Mille Lacs Band General Manager Encourages Emerging Leaders in His State of the Band Address – Brainerd Dispatch

MILLE LACS RESERVATION – In her 2022 State of the Group Address, Mille Lacs Group General Manager Melanie Benjamin referred to 2021 as a year of great progress for the Mille Lacs Group and for Native Americans at the federal and state levels, but also a year of great loss as many former members of the band passed away due to complications from COVID-19 and other health issues.

A significant example of progress for Native people with the state and federal government has been the advancement of tribal consultation, band officials said in a news release. In 2021, the Mille Lacs Band participated in hundreds of consultation sessions with federal and state government agencies. In the first year of the Biden administration, the group had more federal consultations than with all previous presidential administrations combined.

Benjamin noted the significant impact of appointing American Indians to cabinet secretaries and other key leadership positions in federal agencies.

“Native Americans now sit at the tables of power all over Washington DC,” Benjamin said. “These are people who understand tribal sovereignty, who know the challenges we face, and who don’t need a history lesson because they’re one of us.”

Benjamin also lamented the many Mille Lacs band elders who were lost in 2021.

“Some were drum keepers, knowledge keepers, storytellers, native speakers or artists. Some have served as civil servants in band government. And some were all of those things. These losses were difficult to cash out.

Noting that historic moments like this happen once in a generation, Benjamin called for the emergence of the next generation of community leaders.

“Life always comes down to moments. We must recognize what is possible and seize the opportunity. The question comes back to us. Do we have the wisdom and the will to rise to this historic moment? To effect positive change, we need more community leaders who dream of a better future and inspire others to want that future too.

Historically delivered to a ballroom packed with band members and dignitaries, this was the second year in a row that the band’s status was delivered via an online webinar to protect the community from COVID-19.

Highlights of the speech include:

COVID vaccine mandate begins February 1

Native Americans, by far, have the highest COVID-19 death rate of any population in the United States, and the majority of losses have been among the elderly. “According to the Center for Disease Control and almost every vaccine expert in the world, there is no evidence that vaccines cause harm. There is, however, plenty of evidence that vaccines can save lives,” Benjamin said. In her speech, she announced that a vaccination mandate would come into effect from February 1.

Language revitalization has reached critical milestones

The group released five new books written in Ojibway in 2021. This is the first time in modern history that this has been done. Additionally, the group will release the first level of Ojibway language lessons on the Rosetta Stone language-learning platform this month. Classes are free for Mille Lacs Band members and descendants.

“Chi miigwech to all the band elders who have worked on these projects, as well as our young language learners. These group members were called “Language Warriors” and donated their knowledge to us by telling stories and speaking. And it’s a gift that many future generations will be grateful for,” said Benjamin.

The reservation kiosks have had a significant symbolic impact

In his speech, Benjamin said one of the most eye-catching changes in 2021 was when the state erected road signs marking the federal border of the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation.

“After fighting for state recognition of our border for so many decades, I will never forget the moment I first saw these signs. My heart sank,” Benjamin said. “These signs are largely symbolic but have had a deep emotional impact on many of us – especially our elders who have fought this battle for most of their lives.”

Employment of band members in band-owned businesses has never been higher

COVID-19 forced the group to downsize early in the pandemic. The good news is that nearly all band-owned businesses are at an all-time high for band member employment, and 23% of band member associates are in leadership positions, including CEOs, general managers, vice-presidents, directors, managers and supervisors.

Relations with most local governments continue to strengthen

The Mille Lacs Band meets monthly with Pine County and works closely on many issues, and the band has a good relationship with Aitkin and Crow Wing counties. Recently, the group also began working with Sherburne County when they invited Mille Lacs Band DNR Commissioner Kelly Applegate to accompany them to Washington, D.C. to jointly advocate for protection funding. county public lands.

“For a day, the Mille Lacs Band and Sherburne County walked the halls of Congress together in support of the same goal. This made history and hopefully the start of more projects with county governments Benjamin said. “Collaborations like this are the kind of relationships we want with the surrounding counties, and which could be possible one day with Mille Lacs County, if only their leaders ever decide to stop to fight against everything we do. Miigwech (thank you) to the counties of Pine, Aitkin, Sherburne, Crow Wing, Ramsey and Hennepin for respecting tribal sovereignty and working for the benefit of all of our citizens. Also, miigwech to the towns of Brainerd, Garrison, Onamia, Hinckley, McGregor and Aitkin We appreciate our government relations with each of you.

Wild rice won additional environmental protections in 2021

Each year, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency asks states to submit a list of polluted waters that need help. For years, the state of Minnesota refused to include polluted wild rice waters on this list, Benjamin said, and last year, for the first time, the EPA conducted meaningful government consultations with government with the tribe and others, and the EPA ordered the state of Minnesota to include polluted wild rice waters on the state’s list of impaired waters.

Band launched a new alternative learning program; Group members have made educational achievements

In 2021, the group launched an alternative learning program from ninth to tenth grade at Nay Ah Shing schools. Oshki Maajitaadaa (“Let’s Start Together”) is a year-round program during and after school to meet the needs of students.

“This was a major project started by former education commissioner Joycelyn Shingobe, and she would be so proud to see it started,” Benjamin said. “Also, congratulations to the 68 adult band members who have completed their education, from GED to Ph.D., and received band awards. And we are very proud of our 84 band members who are receiving college scholarships. of the band to cover their tuition, fees and books.

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