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Tribal leaders address Minnesota lawmakers during 'Sovereignty Day'


February 19, 2019

Melanie Benjamin

Red Lake Tribal Secretary Sam Strong representing the Red Lake Nation at Sovereignty Day at the Capital.

Tribal leaders from across Minnesota gathered together Monday for what they are calling a "historic event" - to stand up for their sovereign nations.

Tribal leaders told KSTP the event Monday is the first time they have done something on such a large scale at the state capitol.

Leaders gathered in the House chamber to share their history and culture with lawmakers.

The event began with a drum procession and tribal leaders from all 11 federally-recognized sovereign nations in Minnesota shared their stories and worked to educate state representatives.

Leaders told KSTP American history has not always been kind to their people but said they are hoping state leaders will work with them toward a brighter future.

"I hope everyone understands the true meaning of sovereignty," Shelley Buck, with the Prairie Island Indian Community, said. "It wasn't something that was given to us tribes; we had it before anyone stepped foot on this continent."

After the opening presentations, a panel discussion was scheduled during which tribal leaders planned to address issues their nations are facing in Minnesota.

From Melanie Benjamin: Tribal Sovereignty Day at the Minnesota House of Representatives was an important first. After a wonderful welcome by Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (White Earth), several tribal leaders spoke about the need to acknowledge the past in order to move forward, a past that is very painful and steeped in injustice and even attempted genocide.

State leaders then listened to a two hour presentation by Tadd Johnson (Bois Forte) of UMD and Rebecca Stratton-Crooks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. They did a great job with the difficult challenge of boiling 300 years of history down to a 2-hour presentation.

After lunch, we had a tribal panel in the afternoon to answer questions, and at the end of the day each of the tribal leaders were asked to speak a bit about our hopes for the future.

Melanie Benjamin

My remarks were about my hopes for Bimaadiziwin for all Band Members - the Good Life - which means public safety, wellness, language and culture, education, housing and economic development. I also spoke about law enforcement and my hopes that neither Mille Lacs nor any other tribe in Minnesota ever goes through what we just went through with Mille Lacs County, when we had to function for 2 years without a law enforcement agreement in place, and I talked about my hope that rather than fighting, we would do more together in partnership as tribes with the State in areas such as economic development, tourism, and environmental projects.

Chi Miigwech to Speaker Hortman and the State Legislature for hosting this very important educational day for the leaders of the State of Minnesota.


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