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Mille Lacs Band swears in chief executive, officers

Tuesday, Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin, District I Representative Sandra Blake and Nay Ah Shing School Board members Kimberly Kegg and Semira Kimpson were sworn in to their respective offices at the Mille Lacs Band District I Community Center.

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Tuesday, Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin, District I Representative Sandra Blake and Nay Ah Shing School Board members Kimberly Kegg and Semira Kimpson were sworn in to their respective offices at the Mille Lacs Band District I Community Center.

More than 300 Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe members and guests attended the event, which included remarks from Chief Executive Benjamin and Representative Blake, a community feast and concluded with a Powwow.

Benjamin began her remarks by highlighting the importance of public service to the band and encouraging band members to increase their involvement with the band.

"Band members are passionate about our community. Service to the band is a wonderful thing," Benjamin said, according to comments released by the band. "There will come a point in your life-when you realize you are closer to the end than you are the beginning-when you look back and say, 'Hey, we did that, together. We built that'. Or, 'we helped that person get on her feet.'"

Benjamin continued by specifically encouraging band members to consider public service.

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I know that some of you sitting out there-young or not so young-have thought about running for office," she said. "You may have a desire, deep down, to serve the band. You have ideas about improving our community. My advice to you: Just do it."

Benjamin then addressed the recent actions by Mille Lacs County to revoke the cooperative law enforcement agreement between the Mille Lacs Band and the County. "Last month, Mille Lacs County voted to revoke our law enforcement agreement, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 22. Some county officials are trying to portray this as a simple disagreement over wording. But the reality is that county officials have been doing everything they can to destroy our Tribal Police force. They are trying to stop our officers from doing their jobs.

"The county plans to cut off our officer's communication systems and 911 dispatching. They have tried to convince other counties to cancel their agreements with us. They have even gone so far as to actually try to get the state of Minnesota POST Board to revoke the licenses of each of our officers. This is not just an attack on the band-it is a professional and personal attack on our officers, as well.

"As far as what is happening in St. Paul and around the nation, make no mistake about it: Every band member knows, that when we leave the reservation, justice can depend on the color of your skin. Traffic stops can be impacted by whether or not you have tribal plates on your car," Benjamin continued. "But on the reservation, most of our Tribal officers know us. They know our families. They know our kids. Many know our culture and are part of our community. Our culture respects the protectors. So I want to take a moment, and say miigwech to our police officers. You put your lives on the line every day, and we appreciate all that you do. Miigwech for your commitment to our community."

Speaking directly to the Mille Lacs County Board, Benjamin said, "despite what you are trying to do to us, despite your actions designed to risk our public safety, we have always been willing to cooperate with you. We extended the hand of friendship many times in the past, and that offer is still good. So if you want to talk to us soon, rescind that resolution at your board meeting next Tuesday morning. But as a sovereign, self-governing Indian tribe, we do not negotiate with a gun to our head."

Benjamin concluded remarks casting a positive vision for the future of the Mille Lacs Band and its members.

"Today, we celebrate. After all that has happened, we are still here. We have a democracy that is alive and well," she said. "We have seen rough times-and I cannot think of a time when all was perfect. But we always get through it. If we do things right, our people will be speaking our language, practicing our traditions and putting on powwows like we are today. Today, we are here together ... the sun is shining .... and now is our time. Let's live, and eat, and dance, and sing ... and celebrate our survival and our future."

Go to bit.ly/29wtmPI for the full text of Benjamin's address.

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