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Leech Lake looks ahead: Jackson outlines Ojibwe band's plans at annual address

LEECH LAKE--The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has not yet reached its "apex," Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr., said at his annual state of the band address. Jackson, first elected in 2016, said the band has a series of good things going for it--a new com...

Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr. delivers the state of the band address on Friday at the Northern Lights Casino in Walker. (Photo by A.J. Belgarde, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr. delivers the state of the band address on Friday at the Northern Lights Casino in Walker. (Photo by A.J. Belgarde, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)

LEECH LAKE-The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has not yet reached its "apex," Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr., said at his annual state of the band address.

Jackson, first elected in 2016, said the band has a series of good things going for it-a new community center, "Native" Boys & Girls Club, and casino in the works-but that it still has a long way to go.

"We have to continue looking to the future, seven generations," he said Friday at the Northern Lights Casino Event Center to hundreds of assembled band members and government officials. "And get our mindset at a different level, sometimes, so it's not always status quo."

The band, Jackson said, is planning a summit to enage its younger members, and to talk about peer pressure, bullying, depression, suicide, domestic violence and mental health issues.

"They are so intelligent and ambitious, with so many great ideas," Jackson said. "We want them to be leaders in their families, schools, and communities, to open up the dialogue about the dangers of drugs and addictions, to educate their peers, siblings, families and communities."

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The summit is planned for sometime after July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, band staff said.

Leech Lake leaders are speaking with Cass County and the Minnesota Department of Corrections officials about expunging some felonies-mainly drug charges, staff clarified-off of band members' records, Jackson said.

The band is also working on a "family healing center" to help families as they reunify after going through the state's foster care system. Most children are removed from their homes because of parental drug use, and Jackson railed against the pharmaceutical industry, six businesses in which the band filed a lawsuit against in 2017.

"Shame on them," he said to a round of applause. "They knew of (opiates') highly addictive nature, putting profits ahead of safety, making trillions and trillions of dollars at the cost of our families' lives."

The band is working to schedule its second-annual opiate summit, too, Jackson said. The inaugural one was in November.

And affordable housing, Jackson said, is a big concern in Minnesota and Leech Lake. The band applied for a federal housing grant to build 100 homes, he said, but only recently received enough for 30.

"We're very thankful for the dollars to provide more housing, but it makes a very small impact on our need, here," Jackson said. Over 500 Leech Lake families are waiting for homes, he said, and many haven't put their names on the band's waiting list because of the long wait. He estimated the list could double to 1,000 families.

"We have so many homeless members, and the number is growing every day," Jackson said. "We, as a council, would like to envision all our members to have a home of their own someday for their families. That is our vision."

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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