Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
Embracing Ojibwe Culture Is The Key
by Vivian LaMoore - Mille Lacs (MN) Messenger Contributing Writer
credits: All Photos by Vivian LaMoore.- Mille Lacs Messenger

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe State of the Band

For the first time in history every business owned by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is showing a profit, Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin announced to over 1,200 Band members, public officials and honored guests at the 31st annual State of the Band address held on Tuesday, Jan. 13. As she shared her vision for the future of the Band, Benjamin also said that for the first time that she knows of, violent crime on the reservation is showing a decrease.

Benjamin highlighted progress that the Band made in 2014, including the addition of new native physicians, a native nurse practitioner and expanded physician services in Districts II and III, new wrap-around services for Band members and families in crisis, the restoration of Ogechie and Nammachers lakes and an expanded tribal college.

The first casinos for the Band opened in 1991, Benjamin said. "Chairman Art Gahbow used to say, that gaming was a tool, but not the solution. Part of Art's vision was that we would not be dependent on gaming. Art wanted us to invest gaming revenue into rebuilding our economy around many businesses. If gaming ever failed, he wanted us to have something to fall back on."

Benjamin highlighted a few aspects of some of the diversified Band owned businesses.

  • The two hotels in downtown St. Paul both hotels performed very well in 2014.
  • The Band recently purchased an Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City.
  • The Band opened The Rival House restaurant in St. Paul.
  • Eddys was torn down and is being rebuilt as an upscale resort.
  • The Band purchased an Internet Marketing Company.
  • The Band is building a commercial laundromat.
  • While gaming revenue is down across the country and in the region, the two Mille Lacs Band casinos still performed well.

Benjamin gave kudos to the Tribal Police Department for their positive attitude, for building community trust, and building strong relationships with other county and tribal law enforcement agencies. She noted the year-long revamping of the TPD under the direction of the new Police Chief Jared Rosati has been extremely successful. The TPD just entered into a data-sharing agreement with several other tribes, which should aid in reducing crime further.

"Our police officers have a difficult, sometimes dangerous job. To Chief Rosati and the other officers, Miigwech for your commitment to making our communities safe," Benjamin said.

Despite the positive notes of the address, Benjamin turned her attention toward an ongoing crisis for the Band and the families noting the crisis of neonatal abstinence syndrome, or babies born addicted to opiates.

"Minnesota has the highest rate of Native American opiate-addicted babies in the United States," she said. "It was heartbreaking to learn that we are one of the hardest-hit tribes in the state. Babies are our most precious gift from the Creator, and our main job in life is to protect that gift."

Benjamin said it is a community-wide problem that requires a community-wide solution. That everyone has a role in stopping the epidemic, especially the family and elders. "I was told again, and again: The family members know who is using and they know who is selling. Many elders said that people who think they are protecting their family by not turning them in are just as responsible for these babies as those who are selling the drugs. It is not enough for the government to have a zero tolerance policy. Every family in this room must have a zero tolerance policy."

Benjamin stressed the importance of exercising cultural sovereignty and embracing the Ojibwe language, culture and spirituality as a way to prosper and thrive as a Band.

"Cultural sovereignty is our inherent right to use our values, traditions and spirituality to protect our future," Benjamin said. "It goes much deeper than legal sovereignty, because it's a decision to be Anishinaabe, to not just protect a way of life, but to practice living Anishinaabe, every day."

Benjamin also instructed her cabinet to:

  • Develop a program to provide one-stop services for families in crisis;
  • Continue working with the state to restore the health of our walleye population;
  • Protect the sacred gift of manoonmin (wild rice) from the threat of water pollution that could arise from pipelines, including the Enbridge Sandpiper Pipeline, and mining;
  • Create a teaching recruitment plan to attract and keep the best teachers, especially those who speak Ojibwe;
  • Grow jobs and drive economic development across the reservation, with a special emphasis on the East Lake region; and
  • Bring more cultural practices into the Band's government and businesses.

"Our community needs to rely on our culture in order to get well and be set free," Benjamin said in her closing remarks. "We have a long journey ahead and many miles to go. We will need to come together. Let us begin this long journey together."

pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000 - 2014 of Vicki Williams Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999 - 2014 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!