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Bemidji City Council to display tribal flags at City Hall

The Bemidji City Council has agreed to move forward with displaying the flags of its three neighboring tribal nations in city hall, with formal approval expected by the end of November.

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The United States, Minnesota and city of Bemidji flags are placed behind the city council dais in the council chambers at Bemidji City Hall, as pictured during a political debate in 2017.
Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — After a brief discussion on Monday night, members of the Bemidji City Council unanimously agreed to move forward with displaying the flags of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations within Bemidji City Hall.

The flags, which have been discussed on and off since 2021, would aim to recognize the relationships between the city and the three nations’ governments, as well as bring more visibility to Bemidji’s Native American residents, which account for over 10% of the city’s population.

“I believe this is very significant to our tribal neighbors,” said At-large Councilor Daniel Jourdain. “We’re building bridges and showing respect. It’s very important that we honor them at city hall.”

Jourdain, who is a member of Red Lake Nation, has been an advocate for the display of tribal flags since he was first elected, along with Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer, who is a member of White Earth Nation.

“Our nations have been overlooked and not properly told in the history books, it creates a lack of knowledge in our communities,” Thayer shared. “Our lands and our resources built this nation, built our community. I can do nothing but support bringing those tribal flags into city hall.”

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Other council members have also been consistently in support of displaying the nations’ flags, including Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera, who noted that the flags serve as a visual confirmation of Bemidji’s commitment to supporting Indigenous peoples.

“I agree we should be doing more, but I think this is a step and we should all get behind it,” Rivera said.

The council’s opinions on displaying tribal flags have not always been unified. Back in the initial discussions on the topic in 2021, previous Ward 5 Councilor Nancy Erickson argued that only the three flags representing the city, state and nation were appropriate for city hall.

A public hearing was eventually held that brought forward strong opinions for both sides of the proposal from community members. Since then, the topic only came up sporadically until Jourdain raised it once again in early October.

“It’s long overdue in coming, speaking from my background as an Ojibwe person,” Jourdain shared.

Every member of the current council supported the possibility of displaying the three tribal flags. The only questions raised were about where they would be displayed in city hall, how soon they could be put up, and what the city’s official flag policy would be.

“I have no issue bringing tribal flags into city hall,” said Mayor Jorge Prince, who brought up concerns over how decisions should be made for other flags. “My sole concern is, what’s the policy?”

City Attorney Katie Nolting shared with the council that Bemidji currently does not have a flag policy, but that one could be crafted to accommodate the tribal flags and provide guidance for any future considerations.

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The council agreed to move forward with displaying the flags as quickly as possible, and tentatively scheduled formal approval for the move for Nov. 28. The current goal is for the flags to be displayed by the end of the year, if possible.

This timeline is so that Councilor Jourdain, whose term will end alongside the year, will be able to attend the ceremony and take part in the vote.

“It would be important for you to participate in this vote,” Prince said to Jourdain.

Several of the neighboring nations have already expressed that they would be in favor of having their flags displayed at city hall, both to recognize the relationship between the city and their governments and to honor their members who call Bemidji home.

“This is an opportunity to show that we are in unison with our neighbors, and we want to walk towards a better future,” Jourdain said. “Not only for the constituents currently here, but also to show that this is current treaty land.”

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