Vizenor, Bevins sworn in
MAHNOMEN - A little less than a month after he won re-election, White Earth Reservation Tribal Council District III Representative Kenneth "Gus" Bevins was sworn in for another four-year term on Thursday, July 3.
Bevins squared off with Ralph "Bucky" Goodman in the tribal general election on June 10, and won re-election by a vote of 557-291.
It was a much longer wait between re-election and inauguration for Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, who was also sworn in Thursday in Mahnomen.
Vizenor learned on April 1 that she would serve another four-year term, after gathering 66 percent of the votes in the April 1 primary election. (Candidates receiving more than 50 percent of the votes in a primary win automatic re-election under tribal law.)
Bevins kept his remarks brief after being sworn in by Tribal Council Treasurer Bud Heisler.
"I'm not a great speaker," he said. "I believe that should be left to Erma (Vizenor) and those higher up than I am."
Bevins did, however, thank those who voted for him, as well as his family, fellow council members, the staff at both the Shooting Star Casino (which hosted the event) and the White Earth Tribal Council headquarters, as well as those who participated in Thursday's ceremonies.
Bevins also honored the White Earth military veterans, who provided an honor guard for the tribal council at the beginning of Thursday's ceremony. He noted that there "would be no fireworks" (on July 4) if not for the veterans.
"The last eight years were really exciting for me," he said. "I look forward to the next four... I never dreamed I'd be here for 12 years."
Earlier in the ceremony, Vizenor was sworn in for her second term as tribal chair by Anita Fineday, who noted that Vizenor remains the only woman to have held that office in the history of the White Earth tribe.
"I'm truly honored and humbled to serve you for another four years," Vizenor told those gathered at the Shooting Star Event Center for the ceremony. "This is truly one of the happiest days of my life.
"We have accomplished so much in the past four years," she continued, adding "thanks to all of you for your support and prayers."
Vizenor also took the opportunity to update those present on a few of the major issues facing the tribe over the next four years -- particularly in the area of education.
"When I graduated from Park Rapids High School, I was among just 5 percent of Native Americans who received their diplomas that year," she said, adding that the other 95 percent had dropped out or failed to graduate. "We've made some improvements since then --but it's not enough."
There is still a significant gap in academic achievement between Indian and non-Indian students, she added. To help offset that, the Tribal Council has entered into a cooperative agreement with the public school districts in the area and Minnesota State University Moorhead to embark on a study to find out where those gaps exist and what can be done to narrow them.
Vizenor also talked about another project that the tribal council has embarked upon.
"Yesterday was a big day for us," she said. Members of the tribal council went to Bemidji to meet with members of the board of the Episcopal diocese there to complete the purchase of the former Gilfillan Center in Bemidji.
The facility will be used to house a new "healing center" for American Indian youth, not just from White Earth, but from surrounding tribes in Red Lake, Leech Lake and Bois Forte as well.
A little less than two years ago, Vizenor and other tribal council members met with a representative from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who informed them that "47 percent of all the youth in Minnesota's correctional system are Native American," she said. "Yet Native Americans comprise only 2 percent of the state's population."
In an interview following Thursday's ceremony, Vizenor noted that she was truly shocked to learn those statistics.
"I've lived here all my life -- we knew our youth were in trouble, but we didn't know the statistics, which are appalling," she said. "To hear those statistics from the state was shattering... I made it a personal crusade.
"Anywhere I went, and whoever would listen, I asked for help."
And help did come. Both the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe contributed funds toward the $6 million needed to renovate the former Gilfillan Center to fit the needs of the new youth healing center.
"It will be called Ohski Manidou, which means 'new spirit' in Ojibwe," said Vizenor.
There will be a blessing of the grounds ceremony on July 9, and "we hope to start serving our youth by mid-autumn," said Vizenor.
The facility will be governed by a non-profit board that Vizenor hopes will include representation from all four northern Minnesota tribes.
"It's exciting," she said. "It's an answer to a prayer."