MAHNOMEN, Minn. - With the White Earth Nation flag and tribal and state representatives standing behind him, Gov. Mark Dayton signed an executive order Thursday directing state agencies to develop policies to guide them when working with tribal nations.
"We are committing that we're going to have government-to-government, equal-to-equal communication," Dayton said in a signing ceremony at the Shooting Star Casino. "That kind of communication and dialogue is so important."
The executive order requires state agencies to designate a liaison between the agencies and tribal governments, and consult with tribes on issues that affect American Indians.
"It strengthens our relationship, government-to-government, with the state of Minnesota," said White Earth Nation Chairwoman Erma Vizenor.
The order directs state agencies to provide training for "designated staff" who work with tribal nations across the state "in an effort to foster a collaborative relationship" between them.
Linda Aitken, the project manager for government affairs at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said the first classes educating state employees on tribal culture and government will begin in October. She said she isn't sure how many employees will go through the training, but it would involve leadership and other "frontline employees."
"It's going to be a large number," Aitken said.
Aitken said state agencies like the Department of Transportation will work with tribal nations on a regular basis, including building roads, long-range transportation planning and managing vegetation on the side of highways.
The relationship between the state and tribes has also been somewhat contentious recently, with the state-sanctioned wolf hunt that many tribal members opposed because of the animal's spiritual significance.
"The more that (state staff) understand the cultural and historical context of where Indian people are coming from and their policy positions, then the better than they're going to be able to respond to it," said Terry Janis, a project manager for White Earth Nation.
Also in attendance Thursday was state Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, who praised the executive order.
"It provides that platform for communication," Persell said. "It removes, I think, some ambiguity."
He also praised educating state employees, adding that many don't learn about Minnesota's tribes growing up in school.
"I think that's going to mean better working relationships, and hopefully better services for people here and throughout the state," Dayton said.