WALKER-In keeping with the "Past, Present and Future" theme of the 2015 Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe State of the Band address, a young woman took to the podium and spoke to the crowd in the tribe's indigenous language, Ojibwemowin. NaKaya Losh, 12, tied together past traditional teachings with present practices and future hopes.
"I will continue to fight for our language because it is so important on so many different levels," Losh said in English after her speech. "We need to do everything we can to make sure of its survival ...This culture and this language can teach you things the books can't."
Following Losh's speech, event emcee Roger Aitken told the crowd Losh's great-grandfather, Johnny Mitchell, was a pioneer of and teacher at the Niigaane school where Losh would later practice Ojibwemowin. Losh has testified on preservation of the Ojibwe language at the Minnesota state capitol for state funding at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School.
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Chairwoman Carri Jones also spoke to the importance of preserving the culture, and highlighted past accomplishments and future endeavors. One project that could result in creation of jobs and add to infrastructure is improvements at the White Oak Casino in Deer River and Palace Casino in Cass Lake.
"The Band is planning many exciting and innovative projects in the years to come," Jones said. "For example, the Reservation Business Committee will review a White Oak Casino expansion plan and a Palace Casino replacement plan."
Additionally, Jones said Leech Lake Gaming is looking into a plan for the Shingobee property near Walker. Ryan White, with Leech Lake Public Relations, said no additional information is available on any of the casino endeavors at this time.
Jones spoke on two hot topics affecting Minnesota tribes during her address: blood quantum and ricing.
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is reviewing a resolution that could change enrollment criteria based on what origins of blood is included in blood quantum. The controversy is over blood lineage versus enrolled members of six Bands. Currently, a member's blood quantum is calculated based on the amount of blood derived from the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth Bands. The question being decided by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is if blood from all Anishinaabe, Ojibwe and Chippewa Bands, including Canadian First Nation blood, should be counted toward the one-quarter blood quantum requirement. If the resolution passes, adult members enrolled with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe will be allowed to vote on the issue.
"Ultimately, the decision will be left up to MCT members. I believe this is an important step forward for future generations," Jones said. "I believe I speak for many here when I say the blood quantum process is a huge concern for many Band members."
Jones said after the proposal reaches the Department of the Interior, more information will be distributed to Band members.
Leech Lake is the largest tribal producer of wild rice in the state, Jones said, and the Department of Resource Management purchased more than 89,000 pounds of wild rice from Band members this past season resulting in $178,000 introduced to the local economy. The department has purchased more than 1,094 acres of land.
"More land has been purchased back in the past three years than in the past 20 years," Jones said.
Present progress and past achievements
Past and current achievements include building playgrounds, community centers, completion of the government center, opening a satellite office in Duluth, expanding the Diabetes Fitness Center in Cass Lake, partnerships with the Chippewa National Forest and a new opioid treatment facility in Cass Lake due to open at the end of August.
The facility which opened in 2012 can serve 110 clients. Service will increase to 200 clients once the doors open, Jones said. The hope is to include inpatient program, daycare, aftercare and a sweat lodge in the future.
Following up with drug concerns, Jones said the Leech Lake Tribal Police has added a second narcotics investigator to help cease drugs coming into the reservation and address substance abuse. In relation to drug abuse, a public health concern has surfaced with the number of new babies born with negative side effects due to prenatal drug and alcohol exposure. A public health taskforce was created.
"The taskforce works toward no longer stigmatizing pregnant mothers with drug issues," Jones said. "And instead embraces and supports women in a healthier lifestyle."
The Band continues to work on the Bena bike trail project connecting Old Housing Road, where the new Lyman "DeDe" Losh transitional home is located in Bena, to Big Fish Restaurant. Construction on the 2-mile path is scheduled to be completed by 2017.
Jones said the Reservation Business Committee has identified the Winnie Dam, Deer River, Ball Club and Inger communities as areas of interest. Some of the planned improvements include basketball courts, street lighting, community picnic pavilions and continuing education classes.
An elder care facility and judicial center broke ground this year in Cass Lake. The judicial center will centralize the courts and law enforcement center. The elder care facility will create about 20 new jobs. Leech Lake Housing Authority is also planning on expanding with up to 25 new units.
Branching out into surrounding areas, Jones said the Band renewed a memorandum of understanding in the spring of 2015 with Cass County. As part of the memorandum, Cass County employees are available to provide services at the government building in Cass Lake. Cass County was also involved in creating an absentee voting location in Cass Lake and Itasca County opened a location in Ball Club.
"The band is currently exploring similar (memorandum of understandings) with Beltrami and Itasca Counties," Jones said. "Leech Lake is also coordinating with Red Lake to raise both of our tribal flags at the Beltrami County Courthouse."
The LLBO flag was raised at the Itasca County Courthouse in 2013, Jones mentioned the accomplishment in the 2014 State of the Band address as well.
"We have Leech Lake flags flying in both Itasca and Cass Counties," Jones said. "We encourage other tribes and counties across Minnesota and the country to work together towards common goals and cooperation."
Economically the band took in $107 million in revenue with $101.9 million in expenses. The top three revenue streams consist of $34.7 million from federal, state and other grants, $22.3 million from program fees and gaming allocation contributing $12.5 million. The greatest expenditures are human services, $20.2 million; government activities, $10.8 million and public works, $12.6 million.
Other aspects of the address included an invocation by Larry Aitken in which he mentioned firefighters from the Leech Lake, White Earth and Red Lake reservations battling the fires in Washington state and entertainment for the event by the Leech Lake drum and dance and the Northland Eagles youth hand drum group.