Leech Lake Chairman Faron Jackson, right (has Red Lake Ancestors) visits with Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr.
Published February 27, 2019
RED LAKE INDIAN RESERVATION — It was standing room only as Band members, and friends of Red Lake Nation slowly streamed into the Red Lake Seven Clans Casino Event Center on Friday, February 22, 2019. They were there to attend the annual State of the Band Address scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. “Working Together Brings Hope for the Future,” was the theme.
In this annual report to the people, Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr., along with Tribal Treasurer Annette Johnson and Secretary Samuel R. Strong, would recap the Tribal Council’s 2018 agenda, and present future goals, aspirations and plans for 2019.
Upon entering the complex, the eye was drawn to scores of people visiting dozens of tribal program booths dotting the perimeter of the hotel lobby outside the event center. Most hosted drawings for giveaways. A simple but elegant look decorated the event center. Numerous “Indian Blankets” covered round tables facing a stage set up in the East.
Red Lake Tribal Council members, Michelle Barrett Cobenais of Little Rock, Glenda Martin of Ponemah, Secretary Annette Johnson, and Redby Rep Al Pemberton
At center stage was a glass podium, behind which soon, would be flags and eagle staffs. Spotlights shone on the podium, banners and floral arrangements. To the Northeast was a large screen projecting what was happening at center stage. (The event for the first time was streamed to Red Lake Tribal HQ, and to Red Lake Embassies at Duluth and Minneapolis) In front of the stage were rectangular tables, both left and right, and facing the crowd, where Red Lake’s eleven-member Tribal Council and seven Hereditary Chiefs would take seats.
Shortly after 11 a.m., Gary “Rez Dawg” Jourdain stood at the podium as emcee for the event. The Colors, carried by the honor guard, (members of VFW Post #6889) and Red Lake Nation Royalty entered the Center from the West to the celebrated drum beat of Eyabay.
After the colors were posted, Jourdain introduced the Honor Guard and Royalty by name. Spiritual Advisor and Hereditary Chief Greeting Spears had been offered asemaa and provided the invocation.
Jourdain then introduced Tribal Council members and Hereditary Chiefs. Following a Chiefs Song again by Eyabay, Jourdain acknowledged the “Dignitary Guests” in attendance. They included representatives from Federal, Tribal, State and County Governments including Special Guest US Senator Tina Smith.
Prior to the State of the Band address by Seki, the other two tribal officers gave reports. First up was Tribal Secretary Samuel R. Strong who reported on initiatives and accomplishments of his office. He spoke of the new store that will replace the old Chippewa Trading Post, (groceries, fuel and a Subway restaurant).
“We’ve been talking about legalizing marijuana. We are keeping a close eye on environmental justice such as the Line 3 replacement project keeping our culture and traditions in mind, and how that affects what the people want. We need to do more for youth. There’s a gap in service for our children,” said Strong.
Strong spoke of “blood quantum” (the controversial measurement of “Indian blood” by which most American Indian tribes and the Feds figure membership. “It’s mathematical genocide,” he said. He spoke of a proposal to count everyone on the 1958 rolls as “full blood,” a move that could enroll many people just outside the 25% blood quantum needed for membership.
Next up, Tribal Treasurer Annette Johnson was introduced by Jourdain. Johnson gave a report on the tribe’s financial statements, loans, income and liabilities…also noting the challenges presented by the recent federal government shut-down. She also shared with those gathered numbers related to Red Lake Gaming. She noted that the tribe employs over 1000 people most of whom are members.
Just as Treasurer Smith was finishing her remarks, US Senator Tina Smith arrived a little behind schedule as is often the case in visits from federal elected officials. She was immediately asked by emcee Jourdain if she’d like to greet the crowd or say a few words.
Smith kept her remarks short thanking the council for the invitation and greeting the members and allies of Red Lake Nation. She said she was “full of hope” for what she and the assembled leaders can do together. Smith, as was Franken and Wellstone before her, is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Seki then took the stage, and as is his custom, first spoke in his native Ojibwemowin. “Ozaawi Naabesim indizhinikaaz, Migizi indoodem, Obaashiing indoonjibaa,” he said introducing himself, his clan and where he was from. He thanked the Council, Chiefs, Color Guard, the Drum Eyabay, Royalty Dancers, and Chief Spears. He also thanked all the members and guests present.
Now speaking in his second language English, and before he began the State of the Band message, he started off with kind of a call to arms, noting some problems, sickness in the community, the continued opiate problem that has improved but still in need of work. The drug epidemic has overrun the court system. He spoke about the council adopting in 2017 a protocol to banish drug dealers. “It’s difficult to banish a tribal member,” said Seki, “but it needs to be done because they’re poisoning us.”
Seki said the tribe was impacted by the federal government shutdown, blame for which he placed without hesitation on President Donald Trump. He says officials had to be creative to ensure people didn’t get laid off.
He said that the tribe got by, but the band is still recovering as the feds get back up to speed. He described the shutdown as a blatant violation of treaties between tribes and the federal government, which didn’t provide the services and payment mandated. Seki drew applause when he reiterated the tribe’s intention of regaining the east end of Upper Red Lake which was stolen from the tribe and ancestors through shady interpreters.
He pointed out that there are children who only get regular meals at school or at the Boys and Girls Club, and that social media is being used in not a good way.
“We need to be good to each other, take care of one another, we need to put people first,” Seki said. “I have an open-door policy, even if they don’t like me or are against me, if they ever need help, I wouldn’t turn them down. Anyone is welcome to come give their thoughts. Let’s be kind to one another, love one another, because the negative things are not the way of life as Anishinaabe people.”
Finishing his opening remarks, Seki called on Eyabay for a Healing Song. After the song, Event Center staff began serving a meal of ribs, walleye, baked potato, wild rice, roll and dessert as Seki began the bulk of his message. Drawings were also held as Seki spoke and crowd ate.
In this annual report to the people, Seki outlined the tribes’ major projects over the past year and initiatives for 2019, by reading reports written by the various managers and directors of tribal programs. (A complete transcript of Seki’s message as well as the messages from Strong and Johnson will be available by press release, email and social media soon)
Seki began the reports from tribal programs. First up was an update on the well-received Solar Energy initiative. The project will take place in three phases. Solar panels have been installed on roof of the tribal government center are up and running, other major buildings will follow soon. The second phase solar farm is coming together having met some resistance from electric companies in the purchase of excess energy produced by the tribe.
“The development of these projects is designed to address our basic needs and understandings,” said Seki. “They include the preservation and conservation of our environment, providing an energy source which is compatible with our beliefs of living in harmony with nature, the diversification of our economy and investments, improving the quality of life, training and jobs for our people.
The development of these projects will be funded by the entities themselves, via the program or the business revenue generated by itself, and Not Using General Funds of the Tribe.”
Other reports came from the Red Lake Nation Youth Council submitted by Jerald Cobenais. The Youth Council organizes the annual Youth Leadership Summit held at the High School, to be held soon for the 14th consecutive year. This was followed by a report from Red Lake Schools superintendent Melinda Crowley who is bringing more language and culture into the classroom.
Revitalizing and the teaching of tribal culture as an answer to dealing with social problems, was reported to be having success with Children and Family Services according to Director Cheri Goodwin. Abinoojiiyag Noojimmoo Wiigamig (Children’s Healing Center) gave similar response.
Oran Beaulieu of Comp Health reported receiving four new ambulances and plans for a 12-unit Dialysis center will happen soon. Chemical Health programs is building a new half-way house, and also praises the healing properties of culturally related programs.
Jerry Loud of Oshkiimaajitahdah (New Beginnings) reports graduating welders from its new program and will begin a nursing assistants’ program. The Self-governance committee is concerned about funding from the federal government, and the Constitution Reform Committee will be giving a report to the membership soon.
Off reservation member concerns are also being addressed. Economic Development had an extensive report that include plans to build affordable housing. Seki, and Ojibwemowin First Speaker, was visibly pleased when he read the report from Economic Development concerning the Ojibwe Immersion School Head Start named after Anna Gibbs (Waasabiik Ojibwemotaadiwin) which continues to grow.
Reports from Public Safety. Four Winds, Red Lake Housing, and Gaming rounded out the reports. Red Lake radio is coming soon, two new fire departments for Red Lake and Ponemah are nearly finished, and the long-awaited new community center for Red Lake is well on its way.
Having finished his comprehensive report, and those in attendance having finished their most excellent dinner, the time seemed right for this fulfilling conclusion to the 2019 State of the Band Address.
Seki then called on Eyabay again for a Traveling Song.
Elected Officials & Special Guests in Attendance
United States Senator Tina Smith; Sen. Smith’s Native American Outreach Director Ravyn Gibbs; Outreach Worker for US Senator Amy Klobuchar, Andy Martin; and USDA Rural Development Specialist Kathy Luepke.
Leech Lake Chairman Faron Jackson; and White Earth District 2 Rep, Raymond Auginash.
Senior District Court Judge David F. Harrington; Roger “Giniw” Moe, Former State Senate Majority Leader; and BSU AIRC Director Bill Blackwell.
Beltrami County Delegation:
Tim Sumner, Beltrami County Commissioner, & Red Lake Member; Commissioner Reed Olson; County Administrator Kay Mack; David Hanson, Beltrami County Attorney; Becky Secore Beltrami County Health & Human Services; and Social Services Director Jeff Lind.
Friends of the Nation:
BSU Professor of Economics Dr. Patrick Welle; Executive Director of the HRDC Tim Flathers & Ryan Zemek; Senior Staff from Northwest Minnesota Foundation: Chief Strategy Officer Karen White; Program Officer – Economic Development Diane Morey; Program Officer – Community Impact Nate Dorr; and Program Officer – Community Impact Cory Boushee; Project Graduate/100% Graduation Rate Founder & former RLHS Principal John Eggers; Andy Wells of Wells Technology, Wells Academy; Chairman Curtiss Hunt Beltrami County DFL; and Senate District 2 DFL Chairman Ted Fiskevold & Treasurer Lon Engberg.