Mille Lacs Band
of Ojibwe State of the Band
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."
highlighted a few aspects of some of the diversified Band owned
- The two hotels in downtown St. Paul both hotels performed
very well in 2014.
- The Band recently purchased an Embassy Suites in Oklahoma
- 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.
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
- 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
"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."