Local Briefs
Two new Native women elected to Minnesota Legislature
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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jamiebeckerfinn.jpgFamilies that have long been active in community affairs, and inspiration drawn from other take-charge local leaders, have paved the way for two new Native American women to get elected to the Minnesota Legislature.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, an attorney who grew up at Cass Lake on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe reservation, won the District 42B seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She represents Little Canada, Vadnais Heights, Gem Lake and parts of the cities of Roseville and Shoreview in the northern suburbs of St. Paul.

Rep. Mary Kelly Kunesh-Podein, a library media specialist for Robbinsdale Area Schools, won a House District 41B seat and represents Columbia Heights, Hilltop, New Brighton and St. Anthony in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul. She descends from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota but grew up in Sartell where her father was a St. Cloud city attorney, an assistant Stearns County attorney, and active legal consultant for Northern Minnesota Ojibwe tribes.

Those nearby and extended examples of family leadership influenced Kunesh-Podein, and she’s followed the same path. She has 21 years as a library specialist for schools in Minneapolis and Robbinsdale, and more recently she also became chair of New Brighton Parks, Recreation and Environmental Commission, and this past summer she started the first New Brighton Farmers Market.

marykunesh-podein.jpgThis activism continues into the next generation. One daughter, Elianne Farhat, works on fair wages and workplace issues for the Center for Popular Democracy and a son, Elie Farhat, is an assistant to Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene.  
For her part, Becker-Finn said, “My parents have always been involved in politics so I grew up looking up to people like (the late) Senator Paul Wellstone.”

“In recent years, I’ve seen politics at the state level become extremely partisan and it’s turned folks away from even wanting to be involved,” she added. I believe what Senator Wellstone believed – that politics, at its best, is about people. And about hope.”

Personal experiences clearly influence the two lawmakers’ agendas. Assistance for families and protection of the environment are examples.

Kunesh-Podein, who has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of St. Catherine and a master’s in information media from St. Cloud State University, was a single mom during a federal government shutdown that prevented her from getting a teaching license. “My pride took a hit when I went to use food stamps and MN Care, but I remembered my dad telling me that those safety nets are there to help us when we need it and I am so thankful for them,” she said.
That had a lasting impact. “I felt the anguish of discouragement, but I also learned the courage to pursue my dreams,” she said.

As a “life-long learner” from being a parent and an educator, she said she’s dedicated to support policies for quality education from pre-kindergarten to post-secondary. Native students, or instance, have low graduation rates in Minnesota and the disparities for Native and Black communities in the state are growing.

Environmental issues also attract her attention. Along with her work on Parks, Rec and Environment in New Brighton, her husband Tim Podein is an active sports fan and outsdoorsman, she said.

The first bill introduced by Becker-Finn, who was a Roseville Parks and Recreation commissioner, could be described as taking care of business for her district. It was a road and bridge bonding bill for a project. But another issue that holds her attention as both a Native and as a state representative is projection of water.

“My district has 14 lakes and a lot of people want those lakes to remain swimmable and fishable,” she said.

The problems with water in Flint, Mich. Is on the “minds of many,” she said. “I am fortunate to serve on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and it has been clear from day one that we need strong voices keeping clean water at the forefront.”

Becker-Finn made headlines as a Native parent, it should be noted, before she actively started seeking a legislative seat at the State Capitol. She went after store managers who were selling stereotypical and insensitive clothing and costumes for Halloween in 2015. She was shopping for Halloween costumes; she and husband Gabe have two young children.

A particularly solid article on the controversy was provided by Michael Rietmulder in the Oct. 30, 2015 issue of City Pages. One store did remove a particularly offensive sexy costume, she said, but other plastic insults to Native culture and religion stayed on the shelves.

She was too busy campaigning at Halloween time this year to revisit the suburban stores. But friends told her all the offensive gear was back. “There is definitely a lot of work to be done, as you can see with the Washington Redskins and Cleveland ‘Indians’.”  

Native people are everywhere, she said, including in the Minnesota House of Representatives. And, she added, “We don’t always look like the caricatures you see on ESPN.”   

February What's New in the Community
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by The Circle,
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Ramsey County Chief Deput Sheriff is Native and a woman

whatsnewfebnativesheriff.jpgJulie Rudie has been appointed Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier’s second-in-command. She takes up the role that Serier held until is appointment to sheriff on Jan. 10. Rudie is the first woman to be chief deputy at the Ramsey County sheriff’s office, and is a member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community.  

Rudie began working for the St. Paul Police Department in 1990. She has worked for the Ramsey County sheriff’s office since 2011. She was previously undersheriff of the administration division and now supervises day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office, with 400 members, 200 volunteers and an annual budget of  $56 million.

“I’m very excited and I’m honored,” Rudie told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Rudie has a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and graduated from the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Police Staff and Command.

Ira Jourdain joins Minneapolis School Board

irajourdainwhatsnew.jpgAt its first meeting of the year, the Minneapolis Board of Education welcomed three new Directors who began four-year terms in January: KerryJo Felder, Bob Walser, and Native American Ira Jourdain.

Jourdain was born in Red Lake, Minnesota and is an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe. Jourdain has four children; two of them are currently enrolled at Bancroft Elementary School. He’s been involved in his children’s schools through volunteer work and serving on various site councils.

It’s his work in human services as a Minnesota Family Investment Program Manager –  helping families overcome challenges like domestic abuse, substance abuse and affordable housing – along with his experience as a Native American parent that compelled Jourdain to run for the school board. He has a keen understanding of what many families face.
Jourdain is a resident of the Kingfield neighborhood in Southwest Minneapolis. His school board term will run from 2017 to 2020.

NACC Names Antony Stately as new CEO

 The Native American Community Clinic (NACC) board of directors unanimously voted to select Antony L. Stately, Ph.D. as the new CEO of NACC. He is replacing Dr. Lydia Caros who is retiring after 14 years. Antony recently served as the Director of Behavior Health Programs for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community overseeing the administrative and clinical direction of an interdisciplinary team of psychologists, social workers, and licensed chemical health counselors in a tribal-based outpatient setting. Prior to that, he co-directed the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle.

An enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Stately graduated from South High School and attended Antioch University in Los Angles and received a B.A. in Liberal Arts. From there, he obtained a M.A. in Clinical Psychology and his Ph.D. from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles.

He has held numerous positions as adjunct faculty and associate clinical professors in Washington and California and has provided consulting services for tribal, state and the federal government on key health issues across Native communities. A lecturer and speaker on mental health, historical trauma, oppression, and substance abuse, Stately is also an accomplished co-author and author on GLBTQ issues, particularly in Native communities.

Stately was chosen after an extensive national search. The board enthusiastically agreed that his expertise in Native health and wellness and his considerable management skills would help NACC build on its success in revitalizing communities and lead the next phase of the clinic’s growth and development. He brings a clear understanding of how the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to create better health outcomes in our community and he has a long track record of identifying innovative solutions to difficult challenges. Stately’s has a calm demeanor, quick sense of humor, and a commitment to service and help others. The experience of growing up in South Minneapolis, in the heart of the American Indian community, still informs his view of the world today.

First Nations Awards $310,000 in food grants

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) announced the selection of 21 tribes and Native American organizations to receive grants to start or expand nutrition education programming in their communities as part of the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).

First Nations awarded a total $310,000 to 21 grantees across 12 states. The award amounts vary by grantee. Under this project, the FDPIR programs will expand access to nutrition education programs in Native communities and measure the effectiveness of education interventions. These grants allow tribes to design or expand culturally- and community-based nutrition education projects that encourage individuals and families to improve their nutrition, healthy habits, plus generally broaden access to nutrition education programs.

The regional recipients are: Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Red Lake, Minnesota, $10,000; Spirit Lake Tribe, Fort Totten, North Dakota, $20,000; Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Oneida, Wisconsin, $20,000; Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Keshena, Wisconsin, $26,000; REDCO (Rosebud Economic Development Corporation), Mission, South Dakota, $15,000; and Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, Porcupine, South Dakota, $15,000. 

First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. For more info, see

Friends, clients mourn Native-rights lawyer Larry Leventhal
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by Jon Collins/MPR News,
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larryleventhal.jpgMinneapolis, MN – Longtime Twin Cities civil rights attorney Larry Leventhal on Jan. 17th of pancreatic cancer. Leventhal, 75, was one of the nation’s most prominent experts on American Indian treaty rights and a committed advocate for American Indian civil rights.

American Indian Movement co-founder Clyde Bellecourt remembered meeting Leventhal early on in the movement.
Leventhal had read that AIM members had been patrolling Minneapolis streets to document police brutality against American Indians. Leventhal wanted to help. And AIM needed legal advice.

“Eventually, of course, he graduated from law school and came in as our attorney, knowing very little about Native people, about treaty rights or things like that,” Bellecourt said. “But he started representing us on all these issues. He actually became one of the foremost Indian attorneys in America.”

Leventhal defended American Indian Movement activists who faced charges in the occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973. He also won a settlement for two American Indian men put in the trunk of a patrol car by police officers and driven around the city.

Bellecourt sees Leventhal’s influence in some of the treaty arguments being made at the Standing Rock encampment over the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.

Leventhal had a hand in many high-profile cases, but Bellecourt said he also helped with day-to-day legal issues, like incorporating schools and other nonprofits in the community.

“He became family,” Bellecourt said. “He became like part of our family. Even to the point where he could joke around and tease us. ... We celebrated birthdays together, dinners together and anniversaries together. We’d never think about doing anything like that without Larry Leventhal.”

In the legal world, Leventhal was known as a tireless representative of activists, said Twin Cities attorney Melvin Welch.
“He really developed a good reputation there because he was such a tireless worker,’ Welch said. “He was really known as a zealous advocate. He would pick up the smallest case where there was an injustice and really pursue it vigorously.”

But not everything was grim struggle. Leventhal had also served since 1969 as an officer of the Block-Heads Oasis #3, one of the longest-running Laurel and Hardy clubs in the country.

Grand Sheik Tracy Tolzmann recalled a running joke: He would introduce Leventhal as “a ‘prominent Minneapolis attorney with offices in St. Paul,’ and one person in the crowd would applaud wildly, and Larry would run back and shake hands. And I’d say, “Notice how deftly the $20 bill changes hands.’ I mean, I think a lot of people didn’t realize that Larry was a prominent Minneapolis attorney.”

 Leventhal also collected Laurel and Hardy memorabilia. Some of the youthful energy of those early film comedians seemed to have stuck with Leventhal even into his 70s.

Explained Tolzmann: “The thing that draws people to Laurel and Hardy is their childlike comedy, and they inevitably get into trouble, but they’re always looking out for each other.”

Leventhal’s funeral service was held at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. The family is asking that memorials be sent to the Minneapolis Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the American Indian Movement’s national office.

Minnesota  Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at

Native Women in MN Legislature
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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nativewomeninlegislature.jpgNative American women doubled their presence in the Minnesota Legislature’s House of Representatives this January, but it may be far too soon to declare that the “glass ceiling” holding back women has been shattered.

With the election of Reps. Jamie Becker-Finn and Mary Kunesh-Podein from suburban Twin Cities house districts, the number of Native women has increased to four.

This apparent accomplishment occurred as Minnesota voters actually reduced the number of women serving in both houses of the Legislature by four, from 68 in the previous two sessions to 64 for this term.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peggy Flanagan, who won a special election in 2015 and was reelected to a full term this past November, told The Circle she will seek U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s seat in Congress if the Minneapolis congressman is chosen chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Ellison has said he will resign his congressional seat if elected Feb. 25 to the contested DNC post. The Minnesota Fifth Congressional District includes Minneapolis, Edina, Richfield, Crystal, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley, Fridley and Flanagan’s home city of St. Louis Park.

Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock Lakota), and Becker-Finn (Leech Lake Ojibwe), now make a Native American caucus in the Minnesota House with their pacesetter, Rep. Susan Allen (Rosebud Lakota), the Minneapolis lawyer and lawmaker first elected in 2012. All four are Democratic-Farmer-Labor party lawmakers.

“There is still much work to do,” said Allen, while acknowledging that the gains by Native women in the past election does signal greater acceptance of Natives and women in general for leadership roles.

Their collective successes at the polls coincides with Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig’s appointment to the high court in August 2016.  McKeig, of White Earth Ojibwe descent, is the first Native American to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court and is believed to be the first Native woman to serve on any state’s highest court.

Both Allen and Flanagan said Gov. Mark Dayton deserves credit for advancing women’s opportunities. He appointed McKeig, who had earlier been appointed to a Hennepin County state district court judge by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2008.

Black Snake-Enbridge Returns, Tribes Take Action
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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As Enbridge unrolls it’s plans for Line 3 and the beginning of the largest web of tar sands pipelines in the world, tribal leaders and communities are challenging both the long term and expired leases of the corporation, and the need for new lines.
Line 3, the heart of Enbridge’s profit plan, would bring 760,000 barrels of oil down the same pipeline as the ill fated Sandpiper, last year’s now defeated Enbridge Line. Tribal environmental  hearings are being held in February in Cass Lake, Bena and Ball Club, and 60-year-old pipelines are being questioned for safety.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe’s (comprised of six Ojibwe member bands in Minnesota) Cumulative Impact Assessment process will provide tribal governments, harvesters and members the opportunity to discuss the full impacts of the proposed pipelines.

The Bad River Tribal Council passed a formal resolution January 4th that established the Tribe’s decision not to renew its easement for rights-of-way of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 crude oil, 64-year-old pipeline through the Bad River Reservation. Furthermore, it calls for the decommissioning and removal of the pipeline from all Bad River lands and watershed.

“As many other communities have experienced, even a minor spill could prove to be disastrous for our people. We depend upon everything that the Creator put here before us to live mino-bimaadiziwin, a good and healthy life,” said Bad River Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard. He said on the Tribal Council’s decision, “We will work with our native and non-native communities to make sure that Line 5 does not threaten rights of people living in our region, and we will reach out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how to remove Line 5. And we will work with the same communities and officials to continue developing a sustainable economy that doesn’t marginalize indigenous people.”

The Band has directed Tribal staff to begin planning for the Line 5 removal project development and the environmental issues and hazards that exist with removal of old pipelines, including hazards response and health study, pipeline contents recycling and disposal, and surface restoration.

“These environmental threats not only threaten our health, but they threaten our very way of life as Anishinaabe. We all need to be thinking of our future generations and what we leave behind for them,” said Tribal Council Member Dylan Jennings
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is beginning tribal hearings on the proposed Enbridge Line 3 plan. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, 1855 Treaty Authority and tribal governments have deemed it necessary to conduct their own environmental hearings, after the state of Minnesota dismissed tribal concerns and jurisdiction in the previous hearing process. This includes the abandonment of Line 3 in place, and would set a precedent for the abandonment of the five other pipelines in the same Highway 2 Corridor.  

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