He did not complain about that to me or anyone else, because Elmer is not the kind of person who worked to be thanked — he worked to serve others.

At this time, Elmer, can you please stand or wave your hand? On behalf of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, chi miigwech to you, Elmer, for your lifetime of dedication to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

I also want to briefly acknowledge those Band Members who recently retired this past year:

Barb Benjamin Robertson – 20 years of service to the Band!

Carmen Weous – 30 years! (And by the way, Carmen loves work so much that after retiring, she came back to help part-time in my office.)

Frances Davis – 43 years of service to the Band!

Chi miigwech to all of you, and to all the long-serving employees of the Band, whose names you will see on the screens later.

Staying in the ring

If you walk downstairs to where the Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police have their office, outside their door is a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt. It says:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

I find inspiration every time I read that. To me, it’s about the meaning of public service, and staying in the ring.

The Tribal Police Department is a great example of those who do their duty with courage every single day.

It has now been 30 years since I first took the Oath of Office as Commissioner of Administration for Chairman Arthur Gahbow in 1989.

He was a man of great vision, and even those who disagreed with him thought he was a man of great courage. He, Roger Jourdain, and Wendell Chino were men in the Arena.

These men laid the foundations for generations to come. Later came Chief Executive Marge Anderson. These leaders were in the arena, fighting the good fight so that we can have better lives. That’s what it’s all about.

Many fans of boxing will tell you that the reason they love the sport is not because they enjoy seeing a fighter get knocked down.

What they love is the thrill of seeing that fighter get back up — and keep fighting.

What I know is true about the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is that we are a community of fighters who are resilient. We are a community of second-chances.

None of us goes through life alone, and none of us are perfect.

Some of the strongest warriors among us are those who have been knocked down, who know the feeling of failure, but who refuse to stay down. These are the people in the arena.

Soldiers, police officers, and our everyday employees who choose public service — They chose to enter the fight. They are in the arena.

Every parent, grandparent, auntie, or uncle who believes in our youth and refuses to give up on them, they are in the arena.

There is a famous movie about the redemption that comes after a prison sentence, and at the end the narrator says: "Hope is good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

As we enter 2019, I hope that you are as optimistic as I am.

I have faith in this community. I have faith in the goodness of our people. I have faith in the spirit and power that is in all Band members. I have faith that the darkest times are over, and I believe we are seeing the dawning of a new day.

We have the power to fight battles and the new warriors to fight them. We have the power to build a brave new community that is safe. We have the power to keep the peace in our homes and on our homelands. We have the power to save each other, and power to save ourselves, to choose the Good Life.

We have the will, the courage, and the hope to envision a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

We choose to face the dawning of a new day, and a new year, with strength, unity, and hope! Miigwech!