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Celebrating Red Lake’s chief chairman; Bemidji honors first leader of tribal council by flying flag at City Hall

The city of Bemidji has declared July 27 as Roger A. Jourdain Day in honor of the Red Lake Nation’s first tribal chairman. Jourdain is pictured here at the shores of Lower Red Lake in 1989 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty that created the Red Lake Reservation. Pioneer File Photo

BEMIDJI — An international flair will be evident at Bemidji City Hall this weekend as the city flies the Red Lake Nation flag alongside the U.S. stars and stripes. Once a year, the city raises the Red Lake Band’s totem in honor of the sovereign nation’s first tribal chairman Roger A. Jourdain.

Jourdain is credited with helping establish the Minnesota Indian Scholarship Program. Jourdain served as Red Lake chairman from 1959 to 1990.

Although a proclamation was passed in 2011 establishing July 27 as Roger A. Jourdain Day, the commemoration isn’t widely known in the region. In fact, the raising of the flag today was news to several city officials and it hadn’t been brought to the attention of Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr.

“It is recognition of them as a people and about a great leader,” said Michael Meuers, a media relations representative for Red Lake. “It is a very positive thing.”

The proclamation reads, “In his memory it is hoped that the sovereignty of Indian people will be honored, upheld and respected.”

Jourdain’s niece Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu witnessed then mayor David Larson sign the proclamation into effect on July 18, 2011.

“I feel that it’s so important for our children especially to have someone to emulate their life after,” Beaulieu said. “Roger Jourdain was a true champion of sovereignty.”

Bringing communities together

Beaulieu was tribal secretary from 2006 to 2010, she also ran for chairperson in this past May election. While tribal secretary, Beaulieu said she met with Shared Vision, a racial equity network, to discuss ways to bring the Red Lake Nation and Bemidji communities together. Beaulieu said two ideas that have regained recognition recently were identified: a more true Shaynowishkung (Chief Bemidji) statue and flying of area Indian nations’ flags.

Shared Vision visited Beltrami County commissioners in April informally requesting the board consider flying the Leech Lake, White Earth and Red Lake Nation flags at the county government campus, Chamber of Commerce and the Sanford Center sites. Shared Vision would also like to see an increase in Ojibwe language signage on buildings.

“We’re still working on signage and flags,” Meuers, a member of Shared Vision, said. “I think it more likely the city would fly the three nation flags at one or both of it’s entities, the Chamber building and the Sanford Center, where it would see more tourists and remind them that they are in Ojibwe Country.”

Beltrami County Administrator Kay Mack said it would not be practical to display an additional flag on the county campus because there is only one flagpole on the historic courthouse lawn and one pole between the community service center and the county administration building.

“Naturally, both display the American Flag,” Mack said.

Similarly, Bemidji City Clerk Kay Murphy said the U.S. flag is the only flag flown in front of City Hall.

“No discussion has been made regarding tribal permanent flags at City Hall,” Murphy said. “That would be a council action and it would be difficult to find space in front of City Hall as the yard is small.”

Murphy added there has been discussion about tribal flags at the Sanford Center, which is a regional facility. The Red Lake Nation flag is stored in a vault at City Hall when it is not displayed for Roger A. Jourdain Day.

“We contribute a lot to that city,” Beaulieu said. “The flags should be flying.”

The Leech Lake reservation to the east of Bemidji is recognized at the Itasca County seat, said Ryan White, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Public Relations Officer.

On Sept. 5 the Leech Lake Band’s flag was raised outside the Itasca County Courthouse and at the Grand Rapids Depot, which houses the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. The flags are a permanent fixture in Grand Rapids.

Leech Lake’s first tribal chairman, David Munnell was sworn in on July 5, 1974. He served until 1976.

Chiefdom to Council

The seven clans of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians are represented on the nation’s flag: bear, turtle, bullhead, eagle, kingfisher, pine marten and mink. Beaulieu said the Red Lake government operates on an extended family, or clan, system.

Meuers explained Red Lake rejected the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 and in order to retain a clan-based governance system, the tribe withdrew from the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which possessed its own governing authority. In the 1950s, governmental reform efforts resulted in drafting a tribal constitution in which a tribal council made up of seven tribal leaders was created. Hereditary chiefs were retained when Jourdain was elected chairman in 1959 to serve as advisors to the council.

Bemidji’s proclamation notes Jourdain was recognized in 2011 as one of the most influential people of the millennium for his dedication to Indian people, the land and to the preservation of the culture, heritage and history. Former Vice President Walter Mondale heralded Jourdain as an Elder Statesman, a man of the people and Dean of Indian Politics.

The flag is going up early this year since Jourdain’s birthday, July 27, is Sunday. Jourdain died in 2002 at the age of 89. The flag will remain raised until Monday.

Red Lake Tribal Chairman timeline

2014-present: Darrell G. Seki Sr.

2004-2014: Floyd “Buck” Jourdain Jr.

2003-2004: William “Billy” King (Interim)

2002-2003: Gerald F. “Butch” Brun

1994-2002: Bobby Whitefeather

1990-1994: Gerald F. “Butch” Brun

1959-1990: Roger A. Jourdain

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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