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Red Lake State of the Band Address focuses on past progress, future hopes

Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. said 2022 was a busy and productive year for the nation

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Red Lake Nation Jr. Princess Marzia Kingbird, left, and Ponemah Labor Day Princess Jasinda Kingbird listen as Little Bear Drum Group plays a song prior to a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

REDBY, Minn. — As Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. said in his Red Lake Nation State of the Band Address on Friday, 2022 was a busy and productive year for the nation.

Along with council members and community leaders, Seki addressed a packed room of attendees in the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center, eager to hear about the progress of the past year and hopes for 2023.

Ahead of the remarks, the Little Bear Drum Group played four drum songs opening the event. This was followed by the introduction of tribal council members and Red Lake Nation royalty before Seki took the stage.

“In the wake of the (COVID-19) pandemic, our tribal government operations and staff had to deal with many new challenges," he said. "Not just to manage the pandemic, but to manage the federal response."

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Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. speaks to attendees during a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Seki and his staff highlighted the work of each tribal department and various programs. Among them were the chemical health programs, Obaashing Treatment Center, Oshkiimajitahdah, public safety, agriculture, the Boys and Girls Club, Omnimindwaa Gidinawemaaganinaadog — “Uplifting our Relatives” — and the Endazhi-Nitaawiging Charter School.

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Topics pertinent to the nation ranged from housing to enrollment to education, but throughout many of the speeches, the theme of resilience hit home.

“We have a great history here at Red Lake, a history of resistance,” said Red Lake Tribal Secretary Sam Strong. “We’ve never ceded control of our land. We have controlled our own destiny from the beginning of time, and we continue on with this deep history. Our traditions are strong. We’ve never stopped practicing who we are.”

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Red Lake Tribal Secretary Strong speaks during a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Infrastructure and assistance

Red Lake Tribal Treasurer Vernelle Lussier noted that Red Lake wrapped up its work on an emergency rental assistance program that was originally designed to help members with rent payments and utilities during the pandemic.

She spoke about a fund that helps homeowners with mortgage payments and house repairs. Red Lake received over $3 million in funding for that program.

Lussier also noted the nation’s $101 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act since 2021, 70% of which has been used.

She said that over half that allotment — around $51 million — went to band members in the form of ARP payments to assist with general needs. She added that $8 million of the $51 million was allotted to band members under 18 this past December.

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Red Lake Tribal Treasurer Vernelle Lussier speaks during a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Lussier highlighted several infrastructure projects that have been funded by ARP funds, including the Endazhi-Nitawiging Charter School — which opened its temporary site at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year — and the wellness center where the gathering took place.

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“There are a lot of really good things that are happening within our nation thanks to those ARP funds,” she said.

Enrollment

Strong addressed Red Lake Nation’s enrollment, namely a recent study conducted alongside Nicole MartinRogers, a White Earth descendant and research scientist with Wilder Research in St. Paul.

Three years after the Red Lake Tribal Council voted to change the recorded blood quantum of tribal members on the 1958 base roll to a 4/4 blood degree, or full blood, the nation is discussing possible action to further strengthen its membership.

MartinRogers initially presented six scenarios in December that detailed potential tribal membership growth or decline over the next 100 years if blood quantum requirements were to change.

The scenarios included:

  • Scenario one: No changes are made to enrollment criteria, which is currently set at a threshold of ¼ Red Lake Nation blood to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario two: Changes are made to enrollment criteria to allow all Chippewa and Ojibwe blood from a federally recognized American Indian tribe or Canadian First Nation to count toward the ¼ threshold to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario three: Changes are made to enrollment criteria to allow blood from any federally recognized American Indian tribe or Canadian First Nations to count toward the ¼ threshold to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario four: Enrollment criteria is changed to ⅛ Red Lake Nation blood to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario five: Enrollment criteria is changed to allow any lineal descendant from the 1958 Red Lake base roll to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario six: Same as scenario five, but using a phased approach to switch over to lineal descent over a period of 10 to 15 years.

Strong noted that making no change to current blood quantum requirements will result in decreased enrollment over the next 100 years.
“Our people are what make us strong. Our people are what allow us to protect our lake, our land and our way of life,” he said. “We need to protect future generations, and having a conversation about what the future of our enrollment looks like is a healthy path for us to move forward.”

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Attendees give a round of applause during a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Flags are presented prior to a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Red Lake Nation Chemical Health Program Executive Director Tom Barrett speaks to the attendees during a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Attendees listen as the Little Bear Drum Group plays a song prior to a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Red Lake Tribal Executive Administrator Jason Defoe speaks during a Red Lake State of the Band Address on Friday, March 10, 2023, at the Oshkiimaajitahdah Community Center in Redby.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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