ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the first time, leaders of the 11 Native American Tribes which share geography with Minnesota addressed a rare joint session of the Minnesota State Legislature.
The Minnesota Legislature on Monday hosted "Sovereignty Day" at the Capitol. The event is an educational one for legislators, who heard tribal history and culture from leaders of the federally-recognized sovereign nations in Minnesota.
Some of the Native leaders who gave presentations include Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Secretary/Treasurer Rebecca Crooks-Stratton and Tadd Johnson, the Professor Emeritus of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
After speeches from leaders, members attended break out sessions on key issues.
While some of the discussion was blunt, there was also appreciation.
"We see you every day, but do you see us?" asked Fond Du Lac Band chair Kevin DuPuis.
Tribal members who packed the House gallery were grateful.
"Everything to do with this and getting us all together in one room is just so beneficial, it just makes my day," Bois Forte Tribal Council's Robert Moyer Jr. said.
There were also break out sessions on issues including cannabis and public safety.
The Minnesota Legislature first held Sovereignty Day in 2019, but that was only for the Minnesota House of Representatives and did not have breakout sessions. Then came the pandemic. This year, a large scale event was the brainchild of House Speaker Melissa Hortman.
"I thought wouldn't it be cool to use the chambers to have the tribal government leaders and educate members about Indian communities in Minnesota today," Hortman said.
Tribal leaders and legislators said the day could not have been better.
"When I look at the future between the state of Minnesota and the tribes, it's going in a good way," Mille Lacs Band chief executive Melanie Benjamin said.
As a follow up, Hortman's office says legislators would like to do more visits to tribal reservations.
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