Lieutenant Governor-elect Peggy Flanagan (DFL) used a listening session last week at the Upper Sioux Community Center to reaffirm her incoming administration’s commitment to representing “all Minnesotans,” including rural agricultural areas and the state’s indigenous communities.
The event brought together members of the Upper Sioux Community in addition to other area residents. The discussion was wide-ranging and covered a number of issues, but largely centered on concerns voiced by USC members over treaty rights, education, and cultural preservation.
Flanagan, who ran as the running mate to the now Governor-elect Tim Walz, is the first Native American woman elected to a statewide executive office in U.S. history. She is Anishinaabe and a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Prior to her election, she served as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives where she represented District 46A in the western Twin Cities metropolitan area.
The visit was part of a larger listening tour undertaken by both Flanagan and Gov-elect Walz last week. “We wanted to make sure we were listening to all Minnesotans,” Flanagan said in her opening remarks, adding that she was primarily there to listen and ask questions. Roughly 40 people attended the event. One of the issues raised by UPS members was the importance of preserving traditional Native American language and culture. One member, Elitta Gouge, spoke about the need for additional resources to help preserve the Dakota language. She informed Flanagan that the USC currently has only two fluent speakers and shared her concerns that they might lose that linguistic heritage altogether.
Another community member, Dallas Ross, urged Flanagan to address systemic racism in Minnesota’s educational system. He talked about the need for teaching the “true history” of the founding of Minnesota and the lasting damage that process had on indigenous people already living on that land.
The discussion then turned to the treatment of Native American women. Vice Chairwoman of the Upper Sioux Community Marisa Anywaush pointed out that murder is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women and added that they are also disproportionately targeted in the sex trade. Flanagan stressed the seriousness of this issue, and promised that the Walz Administration would work to address it. “At best we are invisible, at worst we are disposable,'' she lamented.
Flanagan said that the new administration would pursue a “government-to-government” model when working with the various tribal governments. She also highlighted plans by the DFL leadership in the state House of Representatives to include a “Native 101” training course to familiarize incoming and current members with Native American history and needs. Still, Flanagan underscored the importance of Natives speaking up and keeping up pressure on elected officials. "I need a little backup at times too,'' she said.
There were also questions touching on other issues like healthcare and agriculture that Flanagan addressed. Local farmer Tim Velde voiced his belief that it was important for the future Agriculture Commissioner (who is appointed by the governor) to “actually be a farmer.” He said that since things were changing so quickly in agriculture, it was essential that the new commissioner “know what’s going on.”
Another area farmer, Glenn Gelhar, raised the issue of access to healthcare in rural areas. He specifically highlighted the importance of preventable childhood diseases, adding that the failure to tackle these issues often had devastating consequences for families.
At the end of the event, Flanagan was presented by a group of USC women with a traditional Dakota quilt they had made for her. Flanagan expressed her appreciation for the gift, and thanked attendees for taking the time to share their thoughts and concerns with her.