Some governments are visionary and some are twirling in their own drama: That’s my conclusion after recently observing the Red Lake and White Earth tribal councils in action. Let’s just say that Red Lake is visionary and White Earth is so enmeshed in power plays and fighting that our people are suffering.
A few weeks ago, I went to a White Earth Council meeting in Naytahwaush, Minn. Several grandmas from Pine Point went because our tribe had failed us. Gordon Construction burned toxic wastes in the village of Pine Point between the school and the housing projects. They demolished parts of the old school — the one with asbestos, insulation, oil paint and a bunch of old moldy stuff—and then burned it right in the village. There was black smoke for hours. That’s a toxic waste and public health problem.
The company violated its burning permit; and no one, thus far, has done anything. The council didn’t even hear our concerns. That’s a shame for our people, who already have plenty of health problems, let alone the Pine Point Elementary School, which was in session at the time. The burn was about 500 feet from the school.
Our people need leadership which protects the people. Instead, that tribal council meeting was dominated by power plays and manipulations. Secretary Treasurer Alan Roy, joined by District Reps. Raymond Auginaush and Umsy Tibbetts, secured passage of a transformation of the tribal code under I 65. The rest of the meeting was spent trying to censure and eliminate power of the newly-seated Chairman Mike Fairbanks.
All of that leads to not much going forward. In just the last month, we’ve had more people die on the reservation, way too early, and Enbridge decided it could open up shop in the middle of town, despite a tribal resolution. The tribal departments seem to be unsure of themselves, suffering from what appears to be Trump-like internal fear mongering and dismissals. The word is 80 people have been laid off.
The hemp program was also eliminated, although our tribe was in the lead nationally. When the program director asked why, he was terminated for “speaking to a tribal official about a closed matter.” That’s the kind of repression we expect from Trump.
Then there’s Red Lake. On Oct. 8, the tribal council passed a resolution declaring any tribal member born before Nov. 10, 1958, would be considered a full blood. That’s epic.
“Our decision at the council meeting to start moving away from blood quantum is the first step in creating a solution that will allow our people to carry on our ways forever,” explained Sam Strong, secretary-treasurer of the tribe. “We need to continue to visit this enrollment to end our practice of mathematical genocide and protect our nation forever….”
The issues of blood quantum continue to plague the Anishinaabe and all other Native people nationally, as federal blood quantum cut offs and regulations are diminishing tribal enrollment. “Mathematical genocide” is a term used to describe the loss of enrollable tribal members. White Earth, for instance, is losing population, dropping from 20,000 or so tribal members we had a few years ago to under 18,000 now. If White Earth blood quantum is the rule, we will be out of quarter bloods. In a couple of decades, we disappear.
The problem is blood quantum, something like a pedigree, is used for animals like horses, not humans. Over time, through intermarriage with other tribes and non tribal members, blood quantum for a specific tribe diminishes, although that person may be technically over three quarters Native, just not White Earth. Some tribes are looking at cultural knowledge, citizenship and other strategies to address this “mathematical genocide.” Red Lake stopped that process, or at least hit the reset button. As well, last year, Red Lake announced a five-year plan to integrate Anishinaabemowin into the schools and a parallel plan for a language immersion program. That’s what happens when you work together.
Visionary people change the world. Red Lake has some amazing new buildings and new solar projects. The Red Lake nation is on the way to install enough solar to power the tribal buildings. The tribe approved a hemp ordinance, and is taking steps towards CBD varieties and fiber varieties.
The Red Lake Tribal Constitution process is moving forward, addressing the intersection between traditional governance and corporate and federal interactions.
”The new constitution also proposes the establishment of a 'Women's Council' to complement the roles of our hereditary chiefs. It is very important to recognize both the changes and continuities of Ojibwe life," explained Brenda Childs, an Ojibwe scholar and member of the Constitution Committee. At one time in Ojibwe society, men were the chiefs while women controlled the economy, especially the wild rice labor. Work roles have changed and we need to be sure that women are equally involved in governance.. That’s the practice of sovereignty.
Want to be myopic and combative, or visionary? That’s the question to our own government, the state or even the federal government. Seems like working together and being visionary is a better plan for future generations.