Vizenor: State of Nation report ‘impressive’
The White Earth Nation held its annual State of the Nation address Thursday at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.
Following the Native American ceremonial traditions and a performance of the National Anthem from the Naytahwaush Charter School student body, Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor took the stage to talk about the highlights and priorities of the White Earth Nation.
“The 2014 State of the Nation Report is impressive,” Vizenor said to a crowd of roughly 500 in the audience. “White Earth tribal government has grown exponentially over the past decade. We are a government of progress and success,” she said, quick to point out White Earth’s newly adopted constitution requires this address, along with a fiscal report to ensure accountability and public disclosure.
The new constitution is the most monumental change the reservation saw in 2013, which translated into a proud moment for Vizenor, who spearheaded the efforts that led to constitutional reform.
“The people of White Earth have spoken strong and clear for a new constitution that has the checks and balances in government, a separate judicial system and the elimination of the blood quantum that ensures our great nation will exist forever,” said Vizenor, who updated the crowd on her upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., in two weeks when she will meet with Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn to begin the process of federal recognition for the new constitution.
“I have said, I have a deep love for our people and I believe that this Constitution will meet the needs of our people in the many generations to come. It is time to finish it.”
Vizenor also touched on another big change White Earth is seeing, as health and human services is continuing its transfer from neighboring counties to the reservation.
“It is projected that the White Earth Nation will serve 32,000 clients,” said Vizenor. “That is growth and progress.”
Along the lines of human services, the announcement of a new initiative to help better serve families in need on White Earth was also announced.
Jennifer Stevens, who is heading up the new program, also took the stage.
“Today we introduce WE CARE — White Earth Coordination Assessment Resources and Education,” said Stevens of the coordinated, holistic service approach to help families with a variety of needs at one time.
“The network will address transportation, employment, substance abuse, mental health, safety, childcare, early childhood, child protection, education, our elders, housing health care energy and finance,” said Stevens, who called the new approach one that is aggressive in outreach.
A deficiency highlighted in the State of the Nation address is one for better roads.
While Vizenor made a point to thank several local and state leaders, she showed frustration with fallout from the federal sequestration of 2013 and its lingering effects.
“Sequestration was a way for the federal government to balance the budget and they did it on our backs,” said Vizenor, who says reservation leaders will now have to prepare for more budget cuts in fiscal year 2015.
“Now, and days to come, the Tribal Council has to adjust to budget cuts and to work harder and smarter with revenue-generating programs,” said Vizenor, who also pointed out Congress’s willingness to build in other countries while roads around Indian reservations deteriorate.
“Roads in Indian country are not safe. There are not adequate funds for maintenance. Tribes need to unite and go to Congress.
“If the United States can spend $4 to $6 trillion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $53 billion to nation build in Iraq, then Congress can do some nation building in Indian country, provide funds to fix our roads so they are safe for every day drivers, school buses, fire trucks, ambulances and police,” said Vizenor, who also took on the controversial issue of a possible oil pipeline that may be constructed going from Canada and making its way through a portion of the White Earth Reservation.
“We are opposing that pipeline coming through; we need to stand together as nations,” said Vizenor. “These big, giant corporations can’t come through our area without talking to us first.”
Vizenor wrapped up the State of the Nation with a much lighter subject — U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team standout T.J. Oshie, who Vizenor called a “son of the White Earth Nation.”
“On behalf of the White Earth Nation and Tribal Council, I will officially be honoring T.J. in the near future,” said Vizenor. “He is a national hero.”