State of the Legislative Branch — Pandemic, Legislative Process, and Investments


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Good morning, all. We are doing things a little different this year due to national health issues we are all aware of, and, therefore, I would like greet all those in attendance online, and all those in attendance here today.

It’s that time again to talk about things and look forward to next year. The sun is low and the days are short, but the natural sense among people, is the knowledge that the days will get longer, the sun will climb, and brighter days are coming. This gives people thoughts of renewal and hope for better days this coming year.

During these short days, the old people from years ago spoke about sitting around listening to elders tell stories. It’s those times, and even today, a person will remember a single phrase that stays with them for the rest of their life.

I’m going to refer to some those phrases today from my past.

This is also the time chosen by our past leaders past to speak about government, matters that affect the people of the Band overall, and to share a sense of renewal and better days ahead.

Hopefully these words will find you whether you are on historic communities across the north, or the homes and apartments of metro areas across the state and nation. Whether you’re waiting for a ride, sitting at your kitchen table, or watching this on your phone someday in the future, it is with warm greetings and great respect that we in the Legislative Branch say to you all, “Boozhoo! We hope you are well today!”

This past year was unprecedented in memory for many of us.

I remember hearing an older person once use the word “fire” as a description of calamity, both natural and man-made, that can take lives, disrupt communities, and cripple nations.

There is a fire in the political world that needs to be sorted out in Washington, D.C. and nationally. We all can all help by not letting issues further divide us, agree to disagree, and continue our shared journey.

Locally there were stories of confrontation and yelling in the old community centers in public meetings, where those same people would be seen outside after talking and sharing a good laugh.

There was a fire this summer of social statement nationwide, by people of all social backgrounds, continuing the uncomfortable conversation of lifetimes of inequalities in this country because of a person’s skin-color. This stirred a nation to look in the mirror where many of us experienced a mental and emotional inventory.

But what did not discriminate for almost all of us is this pandemic.

The witness of human reactions to this pandemic now gives some insight to the pandemics in history books and the realization of the complexities of human behavior.

This pandemic can also be put into perspective regionally as one of many fires to befall the Anishinabe and our neighbors over time.

We all must be thankful to health professionals, parents, grandparents, and our children for caring for one another. We also offer our condolences to those who lost loved ones during this mental and physical test of nature.

The old people talked of flood stories and smallpox, termination and removal. Recent generations have witnessed firsthand the fires of alcohol and powerful drugs. These are times to take stock in the strength of our communities, support each other and try to remember and speak of the best of things. Someone will remember a phrase you say that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Improving the Legislative Process

Moving on now, I’ll highlight some of the many accomplishments of the Elected officials of the Legislative Branch, and staff that I have the pleasure of working with.

And I’ll close with what I believe to be the next major financial step for the Mille Lacs Band.

Under Mille Lacs Band Law, the Secretary-Treasurer has a dual role as Speaker of the Assembly for the Legislature.

All these positions of service and duty are tasked with being responsible for accomplishing set goals, and to improve the general welfare of the people within the specific authority granted by Mille Lacs Band law.

Among the duties of the Speaker of the Assembly are “To require the prompt recording of the Assembly’s acts and deeds.”
It is with great pride to announce on September 2, 2020 Legislative Order 30-20 was passed by this Band Assembly ordering live streaming of sessions to commence June 1, 2021.

The Band Assembly chambers have recently been retrofitted with 5 new large screens, a new audio video system, microphones, and a portable system for Band Assembly to broadcast from locations where connectivity will allow.
This live streaming will change the experience of Mille Lacs Band members who choose to listen to the processes in legislative sessions. Membership will see that government is made up of people, with flaws and strengths, insight and emotion, and be able to observe the many issues that are involved with tribal government moving forward.

Also by Legislative Order 27-20, passed on July 8, 2020, some legislative staff positions were reclassified to permanent level status. This is intended to aid in the transition of power within the Legislative Branch by having institutional staff available to assist incoming elected officials with historic knowledge to impact the learning curve of elected office.

I remember an older person saying that long time ago there was a person that walked through the village and talked out loud about things that concerned all the people. This person kept people informed with a common message that helped people know what was going on.

On December 2, 2020 this Band Assembly passed a bill, then Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin signed into law the creation of an Office of the Revisor of Statutes within the Legislative Branch of government. This was a project of Band Assemblies in years past that was brought across the finish line by the hard work and collaboration of this Legislative staff. Congratulations to all involved.

The Office of the Revisor of Statutes will independently care for the language in statutes for consistency and timeliness, prepare draft legislation for District Representatives, and the publication of statutes. Also key is the law authorizes the establishment of a Tribal Register where policies and official orders from the elected officials, appointed officials, and three branches of government can be accessed.

This leads to the announcement that the Statutes of the Laws of the Mille Lacs Band will be published for the first time in over 15 plus years in hard cover, soft cover, online, and searchable electronic form. Please congratulate staff attorney Hanna Valento for the hard work on this project, Legislative Counsel Adam Candler, Valerie Harrington and the collaboration of all staff to make this possible.

An important addition last year was the first Mille Lacs Band member as Commissioner of Finance in over 15 years, Mel Towle. Mel brings the unique perspective of being a Mille Lacs Band member, voices that perspective, and has the skillset to work productively with all involved and keep the finances of the Band his priority. Congratulations Mel.

Caring for Investments

No other elected position in Mille Lacs Band government is as specifically bound to overall financial matters than the Secretary-Treasurer.

There are two specific duties under Band law that were the driving force behind today’s report: “To receive and receipt for all monies paid into the Band treasury and safely keep the same until lawfully disbursed by formal appropriation” and “Investigate financial irregularities.”

In what may the hallmark project of this term is a first-time independent assessment of five non-gaming financial entities of the Mille Lacs Band.

During the gaming era, the Mille Lacs Band has responsibly put revenue to work in investment portfolios — the "war chest" or "nest egg," if you will, for unforeseen times both natural and man-made.

While carrying out duties, the knowledge came that many tribes across the nation do not have the internal resources to effectively manage investments. Tribal governments have come to rely on outside people, investments advisors, and fund management resources over the years. The Mille Lacs Band has been no different.

Nationally tribes are beginning to take a more active role in the management of financial assets.

Relying on outside financial investment services has existed for as long as the Mille Lacs Band has had money to invest, some 20 plus years, and resulted in long relationships built on friendship and trust.

Within the first six months of taking office, it became apparent there needed to be review of those investment relationships.
There were common sense questions about the investments of the Band where there were no ready answers — questions based on the duties of the Secretary Treasurer under Mille Lacs Band Law.

There is a basic position that has helped keep focus, and that is “Investment managers are not doing the Band a favor by simply investing our money; the Band is doing them a favor by allowing them to invest our money, and the Band must regularly inventory those services.”

Upon taking office, Commissioner of Finance Mel Towle believed financial services should be put out for bid regularly.

How does the Secretary Treasurer act in good faith and exercise great care in keeping the funds of the People of the Mille Lacs Band safe?

Staff began a nationwide search for a balance of financial expertise and experience of working with Native American tribes to perform a first time ever independent analysis of the investments of the Mille Lacs Band.

On July 16, 2020, the Mille Lacs Band Assembly authorized a contract between the Secretary-Treasurer and Sovereign Finance LLC to perform this evaluation.

Please extend thanks to Wendy Merrill, Christine Jordan, Adam Candler, Rich Berley, Mel Towle, Shawn O’Keefe, Brianna Boyd, and many others who offered advice, freely shared their knowledge on investments, and the unwavering support of our elected officials.

Finally, thanks also to the staff of Sovereign Finance LLC, Jeff Lamb, Todd Early, Courtney Montiero, and their respective staff.

The scope of the evaluation included five financial entities: the Benefits or 401Ks of the Mille Lacs Band government, Woodlands National Bank, the St. Paul Foundation, where Band funds were invested in 2011 for philanthropic purposes, and finally long-term and minor trust investment portfolios.

Of the first three, and I’ll be brief here for purposes of time. The Mille Lacs Band 401k benefits package received passing grades, the St. Paul Foundation received high marks for investment management of the Band funds, and Woodlands Bank also receiving high marks when compared to banks of similar size and assets.

We should all congratulate Woodlands Bank President Ken Villebro, management staff, and employees of all branches of the Woodlands Bank system.

Please keep in mind, with the exception of the Woodlands Bank System, all these non-gaming financial entities need substantial restructuring and improvement. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

An Elder once said that where investments are concerned “It’s just like the trader at the trading post long time ago. They had the upper hand, controlled prices, made huge profits, and all the business knowledge wasn’t shared.”

The Mille Lacs Band owes Sovereign Finance LLC an immeasurable debt because this report sheds light on 20-plus years of a financial relationship that was based on factors that were counterintuitive to proper and accountable oversight according to investment industry standards.

This report is several hundred pages long and was presented to the elected leaders of the band on October 14, 2020, on behalf of the Secretary-Treasurer. Due to the nature of the financial information and the economic security of the People of the Mille Lacs Band, at this time this report remains under review.

The evaluation report has shown a need for improvement at every level of these investment management relationships. It’s time for the Mille Lacs Band to take a more active role in investment management.

Like other tribes, we have outgrown decades-old financial safeguards and must retool our internal processes and standards.

We can and we will do better.

Now this evaluation is just the first step. There is a steep learning curve of the investment management principals involved, and changes will be recommended moving forward. The internal investment structures of the Mille Lacs Band need to be redesigned to accommodate our investments now and in the future.

For now, these proposals are fluid in nature and will include a permanent investment fund management entity meant to endure changes in leadership and establish internal protocols to begin responsible management moving forward.

A call will be made to membership to begin career preparations to meet this potential new field in tribal government — a new field similar to the early 1990’s when casino management was a just a dream.

We must begin managing our investments for the coming generations, and we can do it ourselves.

We can begin exploring the meaning of a phrase by Courtney Monteiro of Sovereign Finance during the report presentation: “Financial Sovereignty.”

That concludes an update on current matters within the Legislative Branch during the past year.


It is with profound thanks to recognize current Legislative staff who have made my time here so enjoyable: Parliamentarian Darcie Big Bear, Legislative Staff Kiana Morrison and Semira Kimpson, Staff Attorneys Adam Candler, Joe Jensen, and Hannah Valento. These people under Legislative Order are meant to be the permanent core of the Legislative Branch moving forward.

Legislative Director Brianna Boyd and Communications Director Valerie Harrington are Mille Lacs Band members that have taken on critical roles and will continue to operate through leadership circles for years to come.

Special thanks goes to the Staff of the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, and Deanna Sam of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Unsung heroes, period.

Also the overall accomplishments mentioned today are only made possible by the partnership of the elected leaders of the Mille Lacs Band and their staff: District I Representative Virgil Wind, District II Representative Marvin Bruneau, District III Representative Wally St John, who comprise the Mille Lacs Band Assembly, and Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin.

These individuals have shown a willingness to have frank discussions, sort out differences, and above all compromise, and keep the interests of the People of the Mille Lacs Band a first priority.

Now on the business of the day. This is the start of the 3rd Session of the 19th Assembly. The Mille Lacs Band Assembly will now hear the State of the Band Address by the duly elected Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin and the State of the Judiciary Address presented by the Chief Justice Ramona Applegate.