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Olson to face DFL challenge in Senate 4

Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, faces opposition next fall, but not from a Republican.

Greg Paquin, a Bemidji pipe fitter, says Olson hasn't done enough for American Indians and he will seek the seat as a Democrat to push for affirmative action and jobs for Indians.

"One of my platforms is that basically I've gotten tired of asking about these types of issues," Paquin, an American Indian, said Thursday about a lack of jobs for Indians. "I'm going to run for Senate District 4. ... I'm not going to stand by any longer and let it continue."

Paquin said he's going to "make it very apparent to people what we face here in our communities, not only from the standpoint of being native American but from the standpoint of being in a labor state that should have some of these other issues in mind such as health care ..."

He said he's "not satisfied with the representation," alleging that current Senate and House members shy away from confronting reservation leaders about issues such as allowing labor unions to be formed on the reservation or in making casino profits accountable to the people.

Paquin started making waves about a week ago in the blogosphere when he posted a letter he sent to Minnesota State DFL Chairman Brian Melendez demanding that the DFL Party endorse him for Olson's seat, and suggesting that all legislative seats in Senate 2 and 4 should be held by Ojibwe natives.

"I intend to do everything I can do to make sure that Senate seat 4 is held by an Native Tribal Member citizen, because this is what justice requires," he wrote. "It is my hope that other Native (Anishinabe) Americans will join my efforts to secure the other five seats."

And, "most Anishinabe, Native Americans are working people, yet you treat us as if only the cash you get from the casino managements counts for anything. This, too, will change once I am elected to the Senate District 4 seat because the people of Minnesota will be hearing the truth about gaming revenues," Paquin added.

"If these revenues can be used to elect non-Tribal Natives to political office who then turn around and ignore our problems, we can find a way to make sure these gaming revenues remain in our communities being used for meeting the needs of our own people now living in dire straights (sic) as the economy declines. I know many families who need food more than politicians need campaign contributions," he wrote.

He wrote Melendez that the Minnesota DFL claims to have an affirmative action policy and decries discrimination but "has done not one thing to assure Native (Anishinabe) Americans are elected to state and federal offices."

Paquin said he has not heard from Melendez, but that the DFL leader forwarded the letter to Pam McCrory of Bemidji, Senate 4 DFL chairwoman.

"He said just have him go through the process like anybody else does," Paquin said. "This is the problem -- going through the process like anybody else doesn't take into account the social political factors that have prevented us from getting into the position of getting there in the first place."

The normal political process has delegates elected at Democratic precinct caucuses next winter who then attend county conventions and later a Senate 4 endorsing convention to issue an endorsement in the race. Those who oppose the endorsement can enter the September primary.

Olson, who is in her first four-year term, hasn't indicated she will seek re-election but that action is most probable. Paquin didn't seem aware of some of Olson's work with the American Indian community when a reporter mentioned representation with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and her work on securing funding for Ojibwe and Dakota language preservation or funding for a youth substance abuse treatment center on the Leech Lake Reservation.

Paquin admits that his strong language in his letter to Melendez was more of attention-getting than threat.

"Just because I put that down doesn't mean that I realize that's what we're going to get," he said. "What we really need to do is find that common ground that men of honor and decency irregardless of what our situations are will say this is something we can work on."

Paquin in January held a series of conferences, "We Shall Remain," at the American Indian Resource Center to gain input from local American Indians on the issues and concerns they face. He said that he was disappointed that no local legislators attended to gain that input.

He's also concerned that there is no affirmative action guiding construction of the Bemidji Regional Event Center, even though public funding is involved which mandates affirmative action hiring.

While more than a year out from the election, Paquin said he will later this month file his campaign with the state, with his mother as campaign chairwoman.

He's also started the Native American Indian Labor Union No, 12, but has failed in his effort to gain AFL-CIO sanction for the new union. Also, he's failed to gain Red Lake Tribal Council approval to allow his union to represent new casino construction workers.

"Traditionally out there, our native people are not being recruited or given opportunities in such a manner that is going to foster a new growth of community for us," he said. "It's not that we're asking for exceptional circumstances -- we're fighting alcoholism, we're fighting drug addiction, we're fighting economic disaster."

If everyone was treated as equal citizens, there would be no need for affirmative action policies, Paquin said.