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Building people power: Get Out the Vote block party draws hundreds ahead of 2022 election

Complete with live music, corn hole, food, face painting and other family-friendly activities, attendees had a chance to meet with state and local candidates who will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Organized by MN350 Action, NDN Collective, Indigenous Environmental Network, Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations, the nonpartisan event aimed to amplify civic engagement between the general public and elected officials.

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MN350 Action Northern Minnesota Organizer Nancy Beaulieu speaks at a Get Out the Vote block party on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at the Paul Bunyan Park waterfront.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Despite a slight October chill, hundreds of community members exuberated warmth and excitement that came with festivities as part of a Get Out the Vote block party by the Lake Bemidji waterfront on Saturday.

Complete with live music, corn hole, food, face painting and other family-friendly activities, attendees had a chance to meet with state and local candidates who will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. They could also register to vote and build community based on treaty responsibility.

Organized by MN350 Action, NDN Collective, Indigenous Environmental Network, Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations, the nonpartisan event aimed to amplify civic engagement between the general public and elected officials.

MN350 Action is a companion organization to MN350, which is a statewide group of 20,000 supporters working to make Minnesota a national leader in transitioning to a clean energy economy, according to its website.

“More often than not, our candidates come find us during election time and say ‘we need your vote, we’re really here to address your issues’ and then after election day we don’t see them anymore,” said Nancy Beaulieu, a northern Minnesota organizer for MN350. “So what we’re trying to do here is build people power.”

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Current Ward 1 Bemidji City Councilor and At-Large candidate Audrey Thayer visits with community members at a Get Out the Vote block party on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Beaulieu highlighted the importance of making informed voting decisions, particularly for local races. Inviting all local candidates to the event was one way of addressing this notion.

“This is not literally about the candidates and their jobs. It’s about us and our power,” Beaulieu added. “Local races have more direct impact on our daily lives than federal or state elections.”

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Event-goers visit with state and local candidates during a Get Out the Vote block party on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Grant Stevenson, policy action team organizer for MN350 Action, completed a trek from St. Paul to speak at the event and detailed some thoughts when he saw a sign that said “be a voter.”

“It reminded me that the colonizers on the east coast, in large part, copied a Native system of governing themselves,” Stevenson said. “We need to remind ourselves, remind those who serve us in city hall and the state capital that this movement of the people has been here longer than the colonizers. We’re a part of something ancient and we should be proud of that and should participate in it.”

Encouraging community members to visit with attending candidates, a common theme of speeches throughout the afternoon was honoring treaties across party lines.

“Voting is one way we build Native power and it’s a colonized way of government,” Beaulieu said, “but treaties are the supreme law of the land. They are nonpartisan, meaning regardless of whatever political party you belong to, what church you go to, how you self-identify, the color of your skin, we are all treaty people.”

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Event-goers visit with state and local candidates during a Get Out the Vote block party on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Treaty responsibility

Bringing home the idea of honoring treaties, Beaulieu and White Earth member Justin Keezer spoke on the recent dismissal of criminal trespass charges against them when they set up Camp Firelight, an eight-day ceremonial camp at the Mississippi River in June 2021. The campsite was located where the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline was being built to cross the river near its headwaters.

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“They tried to label us as protestors and tried to say we were agitators but in reality, because of who we are as Anishinaabe people, we have an obligation to protect not only our people but the resources and the land that we live on,” Keezer said, addressing the attendees.

According to Indian Country Today, Beaulieu, Keezer, water protector Todd Thompson and several other Indigenous participants were initially charged and prosecuted by the state of Minnesota in Clearwater County District Court after they camped on the territory ceded to the United States by treaty.

Their cases were transferred to the White Earth Tribal Court where Chief Judge David DeGroat dismissed the charges in July 2022 on the grounds that their actions were lawful exercises of the sovereign Indigenous rights reserved in the 1855 Treaty of Washington.

This treaty ceded a large portion of Ojibwe land to the U.S. Government and established the Mille Lacs and Leech Lake Nations.

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Community members gathered on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, for a Get Out the Vote block party at Paul Bunyan Park to meet state and local candidates, register to vote and build community based on treaty responsibility.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Upholding this treaty through nonviolence, Beaulieu expanded on the power of people when observing their civic duties.

“We’re realizing that it’s us that create change and we saw that at Firelight Camp when we won the treaty case,” Beaulieu said. “(We proved) to the state of Minnesota that they lack subject matter jurisdiction over the Anishinaabe protected natural resources on or off the reservation.”

Encouraging all attendees to vote for candidates who align with their values, Beaulieau emphasized collaboration between the public and elected officials that must take place to affect change.

“It seems too much for one person to change the world,” Beaulieau left off to the attendees. “But, if we show up and vote, show up afterward to organize and teach you all how to be a part of the dialogue, that’s our power and that’s why we’re here today.”

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Event-goers visit with state and local candidates during a Get Out the Vote block party on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Rapper Thomas X performs at a Get Out the Vote block party on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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