RESERVATION VERMILION – The Fortune Bay Resort Casino ballroom on Thursday, Jan. 19 was packed with members of the Bois Forte band attending the band’s annual state festivities, a most welcome change from the past two years when COVID-19 prevented the rally.
And no one was happier to be in person than Tribal President Cathy Chavers.
“The turnout tonight is just overwhelming and huge, because we haven’t done this in two years,” Chavers said. “It’s taken our culture away from us, in a way, by not being able to come together and be together. To have everyone here tonight together, it’s just overwhelming and it warms my heart so much to see. C It’s nice to hear the laughter, the conversations, everyone talking about the good times, the bad times. It’s wonderful.
US Senator from Minnesota, Tina Smith, attended the event and spoke to the gathering about the significant accomplishments in Washington, DC that benefited the band.
“Over the past two years, Congress, with President Biden, has done a tremendous job,” she said. “I’m very, very proud of the historic investments in Tribal Nations, starting with work on roads, infrastructure and broadband.”
Smith noted support for tribal colleges, clean water, traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges, climate resilience, as well as what she called “the highest funding ever for housing needed.
Smith also explained how Congress had bolstered the Indian Health Service, a program long underfunded relative to need.
“This year we were able to increase funding for the Indian Health Service and for the first time ever we were able to treat the Indian Health Service like we treat other crucial federal government agencies like Social Security and Medicaid by ensuring that if there is any disruption in the work of the Federal Government, that the Indian Health Service will have credits advanced so that your work is not interrupted,” she said.
Smith also noted upcoming work on the 2023 Farm Bill.
“What does that have to do with working here at Bois Forte?” Well, I will work hard to make sure that the rural economic development portions of this bill reflect the needs of tribal nations, that native farmers have the opportunity to participate in US Department of Agriculture programs. Most importantly, I think we understand that food is medicine, and it’s essential that tribes have the power to run your nutritional assistance programs.
Smith got the biggest response from the crowd when she talked about protecting wild rice from the gang.
“Manoomin’ is your way of life,” Smith said. “It is important that we do not allow wild rice farmers in other parts of the country to claim wild rice as an indigenous product and do so with the help and support of the federal government. I will fight this with everything I have.
Chavers said she was pleased Smith had organized her schedule to attend.
“Sen. Smith and I have been friends for years,” she said. “I really admire her and her leadership, and having her here tonight was just kind of the icing on the cake. cake. It’s not very often that a senator comes to your group state.
Chavers began his remarks by praising the work of frontline workers and health and emergency personnel during the COVID pandemic.
“COVID-19 and the term pandemic are somewhat behind us,” she said. “However, it is still and will always be there, like the flu. I want to acknowledge that everyone at Bois Forte, along with the other ten tribes in Minnesota, have led the way in many aspects of the fight against this pandemic. When I say paved the way, state and federal officials have seen and recognized what tribes have done best when instructed to do so. We all protected our communities, our elders, our children and those with underlying health conditions. But we have also helped our neighboring communities.
Chavers noted that the band increased opportunities to influence decision-making at the state and federal levels after laws were passed requiring consultation with tribes before decisions are made.
“It allows the tribe to have a seat at every table before those important decisions are made,” Chavers said. “It also gives us a tremendous opportunity as tribes to move forward in a very positive and productive way. Many of you may not believe this, but tribal leaders have never been busier or busier. encountered since tribal consultation was brought forward.
Chavers spoke of the benefit of US bailout funds to secure the services of indigenous consultant Blue Stone Strategy Partners to help identify all sources of funding available to the band and to work on leadership and planning activities.
A key initiative the strip needs to address is how its aging population will affect potential development activities, Chavers said.
“Our workforce is aging and we need people to work,” she said.
Chavers noted that adult members of the tribe received $3,200 in economic relief payments. Additionally, she said the band has implemented two emergency rent assistance programs and is developing a Bois Forte Landlord Assistance Fund to help band members struggling with late payments, insurance and taxes. A small business loan program will soon be available for band members and their descendants, she said.
The band received $29 million from the federal government through the CARES Act and the US bailout, and 52% of that money, $15 million, was invested “to make sure we look forward to no only the current needs of our tribal members, but also the next seven generations to come,” Chavers said.
ARPA funds were also used to jump-start the replacement of the damaged Nett Lake Dam.
“We were in a crisis phase hoping our dam wouldn’t break and lose our water and rice to Nett Lake forever,” Chavers said.
High water levels decimated last season’s rice crop, forcing a difficult but necessary decision to cancel the rice season, Chavers noted.
The band received about $80 million in grants, Chavers said, and she highlighted some of the important projects, such as the $19.8 million for broadband development not just for reserve lands but for land adjacent to reserve boundaries, and a $9 million grant to build a new transit facility.
Bois Forte is one of three tribes selected to participate in a pilot project to assess and upgrade its financial service, which includes a $50,000 grant for new accounting software, Chavers said.
Chavers also spoke of two historic accomplishments for the band last year, the first being the redemption of more than 20,000 acres of Potlatch Deltic land that was once reserve land. The purchase was funded by non-governmental sources.
“The land is in the Nett Lake area and the Deer Creek sections of Bois Forte and represented 21% of our combined total area. No other tribe has ever done this except Bois Forte in the United States,” Chavers said.
Chavers also acknowledged that band member Tadd Johnson was named to the University of Minnesota’s board of trustees.
“There has never been a Native American on the Board of Regents in the University of Minnesota system,” she said.
Chavers included much more about the band’s accomplishments and initiatives in his remarks and concluded his speech by encouraging members to focus on the issues important to the future of the band.
“We are struggling with labor issues and we need that motivation to succeed and be productive in life,” she said. “There is also the issue of constitutional reform of the Chippewa Tribe of Minnesota constitution to address enrollment, the historical trauma of the boarding school days, and the list goes on and on. There are so many things we need to bring our communities together, and we need to come together, put our differences aside to keep moving towards a prosperous future for our children and unborn children.