ONAMIA - In her 11th State of the Band speech as chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Marge Anderson called for unity and strength in overcoming several difficult issues on the Mille Lacs Reservation, according to a news release provided by the band.
Acknowledging that the band's problems will take years of courage to address, she spoke of violence, gang activity, drug and alcohol abuse and a lack of trust in band government.
"We cannot wish or pretend our problems away," Anderson told an audience of about 1,300 band members and guests at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs Events & Convention Center. "If we do, these problems will destroy us one by one - family by family - until our very culture is destroyed."
This was Anderson's second State of the Band message since returning to the chief executive post after several years in political retirement. After she took office in January 2009, she and the band's other elected leaders unified behind the urgent needs of rebuilding the Mille Lacs Band as a nation.
"The Mille Lacs Band deserves to never have a leader who is here for any reason other than to serve band members ... just like the band deserves to always have a membership that demands accountability," Anderson said. "Governments that function best have ethical leaders and engaged followers."
Anderson called on the band membership to draw on the courage shown by generations of Mille Lacs Band veterans to inspire their own courageous leadership. As a nation of families, Anderson said she recognized that the band has too often failed to demand accountability.
"This will not happen on my watch," she said.
Restoring accountability, integrity and transparency throughout the tribal government has been an ongoing focus in the past year, the band reported. Anderson told the audience that while great progress has been made, this work will continue as long as necessary, even as the economy weighs heavily on band budgets for programs and services. She reminded band members that in difficult times like these, courageous leadership is more important than ever.
At the same time, Anderson promised an intense battle against the band's problems with violence, gang activity and addiction to drugs and alcohol. She plans to have a strong hands-on role in the effort, charging herself with the task of working with band youth on a new definition for native pride - "not the gangster definition, but the real pride of knowing who you are," she said.
Anderson went on to point out the connection between a safe, healthy community and more inspired, successful youth. She pledged to devote the resources needed to support commissioners, educators and law enforcement agencies with prevention and combating violence, gang activity and addiction.
Other speakers at State of the Band were Mille Lacs Band Secretary/Treasurer Herb Weyaus, Chief Justice Rayna Mattinas and Commissioner of Administration John Dunkley. These speakers urged band members to remain united and active in their government.
"I want to encourage you to get involved with the tribal government in our nation's rebuilding efforts during the next year. Ask your representatives questions and offer your ideas," said Dunkley. "By working together, we can accomplish so much more."
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has more than 4,000 enrolled members, for whom it provides a wide variety of programs and services.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.