“We stand together as one nation and face all challengers before us – the heart of unity will move us forward”
In the annual report to the people, Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr., Secretary Samuel L. Strong, and Treasurer Annette Johnson along with ten tribal program managers, addressed a crowd gathered at the Red Lake powwow grounds on May 28. They would celebrate together…and in person…the challenges and successes that the tribe experienced in the 15 months since the last State of the Band Address in February 2020. They would recap the Tribal Council’s 2020 agenda in the midst of a pandemic, and present future goals, aspirations and plans for 2021.
Originally scheduled for February 26, 2021, COVID 19 (as the pandemic has done for 14 months) postponed but did not cancel the Annual State of the Band Address. Rather than the usual address from the Casino/Events Center in Red Lake, the address was rescheduled where it was more likely to be attended by more Red Lake Band members, outside at the Red Lake Powwow Grounds on Friday, May 28, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. (because of social distancing)
As it turns out, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State of Minnesota, and Red Lake Nation loosened the mask mandate and gatherings for fully vaccinated people near simultaneously. The Red Lake Tribal Council declared Medical Martial Law on April 1, 2020 and was rescinded at the monthly Tribal Council meeting on May 11, 2021.
It was 65 degrees and sunny without a cloud in the sky. Symbols of Spring, the coming Summer and the loosening pandemic were everywhere. The postponement led to a near-normal event with few wearing masks, and many gathered closely together. A good mood permeated the air among all. Mino-Giizhigad, it was a good day. The event was the first large event held since the repeal of Medical Martial Law and keeping with the tribe’s aggressive stance against the pandemic, a vaccine clinic was being held behind the stage.
To the south, at the powwow emcee and arena director stage, there would soon be flags and eagle staffs. Audio and visual equipment along with four large screens facing the four directions were at the center of the powwow ring and would project what was happening at center stage. (The event was streamed to Red Lake Tribal HQ, and to Red Lake Embassies at Duluth and Minneapolis)
Shortly after 10 a.m., Gary Jourdain stood at the podium as emcee for the event. The Colors, carried by the honor guard, (3 Star Warrior Society) Red Lake Nation Royalty, and members of Red Lake’s eleven-member Tribal Council and seven Hereditary Chiefs entered the Powwow Grounds from the East, (as do the sun and all life) to the beat of the celebrated Drum from Obaashiing, Eyabay.
After the colors were posted, Jourdain introduced the Honor Guard and Royalty by name. Elder Spiritual Advisor Zhaawanwe’wiidamok (Frances “Frannie” Miller) had been offered asemaa (tobacco) and provided the invocation. “It’s good to see you,” said Miller with a smile, referring to the absence of masks. “It’s good to gather again at this time and in this place as a nation, as friends, as families.”
Jourdain then introduced Tribal Council members and Hereditary Chiefs. Following a Veterans and Chiefs Song again by Eyabay, Jourdain acknowledged the “Dignitary Guests” in attendance. They included representatives from Federal, Tribal, State, Beltrami County, and Bemidji City Governments as well as friends and allies of Red Lake Nation.
This year several videos were submitted by federal and state officials who could not attend. The four large screens facing the four directions played video greetings from US Senator Amy Klobuchar, US Senator Tina Smith, and US Congresswoman Betty McCollum. State officials sending videos included Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellingson, and Secretary of State Steve Simon. All praised Red Lake’s quick and thorough response to COVID 19 and pledging to help address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.
Now the State of the Band would begin. Rather than presenting the entire report himself, Seki shared those duties with the people who do the jobs. Seki would speak last wrapping it all up. Child welfare, the pandemic and its fallout, community, chemical health, tribal sovereignty, childcare, education, minimum wage raise, the launch of a new charter school, project development and a renewed dedication to preserving language and culture were woven throughout the event.
(Look for a complete transcript of Seki’s message as well as the messages from Strong, Johnson, and most tribal program directors in this publication and by email and social media soon)
First up was Tribal Secretary Samuel R. Strong. “It was quite the year not only did we experience a global pandemic, with COVID19 but we as a community came together to overcome the challenges it caused. It brought to light issues that our community has faced for years,” said Strong. “WE did unite against one of the biggest challenges our Nation has faced. This allows us to see the strength in our unity. The strength in our community.”
“Let us not be complacent when it comes to drugs and poverty,” Strong went on. “Let us stand up for those that are in need. Let us invest in our people like never before. Together we can overcome the drug epidemic the lack of childcare and poverty that some of our people face. We cannot go back to the way things were, we have an opportunity to create a new normal, we can confront these issues much like we tackled COVID.”
“It is time for all of us to unite and get behind all of our people. To open our hearts and forgive people for the mistakes and hurt they may have caused,” said Strong. “Forgive them with strength, love, and most importantly, to forgive them with a helping hand. As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.'”
“Every one of us has a part in making our nation a stronger place with a brighter future. We have transformed the system that was meant to destroy us,” Strong said of the former enrollment system. “We will stand strong like our ancestors did.”
Next, Tribal Treasurer Annette Johnson, gave a comprehensive report after being introduced by Jourdain. The report included the 2019 Audit Report, all the tribe’s financial statements, loans, income, investments, and liabilities…also noting the challenges presented by the federal government. She also shared with those gathered numbers related to Red Lake Gaming.
“During the past year, programs were limited to essential services such as health care and others on the front lines dedicated to mitigate the pandemic,” said Johnson. “But we stood not still, during the past year the tribe was able to raise the minimum wage, we’re working on launching a charter school next fall, we’ve built a new childcare center and has also invested in a medical marijuana facility.”
Allocation of the ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds will be based on enrollment data (65%) and tribal enrollment (35%). Certified enrollment is 15,070; we are currently reconfirming that information based on 2019 941’s that were submitted for the US Treasury round of funding last year.
“We have until December 31, 2024, to spend this funding and are currently working with Bluestone Strategy Group, to formulate a plan on how this funding is used. Other federal agency funding is available to meet our needs and Bluestone will assist us in leveraging use of all the funding sources,” said Johnson. “This whole process has been time consuming but yet rewarding as this funding will assist the Tribe in many areas.”
NOTE: Full financial report by Treasurer Johnson elsewhere in this publication
Martina Beaulieu, Executive Director, was then introduced. “The pandemic has affected us greatly because of our lack of resources and funding, that’s one of the main barriers we face as a native community,” said Beaulieu. “Now with this ARP (American Rescue Plan) funding, we’re able to help some programs and get the assistance to our tribal members as needed.
In January, Michael Burns, Director of Public Safety, started the Community Overdose Response Team. (CORT) The CORT committee has 14 committees, and Chairman Seki and I are on the cultural committee. I want to share what the cultural committee is doing.
In early February, the cultural committee started with five team members and has grown to over 15 members from various tribal programs such as the Immersion program, Chemical…
Read More: Seki Presents State of the Band Message – P2