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Lt. Governor and local DFL Party leaders hold Native American voter engagement event in Cass Lake

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Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan speaks to a small crowd in Cass Lake about the importance of voting during a Minnesota DFL event on Friday. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

CASS LAKE -- A few dozen people attended a Native American voter engagement event at the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Government Center on Friday, where Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, tribal leaders, and DFL Party elected officials spoke on the importance of voting.

Lt. Gov. Flanagan encouraged attendees to make their vote count and endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. She spoke of him improving tribal relations with the U.S. government, as well as understanding and respecting tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, if elected president.

“I don’t need to tell you about what the stakes are with this presidential race. The last four years for everybody -- but for Native folks in particular -- have been incredibly difficult under the leadership of Donald Trump, or the lack of leadership from Donald Trump,” Flanagan said.

"We’ve done what we can to partner with tribes here in Minnesota -- the Governor and I -- but boy, it would be really helpful to have a friend and have an advocate in the White House instead of a foil at every single turn," she added.

However, Trump signed an executive order in Nov. 2019 creating a national task force to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. And more recently the Savanna's Act, which seeks to combat violence against the most vulnerable members of the Native American community, was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Oct. 10 .

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Rep. John Persell, a candidate for Minnesota House of Representatives District 5A, spoke to the crowd and joked of winning by only 11 votes in the previous election when he beat Republican candidate and former District 5A Rep. Matt Bliss. As a result, he urged more people to become registered to vote because he’s “going for 1,011 votes this time.”

“I really believe we have a good thing going. We’ve been working hard on Leech Lake Reservation getting the vote out, registering new voters,” Persell said. “We’ve got hundreds of new voters registered, and that could easily make a difference.”

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht, who is running for Senate District 5, was also in attendance and briefly addressed her plans for good housing and healthcare for everyone, fully funded schools and dealing with climate change.

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Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht speaks to a small crowd in Cass Lake during a Minnesota DFL event with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Friday. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

“We all, together, have to go to the polls because, when Democrats get out we win, and that’s what we’re going to do this year,” Albrecht said.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Chairman Faron Jackson and District III Representative Leroy Fairbanks also spoke to the crowd and advocated for tribal members to become registered to vote.

Additionally, a first-time voter, and a voter who recently had his right to vote reinstated, delivered brief remarks on the importance of making their voices heard through voting.

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Cass Lake Mayor Herschel Ogema stood before the crowd and described how he’s been riding his bike around town in order to inspire folks to vote early and assist those who may need help voting.

“With this pandemic that’s taken hold around the world, take care of yourself, take care of your family, take care of your friends, and, last but not least, take care of your enemies,” Ogema said.

Bria Barton covers travel and tourism for Forum News Service and is based at the Bemidji Pioneer. A South Carolina native and USC grad, she can be found exploring Minnesota’s abundance of towns, food and culture. Follow her on Instagram @briabarton.
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