Two young women from Waubun, a small city about 30 miles north of Detroit Lakes on the White Earth Reservation, are among 23 appointments to the state's Young Women's Cabinet.
As members of the cabinet, Waubun residents Elizabeth Burnett and Amerees TeJohn will have the opportunity to improve the lives of underrepresented young women across the state, such as those who are Indigenous, have disabilities, are from greater Minnesota, and who are LGBTQ+.
Burnett is among the youngest on the cabinet, at age 16. The Waubun High School student said her grandmother encouraged her to apply for an appointment, and, “I didn’t really expect to be appointed. When I found out, I was really surprised,” she said.
The cabinet is a first-of-its-kind initiative of the Office of the Governor and Lt. Governor, along with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, that aims to improve outcomes for young women in the state, according to a news release. The cabinet is comprised of 32 young women, ages 16-24.
Burnett hopes “to be a voice to Native American kids,” she said. “I know how Native American kids experience trauma … I hope that I’ll be able to open up people’s eyes about how hard it is to be a Native American in this society today … A lot of Native American kids don’t have the support they need to be stable. They don’t have a support system to talk to.”
She said she's also hoping her time on the cabinet will develop her leadership skills and help make her a stronger person.
Her appointment, effective Nov. 23, lasts five years and entails twice-monthly meetings, some of them held at the state Capitol.
Amerees TeJohn could not be reached by press time.
'Elevate the leadership'
The two were among more than 140 women from all over the state who applied to be a part of the cabinet, sharing their voices, ideas and stories.
“It’s my honor to elevate the leadership of these extraordinary young women from communities across Minnesota,” Gov. Tim Walz said in the news release. “Every young woman in Minnesota deserves a bright future, and the best way we can achieve that is by asking them directly what we can do to improve opportunity in their community. “
Saanii Hernandez, vice president of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, said that since 2016 the cabinet has guided the state's leading research on the well-being of young women of color, invested more than $1 million in grants to nonprofits and individuals, testified as experts and advocates at the Capitol on behalf of policies that create opportunities, safety and leadership for women and girls, and worked with other state leaders to advance equity across sectors.
“There is more to Minnesota when every young woman has what she needs to thrive — with economic opportunity, access to leadership, and safety at home, school and work,” Hernandez said. “Representation matters. When we center the voices and leadership of young women facing the greatest barriers, their families and communities do better.”
The cabinet ensures the efforts of the Young Women’s Initiative stay grounded in the life experiences of its members and the community-specific challenges and solutions they identify.
Joining Elizabeth Burnett and Amerees TeJohn with appointments to the Young Women's Cabinet are:
Zaynab Abdi, St. Paul; Jennifer Adams, White Bear Lake; Janaan Ahmed, Minneapolis; Maria Arreola, St. Paul; Natalie Bebeau, Deer River; Yameha Burnett-Hollins, Edina; Calonna Carlisle, Lakeville; Mariana Cervantes, Lake Elmo; Britney Chino, Inver Grove Heights; Athena Cloud, Minneapolis; Briana Fongvongsa, Brooklyn Park; Flora Fouladi, St. Paul; Gabrielle Hawkinson, Shakopee; Evelyn Humphrey, Wanamingo; Benya Kraus, Waseca; Izzy Laderman, Duluth; Rayanna Lennes, Hastings; Nayzeth Muniz, Worthington; Janet Nguyen, Minneapolis; Ponny White, Moorhead; and Bla Yang, Mankato.