In her 11th State of the Band, or state of the union, speech as chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Marge Anderson called for unity and strength to overcome difficult issues on the Mille Lacs Reservation.
She spoke of violence, gang activity, drug and alcohol abuse and a lack of trust in band government.
“We cannot wish or pretend our problems away,” Anderson told an audience of about 1,300 band members and guests at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs Events & Convention Center. “If we do, these problems will destroy us one by one – family by family – until our very culture is destroyed.”
This was Anderson’s second State of the Band message since returning to the chief executive post after several years in political retirement. After she took office in January 2009, she and the band’s other elected leaders unified behind the urgent needs of rebuilding the Mille Lacs Band as a nation.
Anderson called on the band membership to draw on the courage shown by generations of Mille Lacs Band veterans to inspire their own courageous leadership. As a nation of families, Anderson said she recognized that the band has too often failed to demand accountability.
Restoring accountability, integrity and transparency throughout the tribal government has been an ongoing focus in the past year. Anderson told the audience that while great progress has been made, this work will continue as long as necessary, even as the economy weighs heavily on band budgets for programs and services. She reminded band members that in difficult times like these, courageous leadership is more important than ever.
At the same time, Anderson promised an intense battle against the band’s problems with violence, gang activity and addiction to drugs and alcohol. She plans to have a strong hands-on role in the effort, charging herself with the task of working with band youth on a new definition for native pride – “not the gangster definition, but the real pride of knowing who you are,” she said.
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has more than 4,000 enrolled citizens, for whom it provides a wide variety of programs and services.