This past week has been so full!! And this coming week is too! But I’m hopeful to get some good information out to you all as I get this quickly posted.
On the 17th, I joined Nancy Beaulieu and Gaagigeyashiik Dawn Goodwin as we attended the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council meeting. Their newly selected Executive Director, Shannon Geshick, did a fine job leading the meeting as various Boards, Committees, and State Agencies presented information and ideas for consideration by the Executive Board. As I understand it, this Board is made up of the Chairperson for each Nation (or their representative) and this meeting included, as a result of an Executive Order by the Walz administration, representatives from all State Agencies meeting as “ambassadors” from the State seeking counsel.
Executive Order 19-24:
- Affirms that the State of Minnesota recognizes and supports the unique status of the Minnesota Tribal Nations and their right to existence, self-govern, and possess self-determination.
- Directs state agencies to recognize the unique legal relationship between the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Tribal Nations and respect the fundamental principles that establish and maintain this relationship.
- Requires all state agencies to designate Tribal Liaisons that will be able to directly and regularly meet and communicate with the Agency’s Commissioner and Deputy and Assistant Commissioners in order to appropriately conduct government-to-government conversations.
- Mandates tribal-relations training for all state leaders and other employees whose work may impact Tribes.
I was impressed by the level of humility expressed by many of the state agency representatives. It seems this group understands that this is a meeting between the State Agencies and the Tribal Nations living within the borders of what the US has designated to be the State of Minnesota. While some may question the “extra attention” being given to Minnesota’s Indigenous leaders, Peggy Flanagan made clear that this administration is simply doing what is legally required. It seems to me that a great turning is coming where Tribal Rights, as set forth in the Treaties signed by the U.S. Government, are finally being honored in the way they were intended, with Nation to Nation consultation and communication.
I was especially impressed with Mary Cathryn Ricker, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education. Education and Health Care were two of the most critical issues addressed at this meeting and, along with the work of the Commissioner of Human Rights Rebecca Lucero, I feel much needed attention was given to the Tribal concerns. To give a taste of what the Tribes are facing: One shocking point discussed was that data for the Cass Lake school system went from showing 1100 Native students to 1 – Yes, only ONE! – revealing systematic issues that will require redress by this administration. [And yes, it was assured that all educational funding was correctly applied as the erroneous data was discovered.] There are many initiatives being carried out between the Tribes and the State and it felt like this work, while massive in scope, will be getting some much needed attention.
I next attended the 9-18-19 Minnesota Environmental Quality Board with Willis Matteson, Mike Tauber, Jim Williams, Kathy and Rod Hollander, Jim Doyle and some other fine concerned citizens. [And I can’t say enough about how excited I am to get to know Mike and Jim better in the future – what a couple of great guys! And thanks to Willis for a ride to the Cities!! Look for an upcoming blog on my bus adventures while being car-less there… ] We were happy to run into Winona LaDuke in the lobby as she finished up several days of work in the Cities. And soon after we also met Laura Bishop, Commissioner of the MN Pollution Control Agency, as she headed through the lobby. Gave her one of my handmade cards I’d brought for the meeting!!
On the MEQB agenda were their plans for Fiscal Year 2020-2021, adoption of the MEQB Rule changes (as recommended by the Administrative Law Judge who oversaw this year’s public comment hearings regarding said changes, and which I blogged about in June), authorizing an EQB Environmental Review Implementation Subcommittee, a decision on the Fillmore Solar Project, and an update on their 2020 Water Plan, They also announced their MN Environmental Congress on December 3rd this year. I made comments during the FY20-21 Plan as they have offered an “Emerging issues placeholder” and spoke to the need to deny Line 3 and asking them to do all they can to #StopLine3. I’m hopeful there is something the MEQB can do to ensure Minnesota considers the climate impacts of Line 3… as the MN Public Utilities Commission has failed to do so.
Next I supported the MN Strikes Back Youth Climate Strike and you can see some good photos from the event in case you didn’t make it. I livestreamed and you can go to my FB to see the footage. I was amazed at the organizing skills of these young people but even more impressed by their words, which MPR covered. With speakers covering many topics from climate justice to fears and frustrations to hopes, I was especially struck by the comments regarding what we call this Generation… Generation Z. As if they are the final generation for humanity, which they may well be if we do not act with more urgency, we have called them Gen Z. But they declared they will be “GEN GND”, the Generation for a Green New Deal. I am hopeful they will succeed in their mission.
Saturday I headed down about noontime and met with Alina and enjoyed some quiet talk as we awaited the return of the group that toured Winona’s Hemp and Heritage Farm that morning. [Having gotten home from the Climate Strike about 3:45 AM, I decided to skip that part of the adventure but I look forward to seeing it one day soon!] We had lunch as we listened to Winona LaDuke encourage these faith leaders to do all they can to Stop Line 3 and encourage climate justice that includes recognition of the Treaty Rights of the Anishinaabeg. We then headed out for the Lake George pipe yard visit so that people are aware of the pipe yard location. If Enbridge continues to get approvals from state agencies to build their Tar Sands pipeline, we will want to have people ready to stop this work.
Next I followed to the Wild Rice Tour given by Gaagigeyashiik Dawn Goodwin. She honored me by asking that I assist with her presentation at Upper Rice Lake, just around the corner from the Harn, and it was a joy to hear her speak again. She shared stories of her life and the life of the Anishinaabeg. I was most impressed by the birds that seemingly echoed and enhanced her words with their actions. We were able to observe several ricing parties as she spoke of the Manoomin. She took us also to Lower Rice Lake and the spring where she gathers water.
We headed back in time for dinner and a talk on Treaties by Bob Shimek. I was enlightened by his words and thrilled with his gracious sharing of all the time we needed for questions, even though we lost power as his talk began. It was quite eerie how the storm dramatized the time, though I’m sure Bob would have rather had his talking points more readily available!
Sunday’s Headwaters Vigil brought the event to a close as faith leaders spoke to the importance of protecting our sacred water. After gathering at the Mary Gibbs Visitor Center at Itasca State Park, we proceeded to the Headwaters as a group where we began with Indigenous ceremony. Gaagigeyashiik led us as we prayed together for our water. I watched as the MMIW Staff (seen in the photo above, carried by Lorna Hanes) moved to each leader, seeming to give honor to them. Other faith leaders spoke, sang, and prayed: Ruhel, a Bangladeshi Environmental Activist, (check out Ghandi Mahal in Minneapolis for great food!) called us to prayer sharing a Muslim path; Hassed (sorry if this spelling is incorrect!) led us in singing a Jewish chant, Karen Hutt of the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis shared a short but moving sermon on the intersectionality of environment and race; Shodo Spring, a Soto Zen Priest, shared of us being both the created and the creators, as she too chanted for us in the Buddist tradition. But for me, the most moving piece was Joe Meinholz sharing from the Christian tradition.
As someone who carries religious baggage from multiple bad experiences in the Christian church, I was hesitant to trust the message. I was pleased as Lorna and the MMIW Staff, moved between me and the minister as I felt a protection with this positioning. [It was a deja vu experience from the previous day where she’d walked between me and a crazy-acting dude reading from the bible on the steps of the Capitol after the Youth Climate Strike participants has dispersed.] But I was graced by Joe’s words. I am hopeful to see them published somewhere so that all can be healed by them. His humble acknowledgement of the good-intentioned harms caused by Christians, specifically mentioning the boarding schools, in their interactions with the Indigenous, brought me to tears. His blessing continued as he spoke and went a good way to helping me feel as if we may me able to heal all the rifts in this world. It was beautiful to watch as he closed and Lorna spoke some words into his ear, pointing up at the Eagle flying high above us, that came as he spoke. Many were in tears.
Joe was the first person I hugged and thanked following the ceremony’s close with an Indigenous Water Prayer. It was a long, warm, healing hug for us both. I am so grateful to this human for his kind and healing words.
I cannot put into words the healing, hope, encouragement, and blessing I gained from this entire week of activism. The memories and stories of this week will carry me a long way forward as I continue my work and as I continue to learn where I can best be of help in the movement.
I wish for you all an understanding and peace that helps us as we work to save our home planet for our continued existence.