Bemidji City Council revisits topic of displaying tribal flags at city hall
Despite not being on the agenda, the topic of displaying the flags of tribal nations in city hall was heavily discussed during the Bemidji City Council’s Monday, Oct. 3 meeting.
BEMIDJI — The possibility of city hall displaying flags from the three tribal nations that neighbor Bemidji once again became a topic of conversation during the Bemidji City Council’s meeting on Monday, Oct. 3.
Despite not formally being on the agenda, the discussion arose after At-large Councilor Daniel Jourdain made a motion for a vote on the issue to be included in the night’s session, though this motion did not pass.
Instead, the council agreed to schedule a work session on the topic for the soonest available date, which was Nov. 14.
This is not the first time that the possibility of displaying the flags of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations has been brought forward to the council. The last time was during a work session in March 2021, and members of the council had varying opinions on the idea.
“I find it very difficult and frustrating that this simple topic is a very difficult decision for some folks,” Jourdain said. “Why not get the vote over with?”
Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera shared Jourdain’s perspective, asking whether another work session was necessary before a decision was made.
“We held a work session on this at one point. We received comments and did outreach,” Rivera said. “Do we need to hold another work session or can we just bring this to a meeting and hold a vote on this?”
Following the original proposal in 2021, community members spoke up both in favor and against the idea of displaying the flags. The topic was ultimately delayed, and no vote was ever held.
Since then, the idea has sporadically been mentioned but has not returned to a formal discussion. Community input, however, has continued, including during Monday’s meeting.
Michael Dahl, a Bemidji resident and member of White Earth Nation, spoke on the importance that seeing tribal flags displayed in city hall could have for Indigenous people in the city, which make up over 10% of Bemidji’s population.
“Our nation is not acknowledged even when we have our nation sitting at the table,” Dahl said, referring to Jourdain and Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer, who belong to Red Lake and White Earth Nations respectively. “How do we feel safe to speak about our concerns if we’re not represented when we walk into a building?”
Dahl shared that, for him, seeing the flags of tribal nations in City Hall would show that Bemidji acknowledges the historic and current presence of Indigenous people on its land, and would make the space a more welcoming place for Bemidji’s Native American citizens.
“Something as simple as a flag will speak volumes to the sincerity of reconciliation,” Dahl said. “It should not be a fight for people like yourselves to do the right thing by your community, whether you’re Indigenous or not.”
Jourdain also brought up how other cities in Minnesota already display the flags of neighboring tribal nations, such as Duluth and Cloquet. Other government buildings in Bemidji also have tribal flags displayed including the Beltrami County Courthouse.
As the meeting continued, Jourdain expressed his thoughts and frustrations about how the discussion on flags has progressed through the months.
“It’s frustrating how we tend to delay things on a simple matter,” Jourdain said. “It’s very difficult to sit here with a council that is very against that type of thing.”
Other members of the council took issue with this characterization and made a point to emphasize that the current Bemidji City Council has made considerable efforts to partner and build relationships with each of the neighboring nations.
“This council has been very engaged in meeting with all our tribal partners, and a number of Indengious groups,” said Mayor Jorge Prince, “I think we’ve demonstrated that.”
Thayer echoed this point and expressed that it was unfair to categorize the entire council as against both the idea of flags or as unsupportive of the Native American community.
“I have seen major movements of sharing, talking, communicating and reaching out not only as council members but as volunteers in the community,” Thayer said. “I know which council members have been there and shown up and worked hard for our community.”
No one on the council directly expressed opposition to displaying the flags during the meeting and several shared their support for it. An official discussion on the topic will be held during the council’s work session on Nov. 14.