2015 State of the Band Address: Protecting the Gift


By Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, February 2, 2015

Each year the Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band addresses the community, reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to the one ahead. For her 2015 address, Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin focused on the theme of cultural sovereignty. We’ve reprinted Melanie’s full remarks in this issue for those who may have missed the speech. Miigwech to everyone who made this special event happen!

Aniin, Boozhoo! Madame Speaker, Members of the Band Assembly, Madame Chief Justice, Judges of the Court of Central Jurisdiction, my fellow Band members and honored guests: It is my duty under Band law and my honor as Chief Executive to deliver the 2015 State of the Band Address.

In our culture, we count years from one winter to the next. Our new year began with the Winter Solstice, when the sun stopped moving in the sky. An Elder told me that on that day, the Manidoog in the sun stops and looks over all of us on earth, to see how we are living.

Like the sun, today is a time for us, as a Band, to look back on the last year, to talk about our hope for the future and the issues, challenges and opportunities we face as an Indian Nation.

We must always keep in mind that each New Year is a gift, just as every new baby is a gift. Gifts must be cherished. Gifts that are fragile must be protected. We begin this New Year with hope for better things.

For many of us, life may not seem much different from a year ago. But there have been significant changes. The most important event from 2014 was our tribal elections. We said Miigwech to our outgoing officials, and welcomed in three new officials, proving again, that our democratic system works.

I’ve appreciated working with Speaker Beaulieu and the new Band Assembly. Miigwech for your service!

I’d like to share a few of the brightest highlights from the Executive Branch last year:

—We expanded physician services to Districts II and III.
—We added two Native physicians to our staff, and one Native Nurse Practitioner.
—Wonderful work was done on our Oral History Project and new friendships were made between Band Elders, and Dakota Elders.
—We launched a Wrap-Around program for Band members and families in crisis.
—We created a Bridge Academy in the DNR to attract youth into natural resource careers.
—Important work was done to restore Ogechie and Nammachers Lakes.
—The Tribal College grew and expanded.
—We are very close to gaining federal approval to reopen Pine Grove Learning Academy as a satellite of Nay Ah Shing School.

Last year, I told our commissioners to work on programming to help Homeless Band Members. I’m pleased to announce that we have remodeled the old “Budget Host” on 169, and it is now available to those in need of transitional housing at a nominal cost.

Also, last year at State of the Band, I announced that our investigation of the Tribal Police Department was concluded, and we had just received our law firm’s recommendations for moving forward.

The report called for the overhaul of our Tribal Police Department. I am very pleased to report that this work is in progress and has gone well. It is being led by our Interim Chief of Police, Jared Rosati.

Chief Rosati has done a great job building trust with Band Members, and has already built strong relationships with other county and tribal law enforcement agencies. The Band just entered into a data-sharing agreement with several other tribes, which should help us all reduce crime.

I am especially happy to announce that — for the first time I know of — violent crime on the reservation has decreased.

Our police officers have a difficult, sometimes dangerous job. To Chief Rosati and the other officers, Miigwech for your commitment to making our communities safe!

As you saw in the video earlier, for our businesses, 2014 was a good year for the Mille Lacs Band:

—Purchasing the two hotels in downtown St. Paul has proven to be a wise decision; both hotels performed very well this year.
—We now own an Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City, which should be equally successful. Many Elders have said they would like to see our new property, so we will be hosting a bus trip to Oklahoma City later this year when the weather is a little warmer!
—We opened The Rival House restaurant in St. Paul.
—Eddy’s was torn down and is being rebuilt as an upscale resort.
—We purchased an internet marketing company
—We are building a commercial laundromat
—We are building a medical center in Hinckley.
—And while gaming revenue is down across the country and in the region, our two casinos still performed well.
—Overall, I am happy to report that the financial State of the Band is strong.

Before our first casinos opened in 1991, Chairman Art Gahbow used to say, that gaming was a tool, but not the solution. Part of Art’s vision was that we would not be dependent on gaming. Art wanted us to invest gaming revenue into rebuilding our economy around many businesses. If gaming ever failed, he wanted us to have something to fall back on. Art wanted a diversified economy.

For the past 24 years, that has been our goal. During that time, we’ve explored different businesses, some successful, some not so much. Sometimes we kept businesses open, not because they were profitable, but because they provided a service and jobs for Band Members.

Today, for the first time in our history, every single business we own is making a profit. Most important: Although gaming declined across the Nation this year, we did not have to reduce our budget for Band Member services, because our non-gaming businesses did well.

While some other tribes must cut services when gaming declines, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe no longer depends on gaming alone.

We still have unmet needs, but due to careful, smart planning, the long-term financial outlook for the Mille Lacs Band has never been brighter. In that way, Art’s goal has been achieved!

To Art Gahbow’s family, I just want to say I am so grateful to have had a chance to work with Art, and to be mentored by him. I am also proud to have two of his grandchildren, Chasity and Christopher, working in my office. Miigwech to the Gahbow family for your contributions to our community.

We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. So I also want to acknowledge the dedication, hard work and commitment of former Chairwoman Marge Anderson. Marge devoted her life to this Band, and worked hard to carry on Art’s vision, which she was part of creating. Miigwech to Marge’s family for supporting her work and her sacrifice for the future of our Band.

In many ways, things have never been better. Today, many of us have nicer homes and better jobs than ever before. As Curt Kalk used to say, “You can tell things are getting better, because you don’t hear the cars anymore when they’re pulling into the parking lot.”

Any Band Member can afford a college degree if they want one, and they can get Master’s Degrees, or become doctors or lawyers. This spring, two Mille Lacs Band Members will graduate from law school.

As a government and in business, we came very far, very fast. But the State of the Band is not just about economics. As Chief Executive, it is my job to look beyond the ledger sheet. Because our community is so much more than that.

We have used our tribal sovereignty to achieve great things: Self-Governance, gaming, and our treaty rights.

But when we look long and hard at our community, every one of us in this room knows that we still face serious challenges. There are still threats to our families, our children, and our unborn future generations.

A few weeks ago, Band Members received a letter from myself, Speaker Beaulieu, and Representative Blake. This letter was about a painful issue that has become a crisis for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe: The number of our babies born addicted to opiates.

This is currently the single greatest threat to the future of the Mille Lacs Band.

Minnesota has the highest rate of Native American, opiate-addicted babies in the United States. It was heart-breaking to learn that we are one of the hardest-hit tribes in the State.

In late December, I held a series of Elder Meetings in each District, and we discussed this crisis. The Elders were deeply moved, and extremely concerned.

One thing all agreed on: Babies are our most precious gift from the Creator, and our main job in life is to protect that gift.

I asked for feedback and ideas. I have been amazed by the many suggestions from Elders, expressions of support and commitment to do whatever they can to protect our babies.

Of the hundreds of ideas, there were a few common themes. First, protecting new life begins before a woman becomes pregnant. Our little ones are learning right now how to be parents, from the adults who take care of them.

Second, we all know women don’t become pregnant on their own. Our young men are responsible for those lives as much as the women, and have a duty to help that baby come into this world healthy. As families, we must do more to hold all of our sons and grandsons accountable for raising, caring for, and providing for their children.

Third, protecting that sacred new life is also a community responsibility. Everyone has a role in stopping this epidemic, especially the family and Elders. I was told again, and again: The family members know who is using, and they know who is selling. Many Elders said that people who think they are protecting their family, by not turning them in, are just as responsible for these babies as those who are selling the drugs. It is not enough for the government to have a zero tolerance policy. Every family in this room must have a zero tolerance policy.

Fourth, Elders also said that the family must do what it takes to get the woman help. If a woman gets medical help early, her chances of having a healthy baby are much higher. Also, I’m told that many of these girls have no support systems, and feel totally alone. Those suffering from addiction often isolate themselves. It can be hard to get involved when someone is pushing you away. But we must.

Fifth, Elders have said that this is a community-wide problem that requires a community-wide response. We are working right now to plan a Band-wide summit about this issue this winter, and we will include sessions for our youth as well. Our local Mille Lacs Band Chapter of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations (or WEWIN), has taken a leadership role in organizing this conference. Miigwech to all the WEWIN members for their commitment to stopping this epidemic. They are passionate women who care deeply for our future, and anyone wishing to join them should contact Shelly Diaz.

Of all the suggestions, however, there was one common theme that came up time and time again: We MUST, as families, as a community and as a government, unify around our values, our culture and our language. We need our culture in order to live healthy lives.

I want to speak a bit about “why” this problem has hit us so hard. In 2015, we still deal with the aftermath of 150 years of attempts to destroy our culture and our identity. Forced assimilation, attempted genocide, relocation and boarding schools might be a thing of the past, but the ghosts of those policies still haunt us today.

Science has now proven what our Elders say is true — that we have “blood memory”. This means that we carry the feelings and memories of our ancestors in our DNA. We can feel the hurt they felt when they were removed from their parents and placed into the boarding schools. We can feel how sad they were to be separated from their brothers and sisters, and not being able to speak their language.

People don’t decide to ruin their lives with alcohol and drugs. Those who are addicted are trying to fill an emptiness inside of them. They are hurting inside. They are trying to numb the pain that our Elders say is caused by historical trauma.

Maybe we cannot ever be free of this blood memory. But we can begin to heal ourselves, and heal our children, by reclaiming our language and culture. Our Elders say that taking care of our Anishinaabe spirit is the only way to ease this pain.

I was told by a spiritual leader that a child’s spirit asks permission from the Manidoog to come to this earth and sometimes chooses who her parents will be. He said the Manidoog love every single one of us, all the same, and if they go to ceremonies and are raised in our culture, they will understand how special they are from a young age. They will be less at-risk when they are teens, and they will pass that love to their own children.

Our spirits need to hear our language, to be in our ceremonies, and to live our culture. We can regain our strength as a people. Because our strength as Anishinaabe is also part of the “blood memory.” Our bodies remember who we were before the Great Trauma. Our resilience and strength are also part of our heritage!

How do we find this strength? In Federal-Indian law, tribal sovereignty is about territory our inherent right to govern ourselves. But the solution to this problem is and always has been a kind of sovereignty that we do not have to defend, because it can never be taken away by the Congress or the courts. It is not dependent on federal grants, or gaming revenue, or permission from any other government.

It is a kind of sovereignty that we can only lose if we choose to give it up. It is called Cultural Sovereignty.

Cultural Sovereignty is ancient, and predates the arrival of non-Indians. Cultural Sovereignty is our inherent right to use our values, traditions, and spirituality to protect our future. It goes much deeper than legal sovereignty, because it’s a decision to be Anishinaabe, to not just protect a way of life, but to practice living Anishinaabe, every day.

Cultural sovereignty is practiced through ceremonies, through relationships, and especially through language. It is what unites us, inspires us, and gives us hope for the future.

Before gaming, we had 80% poverty, but we were Anishinaabe Strong and our culture was thriving. Today, our cultural survival is threatened. Our Elders say that loss of culture is what is causing people to harm themselves and their family.

When people receive negative messages about their identity, over many generations, they begin to internalize and believe those things which are lies. And when they believe those terrible things, they can act in terrible ways.

Our Elders say that it is our culture, our ceremonies, and our language that can overpower those negative messages. Because our spiritual beliefs teach our children how much the Manidoog love them, they learn how special they are, how beautiful they are.

There are no federal policies anymore forcing our children into boarding schools. There are no laws against us practicing our religion. Our cultural existence cannot be lost, or destroyed, unless we allow it.

Through cultural sovereignty, we can reclaim our strength and protect the gift of our children. Think for a minute about the Elders we have lost, from the most recent Generation that practiced cultural sovereignty: Jim Clark, Raining Boyd, Millie Benjamin, Melvin Eagle just to name a few.

When we look at the way they lived their lives, these people did not care a lot about money. They did not care about better cars or nicer homes. They knew who they were. These people did not have to spend time thinking about culture — they were too busy living it. This brought them contentment. They did not have to learn about their cultural identity — because it defined everything about them.

These people — and there are still many among us — carry their culture with them. But this is not just about age. Technically, I am an Elder now. I can guarantee you there is nothing magical that happens to a person when they turn 55. We do not become wise overnight.

We have young Elders who do not know who they are. But in contrast, we also have young adults who have devoted their lives to living Anishinaabe Strong, who do. Being Anishinaabe Strong is a state of mind, body, spirit and emotion, and everyone in this room can have that! We can all start now. Those who truly live our culture, regardless of their age, are the soul of our Nation.

For too many of us, there is something missing. Our political and economic universe might be governed by federal-Indian law, but we are defined by our moral vision and culture as Anishinaabe people.

If we save our culture, we save ourselves, we save our children, and we save future generations. Just like our schools teach students how to study and think in the tradition of western education, we need to reteach ourselves how to think, act and be the Anishinaabe Strong of traditional Elders and of our young people who live Anishinaabe culture. A few young people come to mind:

Algin GoodSky, is a 17-year-old Band Member from Minisinaakwaang who attended NCAI’s national youth summit. He has been working to stop the Sandpiper Pipeline project. Last summer, Winona LaDuke convinced Algin and his brother Harvey to join their group on a 10-day horseback ride to Bemidji. Winona said that Algin and Harvey sang for the group every day and were the heart of this journey. Algin also attended an Open House in McGregor held by Enbridge, the company that wants to build the pipeline. Those corporate executives did not expect to see a young man in full regalia, speaking for the water, manoomin and earth attend their Open House. Algin was exercising his cultural sovereignty.

Trina Fasthorse, is a 16-year-old Band Member from St. Paul. No one in her family danced, but with their support, she taught herself how. Now, she teaches dancing every Wednesday night at the American Indian Center in Minneapolis to anyone who wants to learn. She also serves as a Peer Mentor for other Native youth, and is learning Ojibwe. Trina is exercising her Cultural Sovereignty.

Syngen Kanassatega and Aarik Robertson, who will graduate from law school this spring. Both were inspired to become attorneys because they wanted to make a difference. This is what happens when you have strong families who teach the importance of culture, our values, and serving the community. Those families were practicing cultural sovereignty in how they raised their sons, and I’m sure that one day those young men will be leaders of the Mille Lacs Band.

I also think of our little ones who are learning Ojibwe in our Head Start classrooms. One day I visited my 4-year old granddaughter, Danica, at school. I said something to her, and a teacher gave me a scolding look, and held up a sign that said, “No English!” That teacher was teaching cultural sovereignty!

Upon the advice of spiritual leaders and Elders, I am convinced that we must practice cultural sovereignty all day, every day, if we are to protect the gift of our future generations. This is the work of individuals and families, but Band government has a role.

For the Executive Branch, that work begins with our Commissioners. To fulfill my legal duties as Chief Executive under Band Statutes, I’m required to spend much of my time conducting relations with other governments. I provide leadership to the Commissioners, but under Band Statutes, only the Commissioners have authority to run the programs. I give them broad directives, but they make the decisions. These are big jobs.

I would like to introduce my Cabinet to you now, and ask that each of you stand:

Catherine Colsrud, our Commissioner of Administration.

Michele Palomaki, our Assistant Commissioner of Administration.

Samuel Moose, our Commissioner of Health and Human Services.

Suzanne Wise, our Commissioner of Education.

Percy Benjamin, our Commissioner of Community Development.

Susan Klapel, our Commissioner of Natural Resources.

And finally, our Master of Ceremonies today, Joseph Nayquonabe, our Commissioner of Corporate Affairs.

I also invite Todd Matha, our Solicitor General, and John Gerdener, our Commissioner of Finance, to stand.

We are not always very good at thanking those who have the courage to take on leadership positions, but each of these people works hard for the Band. To all of you, Miigwech, for all you do.

As Chief Executive, my role is to assign the Commissioners goals. And so, for 2015, I have the following directives for the Commissioners:

To the Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Samuel Moose: You have your work cut out for you. But let me be clear: The opiate crisis is everyone’s issue. I hereby direct my entire Cabinet to collaborate with you, as the lead, in fighting this epidemic.

For 2015, I direct you to work with our spiritual leaders to develop a culturally-based prenatal program for pregnant women and their partners, with a focus on our spiritual and cultural traditions around childbirth and parenting for both partners.

I further direct you to develop a program for expectant mothers who need help with addiction, so as to provide the greatest chance of delivering a healthy baby, and recovering as a family, after the baby’s birth.

We need a program for foster care families to help them meet the spiritual and cultural needs of the children they take care of. We need an intensive cultural parenting program for those trying to be reunited with their children. And we need more social workers. With an average of 40 client cases per social worker, our staff are spread too thin.

Finally, several years ago, you and I developed a proposal that would provide one-stop services for families in crisis, but it was not adopted. Last November, Speaker Beaulieu and I with other Band officials toured a center in Arizona that achieves that goal. I direct you to bring back our proposal and work with the Band Assembly and the Courts to see if we can make this happen here at Mille Lacs.

To the Commissioner of Natural Resources, Susan Klapel: Our ancestors made great sacrifices to protect our land and preserve our rights. It was Art Gahbow’s dream to restore the reservation. I direct you to continue work toward that dream through purchasing lands important to the Band, so we can pass on that gift to our children.

We were here, taking care of Mille Lacs Lake, hundreds of years before Mille Lacs Lake became a sport fishery and we will be here hundreds of years from this day. Nobody cares more about the lake than the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Continue to partner with the State to restore the health of our walleye population.

The Creator gave us the sacred gift of manoomin, our wild rice. While the Nation’s attention has been focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, Enbridge has been quietly building capacity to pump even more oil than Keystone right through a path that could harm the Big Sandy Lake and Rice Lake watersheds. Your top priority in 2015 is to make sure we do everything in our power to protect this gift from the harm that could result from pipelines or mining.

To the Commissioner of Education, Suzanne Wise: Knowledge is a gift that once given, can never be taken away. For your position, exercising cultural sovereignty means that, above all else, your top priority for 2015 must be our tribal schools and the children attending them. We must see improved attendance, performance and graduation in the schools we run.

Teachers have such hard jobs. Our staff are committed, but they need more support to do the work they’ve been trained to do. We also need our best teachers to feel secure and want to work here. We should never have teacher vacancies like we have had recently, for so long. Our schools must become the kind of schools that teachers compete against one another to get into.

I direct you to develop a teaching recruitment plan. To attract and keep the best teachers, especially those who speak Ojibwe and to make sure our schools can afford to compete with the best schools in the State and the Nation.

To Commissioner of Community Development, Percy Benjamin: You have a very big job. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is outdated policies that no longer work for the Band or Band Members.

Just because we’ve always done something the same way doesn’t mean it’s the right way. I direct you and your staff to work with Commissioner Colsrud and the Housing Board to overhaul Community Development policies. Deliver a proposal to the Band Assembly that streamlines our policies to better work for Band Members.

We know it can be done. A great example is the recent change doing away with interest for home mortgage loans. Miigwech to you, Commissioner Colsrud and the Housing Board for that excellent work. We need more creative changes like that.

To protect the gift of family, we must make sure Band Members have safe neighborhoods. I further direct you to work on a plan that will provide more healthy recreation for kids and youth in Districts I, II, and III.

To Commissioner of Corporate Affairs, Joe Nayquonabe: Your biggest challenge in 2015 is to create well-paying jobs for Band Members in District II. While our businesses are doing very well, we need economic development for the East Lake area. We need creative solutions to address this challenge.

To the Commissioner of Administration, Catherine Colsrud and Assistant Commissioner of Administration, Michele Palomaki: Your challenge may be the biggest of all. Historically, for the Anishinaabe, certain people served as civil chiefs war chiefs and spiritual leaders. But when decisions needed to be made, our chiefs always consulted with our spiritual leaders.

This is why I created a Cultural Board last year, and asked the Drumkeepers to serve as this Board. Our Elders said that we needed to return to operating our government in a way that is respectful of our culture, traditions and language.

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees separation of Church and State. But this is a non-Indian idea. When the Congress wrote the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968, they left this out on purpose. There is no requirement of separation of Church and State for tribal governments.

As elected officials, many of us consult with spiritual leaders when we are looking for solutions. But to exercise cultural sovereignty, we need to bring spirituality back into our government, at all levels.

We do not need to look back in time 100 years to find examples. We only need to look back 15 years ago, to our 1837 Treaty Rights case. Joyce Shingobe reminded me of this recently, when she retold this story.

We had brilliant attorneys, and a strong case. But we did not rely on the non-Indian system, alone. We asked for help from Gitchi Manidoo. And with the other tribes, we organized the Waabanong Run which included a group of Anishinaabe runners who would carry the Eagle Staff to Washington D.C.

The day before the run began, a ceremony took place. The pipe was passed around. Cedar was put in the runner’s shoes, and prayers were said for the runners’, as they made their way to D.C.

Spirit dishes were put out at each ceremonial dance in the spring and fall throughout this time. A speaker for each ceremonial drum asked for help from the manidoog that surround our homes, for the runners, and for guidance for the Supreme Court judges.

A Pipe was gifted to us from the Lakota nation in South Dakota to help us in our struggle. A delegation of Lakota came and presented the pipe to us, and we continue to use it today to help us make decisions that will affect the generations ahead of us.

During the Waabanong Run, there were sweat lodges, fasting, and the Ceremonial Drums remained open during the entire time for runners, for the judges and for our people. Each day for nine days, the prayers went out to the Supreme Court Justices for their well-being and their families. The eagle staff was delivered in a fashion as old as Anishinaabe history: by runners.

At the end of the run, a pipe ceremony was held giving thanks for the delivery of the Eagle Staff.

The day of the Supreme Court hearing, spiritual leaders, advisors, and lawyers entered the building with the eagle staff. Our lawyers, as told by the spiritual advisor, wore cedar in their shoes. A Midewewin song ended the ceremony.

On March 24, 1999, the Supreme Court handed down their decision: We won. We retained our rights to hunt, fish and gather as outlined in the 1837 Treaty. That was Cultural Sovereignty.

In the past, when we practiced culture sovereignty alongside legal sovereignty, we have achieved great things, like the Treaty rights victory. And Miigwech to Joyce for sharing that story. We need to make sure our traditions and culture are part of everything we do as a government, and that is what I’m directing all of the Executive Branch to do today.

Teaching non-Indian employees how to be respectful of our culture is important, but spiritual leaders are telling me that we have Band Member employees who need this help more. There are many Band Members who didn’t grow up in the culture. They don’t attend ceremonies and may not have an Indian name, but often, this is not by choice.

I’m told that many have an emptiness inside of them, and can feel their Anishinaabe spirit longing for nourishment. Maybe they just don’t know how to begin or how to ask.

These Band Members are from all walks of life; some are young, some are old. Some are financially successful, some are unemployed or may suffer from addiction. Some of these Band Members are highly educated, and may be in leadership positions.

If we are going to save our culture, those who are leading our way to the future must practice cultural sovereignty as well. Think about the story of our Treaty Rights case. We need that back.

Commissioners Colsrud and Palomaki, your top priority this year is to work with our spiritual leaders, our Elders, and our Cultural Board, and follow their advice on how to bring our culture back into our daily government operations in a way that respects our values.

Maybe that means that every Band Member employee will be offered a meeting with one of our spiritual leaders, if they want, to talk one-on-one about how they can begin to live Anishinaabe Strong if they choose to and are not already. Our spiritual leaders have said they would be so happy to do this. They will help any Band Member who wants help connecting with our culture.

Maybe that means making sure all meetings begin in a good way, with an offering of asema. That’s how meetings used to begin.

Maybe that means creating a program for employees to learn Ojibwe. Wonderful teachers like John Benjamin are available to teach our employees. I require my staff to attend language class with John once a week. Our spiritual and traditional leaders will know how to help, but your role is to follow their lead.

To all the commissioners: Rely on the Band’s strategic plan, which is actually all about cultural sovereignty. By the end of this first quarter, I want a strategic plan from the Cabinet detailing how cultural sovereignty will be implemented in the Executive Branch. Commissioner Colsrud, it is your task to ensure this is completed.

As a Band, we have our challenges, but we also have opportunities. I saw many amazing things in 2014.

I saw 5000 American Indians coming together, with powerful Native pride, to protest the racist name of a professional football team.

I saw a new Band Assembly get elected and come together as a governing body, and I have seen them working hard, every day for the betterment of the community.

I saw Anishinaabe and non-Indian people from many places and Bands coming together to fight pipelines and mining that threatens Mother Earth.

It is amazing what happens when we come together, in big groups or small ones.

There was one small moment from last year that I recall. Nora Benjamin was driving home and saw a young Migizi, an eagle that was wounded on the side of the road. She called our DNR staff, who brought him to an animal hospital. A few weeks later, the eagle was well again. A few of us were there at Kathio as Henry Sam said a prayer. The Migizi was released, and he flew away.

As Chief Executive, my duties are defined by the Band Statutes and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution. My duties as an Anishinaabe woman are not really written any place.

When it comes to matters of culture and spirituality, I am the same as everyone else. I go to a spiritual leader, and I ask if they will take my asema. I ask for their advice, and I understand they expect me to follow their advice. So I try.

What I can do as the head of the Executive branch, is to ensure that Band Member employees have a chance to consult with spiritual leaders if they want to do so. I can make sure that our employees can take classes in language and culture. I can also give our spiritual leaders the space and time they need to reach out to the Band members.

I gave Obisan some asema today for a special purpose: I am seeking guidance for all of us, as individuals, as families, and as an Anishinaabe Band. I cannot stand up here and pretend that I have all the answers because I do not. The answers come from a much higher power.

But I do know this: We cannot survive as a people until we renew the cultural sovereignty that lives within each of us.

As Band members, we have many things in common.

We were born Anishinaabe.

We were each given gifts from the Creator, and given a special purpose.

It is our responsibility to find out what that purpose is.

Part of that purpose includes learning our language.

Part of that purpose is to learn our culture.

Part of that purpose is to keep our traditions.

Part of that purpose is to preserve a way of life; and

Part of that purpose is to pass these things along to our children and grandchildren.

Today, let us begin this New Year by seeking the peace and justice that is inside all of us.

Let us begin the process of restoring our cultural sovereignty to our clans, our families, and ourselves as individuals.

Let us work together to protect the gift of our youngest Band members. Our babies are the keepers of cultural sovereignty for the next generation.

Let us work together to protect the gift.

Like that Migizi who needed help and prayers, our community needs to rely on our culture in order to get well and be set free.

We have a long journey ahead, and many miles to go.

We will need to come together.

Let us begin this long journey together.


Rayna Churchill, Chief Justice
Honorable Chief Executive, principled members of the Band Assembly, my fellow Mille Lacs Band Members, employees and guests, welcome to the 2015 — State of the Band Address. It is my honor to provide you with the State of the Judiciary Address as prescribed by the Band Statutes.

I currently serve as the Chief Justice but I also serve as the Appellate Justice for District III. The Honorable Clarence Boyd, serves as the Appellate Justice for District I and the Honorable Brenda Moose serves as the Appellate Justice for District II. Please stand and be recognized. Thank you!

We are currently looking to fill the position of the District Court Judge. I’d like to give a tremendous thank you to Honorable Richard Osburn for his contribution to the role of the District Court Judge for the past six years. Thank you!

Our court system routinely hears cases involving civil and criminal matters which includes, but are not limited to, custody, adoption, guardianship, children in need of protective services, probate, child support, orders for protection, traffic, natural resources and conciliation. The Court does not hear juvenile matters because the statutes must be revised.

As indicated in 2014, the Courts are moving forward with our strategic planning and needs assessment. This is a four-tiered project in conjunction with Band Member Legal Aid, Family Services and the Peacemaking program. The Center for Court Innovation is conducting the needs assessment and will assist in the strategic planning as well as provide training and technical assistance. We are excited to re-engineer court operations so that we can continue to provide a forum where litigants can resolve disputes in a fair, independent, timely and accessible manner. Since it is a four-tiered project it is expected to take18 months to two years to complete. In July 2014, the four Band departments had a site visit with CCI to determine the action plan for the assessment, focus groups, interviewing the community members and departments with more to come.

The Mille Lacs Band Tribal Court is nearing completion of the 2011 grant which is expected to end in June 2015. Certain Band Statutes were rewritten as well as cataloging and scanning of court files. Additionally, the Guardian ad Litem training conducted under this grant resulted in the contracting of three Guardians ad Litem.

The objectives outlined in the 2012 grant are also moving forward by improving the security throughout the courtroom and court administration area, providing parents of Band Member children an attorney for legal fairness, and obtaining a Peacemaker. Our new Peacemaker, Laurie Vilas (please rise) is helping to establish an improved model of the peacemaking program. The Peacemaker will help settle disputes as a neutral third party in such cases as contested family matters, harassment, and civil cases.

As a reminder, the court calendar was added as a courtesy and to further enhance the judicial webpage on the Band’s website. The calendar is updated weekly and subject to change based upon motions, continuances, or rescheduling.

In 2014, the number of cases filed totaled 1664 of which 80 cases have not been adjudicated yet.

—New child support cases were filed totaled 219;
—The general civil cases totaled 1300;
—24 petitions for orders of protection were filed; and
—Lastly, Family type cases totaled 114, which consisted of Guardianships, Custody, Adoptions, Divorces, Paternity, Name Changes and Children in need of protective services.

This year the court system saw a spike in an area that we all hold dear to our hearts — that impacts our Mille Lacs Band children and our future generations. 33 is the number of cases involving Children in Need of Protective Services. The 33 cases affected 93 of our Band Member children in 2014. Twenty of the 93 represent the number of infants who were prenatally exposed and born with drugs in their system. Thirteen different types of drugs have been determined and some of these infants were exposed to multiple types of drugs. Some withdrawals are so severe that some infants need morphine to ease their pain of the withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately, when the Court tries to implement lifestyle changes for the parents of these children by ordering drug and alcohol testing, these parents object to the testing based on cultural grounds. In the past, the Court has pointed out to the parents that usage of drugs and alcohol is also not part of the Anishinabe culture.

These numbers are significant indicators that we as a Tribe need to rethink our current models and how we handle drug and alcohol problems within our community. I urge the Band and the community to reevaluate our programs to address the growing number of cases of drug and alcohol abuse for the sake of our young and generations to come.

In closing, my goal for the Tribal Court is to continue to move forward with the strategic planning and needs assessment so that we can ensure fair and impartial justice is being administered. Once again, as the Chief Justice of The Mille Lacs Band Court of Central Jurisdiction, I urge the Elected Officials, Appointed Officials, Band Members, Band employees, and all community members, including County officials, to work towards a common goal of making changes to end this increasing and alarming problem of addiction.

Thank you for attending the 2015 State of the Band Address.

Related: Gii Dodaiminaanig, Our Clan System