Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Giving thanks for native sovereignty


It seems fitting that Native American Heritage Month coincides with the time of year when our country celebrates Thanksgiving – after all, the story of the first Thanksgiving shared by the pilgrims and Indians remains one of the most notable moments in our history, remembered and recounted year after year.

Most Americans probably don’t know quite so well what today’s native people are thankful for. Not surprisingly, we are thankful for the same things as our non-native neighbors: family, friends, prosperity, health. But in our case, these feelings of thanks can all be traced in some way to a single source: our sovereignty.

Sovereignty means freedom from the control of others. Individual sovereignty is prized in America; indeed, our rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are enshrined in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

Nations, too, are justifiably protective of their sovereignty. As a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, I have personally seen the pride that Americans take in safeguarding our country’s autonomy and interests.

Indian nations value their sovereignty no less than other nations do. And so the Bois Forte people are thankful for anyone or anything that helps us protect and preserve our sovereign status.

Our most profound thanks go to our ancestors, who persisted in defending our nation in the face of overpowering forces. The loss of our land. The loss of our ability to follow the seasonal rhythms of our traditional lifestyle. The loss even of Indian boys and girls to far-off boarding schools. Our ancestors clung fiercely to their identity as a sovereign people, insisting on their rights to speak their own language, celebrate their own ceremonies, and educate their own children. They understood that if they stopped fighting for these things, they would lose more than just vocabulary or powwows. They would lose their core, their essence. Their Indian-ness.

Tremendous thanks go to our friends as well: the neighbors, community leaders, policymakers and others who have made the effort to learn more about us. They come to understand that Indian sovereignty is not something that can be given or taken away. We were the first people here, and we were governing ourselves long before others arrived on our lands. The United States recognized our sovereign status in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution and in treaties signed during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Our sovereignty is the basis for our right to operate casinos, and we are thankful for the many opportunities these businesses have provided. About 500 people – 70 percent of them non-Indian – work at our Fortune Bay Resort Casino, and still more are employed at nongaming businesses on and off the reservation that depend on the visitors Fortune Bay draws to the region and the money it spends on goods and services.

And we are thankful for the health of our sovereign nation. Like a muscle, sovereignty must be exercised to remain strong. We will proudly – and thankfully – continue to do just that to ensure the future of our nation and our people.

Kevin Leecy is the elected chairman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and the chairman of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the state’s official liaison with tribes.


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