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'A significant moment in our city's history': Flags of surrounding tribal nations raised in Bemidji City Hall

In a historic step, the flags of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth nations were officially raised in the lobby of Bemidji City Hall during a special ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19.

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Veterans present White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake Nation flags during a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — In a historic and meaningful step, the flags of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations now proudly stand in the lobby of Bemidji City Hall.

With a ceremony held on Monday evening to commemorate the flags’ display, representatives from each nation gathered alongside city officials and community members to celebrate the monumental occasion.

“We are excited today to celebrate a significant moment in our city’s history, as we raise the flags of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Nation, and White Earth Nation in our city hall for the very first time,” said Mayor Jorge Prince.

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Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince speaks during a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Veterans shake hands after posting White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake Nation flags on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The display of the flags, which has been discussed for nearly two years, was unanimously approved by the Bemidji City Council on Dec. 5 thanks to the perseverance of several of the council members.

At-large Councilor Daniel Jourdain, who is a member of Red Lake, alongside Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer, of White Earth, and Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera worked diligently to bring the flags to city hall to represent the city’s Indigenous population.

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Bemidji Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer presents gifts to veterans during a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“These initiatives go a long way, not only in Native country,” shared Jourdain. “When we think about these types of changes, we think about the disparities that continue in our community, and we try to represent the ones that are unheard. This community spoke up and wanted this change.”

The flags were welcomed into city hall by a procession of veterans from each of the three tribal nations, drum songs and an invocation. After the flags were officially posted, representatives from Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth shared their thoughts on the action’s significance.

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Bemidji At-Large Councilor Daniel Jourdain speaks during a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“I’ve been through a few different flag-raising ceremonies, (but) this one feels particularly impactful to me,” shared LeRoy Staples-Fairbanks III, the District 3 representative of the Leech Lake Tribal Council. “I’ve lived here, and spent some time growing up in Bemidji.”
For Staples-Fairbanks, while there is still a ways to go, the flags represented a positive step forward for the representation of Indigenous people in Bemidji.

“I’ve heard from a lot of Leech Lakers that live here, some of the bad, some of the good,” Staples-Fairbanks said. “This is a good step for those who are wanting to be heard, wanting to be seen, wanting to be welcomed here and feel like it’s home.”

The significance of this first step was also echoed by Red Lake Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. in his comments.

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Red Lake Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. speaks during a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“I’m honored and humbled to be here, and I want to thank the mayor, the city council and the people of Bemidji,” Seki added. “There’s still a lot of things that need to be improved, there’s still racism out there, but this is a first step.”

In several of the speeches, Bemidji’s significant population of Native American residents was discussed, alongside the work that the three nations do in Bemidji to not just benefit their own band members, but the broader community.

“We know that there’s a lot of our band members here,” said White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks. “We’re trying to help as much as we can and make all of our people’s lives here better.”

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White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks speaks during a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

For his own comments, Prince began by sharing the words of a proclamation made to recognize Indigenous People’s Day that acknowledged the history, treaties and current contributions of Native American communities in Bemidji, alongside an apology on behalf of the city for any past failures in understanding, inclusion or respect.

“These truths are not reserved for celebration on a single day, rather these are significant truths that impact our city each and every day,” Prince shared. “It’s my hope that as these flags wave in city hall and that they will remain a reminder to all people of these truths.”

He left off by adding, "It is my great hope that all who visit this city hall will always feel welcome to make their needs known."

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Veterans bring White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake Nation flags into the Bemidji City Hall chambers during a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nation flags are posted alongside the American flag in the Bemidji City Hall lobby following a tribal flag ceremony on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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