By Lee Egerstrom
D. Brandon Alkire, a St. Paul attorney representing various Native American and family causes, is among candidates recommended for election to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
If elected by the Minnesota Legislature this year, Alkire would become the first Native American to serve on the university’s governing board in its 170-year history. Alkire is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
A screening committee for the Legislature, the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC), recommended Alkire in January with two other St. Paul residents to represent the Fourth Congressional District on the 12-member Board of Regents.
It would be a great honor, Alkire said in an interview. At the same time, it is a “sorry failure” that no Native American has served in this capacity at the university that predates Minnesota statehood. The university dates back to territorial days in 1851.
“No regent. No president or vice president. No chancellor. No one in a top leadership position,” he said.
“Brandon would bring a lot of historical background, American Indian legal issues, and passion for underrepresented people to the university,” said Louise Mattson, executive director of the Division of Indian Work (DIW) in Minneapolis.
Mattson works on a number of projects involving courts and family legal access for Native Americans with Alkire, director of Justice for Families. While not exclusively for the Native community, Justice for Families is supported by the Office for Violence Against Women (OVW) at the U.S. Department of Justice.
She said it is “shocking” that no Native American has served in a high university capacity before.
A joint committee of the Minnesota House and Senate will pair candidates down to one recommendation for expiring terms from four congressional districts by Feb. 28. The Board of Regents has 12 members serving staggered six-year terms. The Legislature will elect district and at-large Regents after that process.
Legislators, university backers and officials have pushed for more diversity and inclusiveness in recent years. But that doesn’t mean Alkire has an easy road to the board.
Also recommended by RCAC in the initial round to represent the Fourth District were Karen Schanfield, a prominent attorney who has assisted the university in the past; and James Farnsworth, a university senior student who has been a St. Paul neighborhood business leader. Legislative directives call for a current student to also serve on the board.
Alkire said in an interview that the university should have strong candidates for regent positions. In his case, he said, he has recently stressed to legislators that the indigenous people of Minnesota should have “a seat, and a voice, at the table.”
The university is required to have an American Indian Advisory Board in place to advise the institution under both federal and state statutes. What that might look like is discretionary and is left to the particular school, he said.
But the absence of such a board means the university has been out of compliance with the laws for the past 20 years.
That highlights what all marginalized communities experience, he said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Such an American Indian Advisory Board would serve policy makers and governing officials, he said. It would be different than the current programs and offices that are more student oriented in helping individuals.
“This would be different from any office activities because of the breadth and scope, per statutory language, of the advisory board,” he said.
Alkire knows programs and projects that do serve the Native American community at the university. He was active with Native programs when he was an undergraduate getting a Bachelor of Art degree in sociology at the university, said Jillian Rowan, coordinator of the Circle of Indigenous Nations with the Minnesota Center for Academic Excellence at the university.
He has remained connected in following years even while getting his law degree from Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Along the way he was active with the University of Minnesota Indian Student Cultural Center and the UMN American Indian and Indigenous Studies Workshop. He is also affiliated with groups involved with Race Equity and Strategic Leadership, the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association and the National Native American Law Student Association.
In filing his candidacy with the Minnesota Legislature, Alkire told lawmakers he has the experience and education to promote and support the state’s Land Grant research and scientific education university, a part of the national system with special responsibilities for the general public dating back to President Lincoln.
“I have spent my life in service from my time in the military (Navy) to my many years of work and volunteering with marginalized groups,” he told the legislators. “The introduction of a Native American voice to the Regent Board would be the first in Minnesota history.
“As a state, we celebrate many Native American ‘firsts,’ from the election of the first Native American lieutenant governor (Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan) to the seating of the first Native American State Supreme Court Justice (Associate Justice Anne McKeig).
“With your support, there is an opportunity to make history again,” he wrote.
His volunteer work encompasses a diverse range of interests although much of it deals with helping families, homeless, victims of abuse, the hungry and the arts. Groups he has worked with or collaborated with include the Minnesota Urban Indian Directors (MUID), First Nations Kitchen, Family Violence Coordinating Council, Domestic Fatality Review Team, National Coalition on Domestic Violence and as a board member for the Minnesota AIDS Project.
“I did run the (St. Paul) Art Crawl for a spell before COVID shut us down,” he said. He is also part of the St. Paul Art Collective.
Alkire has also been an involved volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul assistance to the poor at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, and with gay veteran organizations that advocate for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for military service.
He and his partner Anthony Mills have three school-age sons ages 15, 7 and 6.