LEECH LAKE-Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School leaders met Friday with U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., to talk about the band and tribal school's concerns and ambitions as Congress gears up for another round of budget battles like the one that resulted in the longest federal shutdown in U.S. history.
Minnesota's junior senator and a few employees toured the tribal school, where they spoke with higher-level administrators about student homelessness, funding concerns and more, according to Principal Michael Underwood.
Afterward, Leech Lake leaders met with Smith in the high school's library. The first priority mentioned? Books. A yearslong political push replaced a subpar high school building at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig with a gleaming new one this past fall, but Lenny Fineday, a government relations attorney for the band, pointed out to the senator how few books the library actually has.
Other priorities include funding bumps from the federal Bureau of Indian Education, which funds the tribal school, and pushing again for a land transfer that would have sent acres and acres to the Ojibwe band. That proposal was scuttled at the last moment by the federal shutdown, but band staff told Smith they'd forward draft language of a bill to Smith's office next week.
"I'm glad we're picking it up so quickly," Faron Jackson, Sr., Leech Lake's tribal chairman, said. "It's very, very, very, important to Leech Lake and other tribes."
Smith said that as hard as it might be to believe because of the shutdown, the next round of federal budget discussions begin soon.
"I'll do everything I can do to advocate in the Senate," she said, adding that she'll try to work with other lawmakers on the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee. such as Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Smith, who was appointed to Al Franken's Senate seat after his 2017 resignation and who was re-elected in November, is scheduled to visit Cass Lake on Saturday. She will tour facilities at the Chippewa National Forest. Smith also is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service.