ShinnobIkwe in the House. Guaranteed!Minnesota voters consider three Native candidates from three different political parties
By Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today
indiancountrytoday.com There are many firsts in the upcoming midterm elections in Minnesota. Some of the events are so unprecedented that there is no verifiable public record to prove otherwise. For instance, the three Native American candidates running for public office in Minnesota are all enrolled members of several of the 11 state bands of the Ojibwe tribe. This is very likely a first-time occurrence. More than likely. Skip Sandman, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, is representing the Independence Party, is running for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. In an especially noteworthy first, both lieutenant governor candidates, Democrat and Republican, are both Ojibwe women. Donna Bergstrom of the Red Lake Band of Minnesota Ojibwe is the running mate for Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson. Peggy Flanagan of the White Earth Band of Minnesota Ojibwe is running with Tim Walz, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate. So regardless of the outcome of the gubernatorial election, a Native American woman, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, will serve as the next lieutenant governor of Minnesota. Here, in alphabetical order, are brief biographies and agendas for the Minnesota candidates:
Donna BergstromDonna Bergstrom, born and raised near Carlton, Minn., is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. She retired after 20 years of service as an intelligence officer with the Corps in 2010 and moved home to Duluth from Washington D.C. with her husband Walter “Skip” Fischer and her son Ari. A lifelong member of the Republican Party, Bergstrom values the Party’s support of personal responsibility and individual freedom especially in terms of health care. She supports elimination of the Affordable Care Act as a means to keep down health care costs and to ensure more freedom of choice. She opposes a single payer health care program. Currently Minnesota offers no cost medical assistance through MNCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low income people or MNSure, a rate adjusted health care plan for those who can’t afford other health insurance. MNSure is provided to Native Americans at no cost. Bergstrom and Johnson want to dismantle Minnesota Sure and pare back MNCare. Bergstrom said she decided to get involved in politics because she was troubled by high taxes and too much government intrusion in citizens lives. She ran unsuccessfully in the State Senate’s District 7 two years ago.
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Peggy FlanaganPeggy Flanagan of White Earth grew up in the St. Louis Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. Flanagan is a long-time political activist and has worked for several nonprofit organizations including the Children’s Defense Fund and Wellstone Action before her election in 2015 to the Minnesota House of Representatives. She lives in Minneapolis with her daughter Siobhan. Flanagan is a member of the Minnesota House Native American Caucus along with the three other Native American women lawmakers Jamie Becker-Finn a descendent of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Mary Kunesh-Podein, Standing Rock, and Susan Allen, Rosebud. All of the women are Democrats. Flanagan is also a member of the DFL’s People of Color and Indigenous Caucus of state lawmakers. “There are 14 of us out of 201 representatives. We are small, but we are mighty,” Flanagan said. “When policies that involve people of color are introduced, we support each other in ensuring that we are at the table in discussing those policies.”
Skip SandmanSkip Sandman is spiritual advisor and traditional healer at the Mash Ka Wizen Treatment Center, former corrections officer and U.S. Navy Petty Officer. He lives in Duluth with his wife Babette. Sandman ran unsuccessfully for the 8th Congressional District in 2014 as a member of the Green Party. He is currently endorsed by the Independence Party. The 8th District is a longtime Democratic stronghold, but according to Sandman, his position as an Independent will help him reach across the aisle to fellow lawmakers. Mining and its impact on the health and safety of the environment are hot button issues here. Home to mineral rich lands and prime wilderness areas such as the Boundary Waters, the region’s mostly Democratic white blue-collar population swung heavily towards Donald Trump in the presidential election. Republicans and Trump are winning support here as the U.S. Forest Service lifted the Obama era roadblock to copper mining in the Boundary Waters thus creating the hope for more jobs. Twin Metals is proposing a copper-nickel-precious metals mine south of Ely, in the Boundary Waters region. Mining is deeply entrenched in Northern Minnesota. Both the DFL’s Joe Radinovich and Republican Pete Stauber support mining. Radivnovich calls for greater mining regulation and environmental impact studies while Stauber supports mining that uses scientifically based methods. He supports Trump’s decision regarding copper mining in the Boundary Waters. Sandman opposes both the Polymet copper-nickel mine that is nearing completion in northeastern Minnesota and opening up the Boundary Waters to mining. The Polymet project will be the first copper-nickel in the state. “The toxic effects of this mine places corporate interests over the health of our communities,” Sandman said.
Sandman proposes greater investment in green energy jobs as a means to protect the health and safety of water and fight the impact of climate change. “I will vote to strengthen and enforce environmental laws. Also, I will not lie to you about the toxic risks to our water from the copper-sulfide mines like Polymet. After I am elected, I will not grease the wheels for these industries who refuse to invest in technology that could increase our economy without endangering the life, we in northern Minnesota love. The risk of continued support of copper-sulfide mining is not what could happen to our waterways but rather what will happen,” he said. Sandman supports a Homeless Bill of Rights that includes rights to rest in public places, eat, share and accept food, 24 -hour access to basic hygiene facilities and others. He is in favor of a single payer health care as well as creating a form of universal basic income (UBI) to address wealth inequity. A UBI would provide a basic living income as a means to reduce health, social and other disparities. “As Native people we are taught to look ahead seven generations. What is the legacy we are going to leave for our children?” He asked. “I am asking people to vote their values, not their fears.” Mary Annette Pember has written about Native American people and issues since 2000 for Indian Country Today, ReWire News, and others. She is an enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe. Follow Mary on Twitter @mapember and find more of her work on mapember.com.
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