BEMIDJI -- The four members of the Minnesota Youth Council representing Congressional District 7 aren’t yet old enough to vote, but they are already more involved in the legislative process than many adults.
This year’s crop from District 7 are unique -- they are all young women hailing from Bemidji and Red Lake, and all but one are new to the youth council this year.
It’s rare to have this many representatives from the Bemidji area, as each congressional district only has four representatives, and Minnesota's 7th congressional district covers almost the entire western side of Minnesota from the Canadian border down to Lincoln County -- the largest district in the state.
The students are Karen Guise, Bridget Westrum, Alya Nimis-Ibrahim and Jaden Henderson. These girls hold four out of the total 36 spots on the Minnesota Youth Council -- four from each congressional district and an additional four at-large members.
Each hope to bring to light issues facing northern Minnesota and have special issues close to their hearts. They aim to bring attention to the Youth Council’s existence and hear concerns of area residents.
“There are 36 students that are actually making a difference, and nobody knows about it,” Guise said.
The Minnesota youth council is the only legislatively mandated group of youth in the country. In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature formally recognized the work of the Minnesota Youth Council, passing into law the Minnesota Youth Council Committee bill, which established the group as the official voice for youth to provide advice and recommendations to the legislature and the governor on issues affecting youth and to serve as a liaison for youth around the state to the legislature and the governor.
The Minnesota Youth Council has four main subcommittees: Juvenile justice, education equity, environmental justice and health and wellness. Currently, the representatives are meeting virtually due to COVID-19.
Meet your District 7 youth representatives:
Red Lake High School junior Karen Guise jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the Minnesota Youth Council.
As a bi-racial student living in rural Northern Minnesota in Red Lake Nation, Guise said she brings a different perspective to the table.
“I’m Native American and African American and I live on an Indian reservation, so I have a very unique perspective of the world,” she explained. “I thought my voice could help other people.”
Mental health and wellbeing is the key issue for Guise, citing the high suicide rate in Red Lake as the reason she wants to be involved. She hopes to work toward legislation that will address mental health and suicide awareness in schools.
“Our suicide rate is like two times the national average,” Guise said of Red Lake Nation. “For mental health, we want to pass a law for school action plans.”
Other interest areas for Guise include ethnic discrimination, gender equality, bullying, abortion and gun control.
In the future, she hopes to become a lawyer or hold public office -- she said as early as fifth grade, she and her teachers would joke about Guise becoming the president someday.
Concerned citizens who wish to contact Guise may do so by emailing email@example.com.
Bridget Westrum is a homeschooled junior from Bemidji and has been involved in politics from a very young age. This year marks her second year as a member of the council.
She currently serves on the Youth Council’s education equity committee, hoping to address inequalities.
“The public schools system is the reason I am homeschooled,” she said. “I can really see the opportunity gap between the metro kids and us up here.”
She hopes that by continuing her time with the MYC, she’ll be able to bring more awareness to issues in her district, such as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the Opportunity Gap, the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project and gender equality.
“I want to do something politics related when I am old enough,” she said. “Hopefully something like a diplomat or just permanently working with campaigns.”
In the future, Westrum also wants to work with children. She hopes to go to college somewhere on the east coast.
Concerned citizens who wish to contact Westrum may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alya Nimis-Ibrahim, a sophomore at Bemidji High School, is serving on the Youth Council in order to gain the skills to make a positive difference in her community.
“I’m really interested in social justice issues,” she said. “I’m not sure if I want to go into politics as a career, but I’m definitely interested in social justice in general, and what I can do to contribute to my community.”
Nimis-Ibrahim competes on the robotics, math league, and cross-country teams at her school. She is committed to social justice issues and participated in the ACLU High School Advocacy Institute this past summer.
“I’m also on the juvenile justice subcommittee, which is something I’m really interested in,” she said. “I’d definitely like to try to push for legislation to keep people out of the system. I’m interested in all of it.”
In the future, Nimis-Ibrahim is interested in studying engineering or physics, possibly aerospace engineering, she said.
Concerned citizens who wish to contact Nimis-Ibrahim may do so by emailing email@example.com.
Jaden Henderson, a junior at Bemidji High School, is passionate about addressing racism, climate change and education disparities.
“I’m 100% not going to go into this as a job, it’s not me, but I never had a chance to speak out about things that I thought were important, so I thought this was a good opportunity to let my voice be heard and get my ideas out there,” Henderson said of the youth council. “I think a lot of people are doing it now, because they feel like they need to do something.”
Henderson hopes to work to improve the foster care system in the area, stemming from her own experience in the system.
“I was bounced around and it’s not pleasant,” she said. “We have very major problems with poverty.”
Climate change is also an important issue for Henderson, she believes that the younger generation is our future and that we need to start caring for our planet so that students like her can have a bright tomorrow.
After graduation, she plans to study graphic arts at Bemidji State University.
Concerned citizens who wish to contact Henderson may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.