This last December the Blandin Foundation held a banquet in honor of their new President and CEO Dr. Kathleen Annette. The arrival of Dr. Annette, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, as the executive head of the organization marks an important turning point in the organization’s history.
Founded by Charles K. Blandin, the foundation has offered communities in Minnesota over 5,600 grants totalling $336 million in value in the nearly seventy years of its existence. Focused in the Grand Rapids area, the foundation seeks to build strong economies in rural Minnesota, and emphasizes the even distribution of benefits and burdens within the tight-knit communities which it serves.
Succeeding Jim Hoolihan, who left the position of CEO this last October, Dr. Annette served on the Foundation’s board from 1991 to 2003, and headed the Foundation’s American Indian Advisory Committee since 2004.
Dr. Annette was the first woman from the Minnesota Ojibwe Nation to become a physician. She was also the first woman in the Bemidji Indian Health Service to serve as an area director. To her, responsibility and leadership are second nature.
"I started my practice years ago on the Leech Lake Reservation, and lived my entire life in northern rural Minnesota. What is different about people who live on the reservation? We have extra responsibility, is what I’ve always thought," Annette said.
Important to Dr. Annette is the leadership programs the foundation provides. Teaching and developing community leader’s skill sets, and helping community leaders to work together towards a common goal are some of the values the foundation emphasizes through its leadership training.
"This organization is committed to rural Minnesota. Many reservations have benefited from work by the foundation, primarily through the leadership program. There are many different community leadership programs and organizations, but we’ve served over 300 rural communities and trained over 5,000 leaders since 1985," Annette said.
The accomplishments of the Blandin Foundation are nationally recognized, and Dr. Annette believes she can better steer the organization towards the future by looking at the roots of the organization’s success.
"The first step for me is looking thoroughly into this quality organization, and identifying what good works are going on within the structure. How do we continue to improve what we’re doing? That will be a portion of what I’ll be placing my efforts into initially," Annette said.
"I’ll be looking at local giving areas in Itasca county In the beginning. We’ve identified 20 small cities that the organization will be visiting. That includes anywhere from Bovey to Grand Rapids and Big Fork. Part of the Leech Lake Reservation is in Itasca county, so Inger is a community we will be looking at to ask the question: ‘What can we do to help?’"
The banquet itself invited both supporting members of the Blandin foundation as well as important community figures who came together to celebrate Dr. Annette’s achievements. Taking place in the historic Black Bear Crossing Lakeside Pavilion on Como Lake, Dr. Annette seemed delighted in being reunited with friends and associates new and old, and talked with the guests on both professional and personal matters.
"I am terrifically honored to be here at this facility today. I’m rather humbled to be with some people who I have known for many, many years and others who I am just now meeting, coming together to say welcome and to honor me as the new President of this fine foundation," Annette said.
Perhaps inspired by the variety of people gathered together in one place, Dr. Annette focused on the foundation’s efforts and how she plans to shape its future goals. "One of the things that the foundation is committed to is inclusiveness. How can we include everyone? That is something we must ask. Part of that is looking internally and outside the organization to define what inclusiveness is. How do you satisfy every one’s idea of inclusiveness both within a community and outside of it? We have a diversity of people that we work with. There are so many ways we can look, focus and define diversity. So how do we meet together with other diverse peoples to meet their visions? Well, simply we have to work with them."
"I believe reservations are sovereign nations. I’m a citizen of White Earth Nation; I’m also a citizen of Minnesota. I am both of these, and for the Blandin Foundation to include me into their organization has been an honor," Annette said.
"I will be meeting with local communities and asking them about the issues they are dealing with in Minnesota. We’re looking to partner up with leaders in the communities, so that as they do their good work we support them."
If you would like to know more about the Blandin Foundation, visit www.blandinfoundation.org.