Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (D), a citizen of the White Earth Nation, addresses the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on February 12, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Mary Annette Pember: Native lieutenant governor makes strides in Minnesota

Exciting, unexpected, challenging and rewarding: Peggy Flanagan’s first 100 days
First Native woman as Minnesota’s lieutenant governor says, 'It’s ‘an honor and humbling to be able to demonstrate a path and space forward for young Native women’
Indian Country Today

Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan of the White Earth Nation shoulders a uniquely Native responsibility when it comes to governing. Unlike most of the United State’s elected officials, Flanagan must answer to the “auntie burden.”

“My aunties will come for me if I don’t do the work,” she said.

Flanagan said her first 100 days in office have been exciting, unexpected, challenging and rewarding.

“We’ve done quite a bit of work in these first 100 days,” said Flanagan, the first Native American woman to serve as Minnesota’s lieutenant governor. Her work with Governor Tim Walz has included hiring 24 state agency commissioners and creating a state budget. Flanagan said the pair’s work began even before they officially took office.

“We met with our One Minnesota Transition Advisory Board made up of leaders across the state who helped us identify priorities for commissioners we were hiring and help in putting a budget together and helping us lay the groundwork for community engagement,” she said.

“Our advisory board looks like the state of Minnesota and includes small family farmers, tribal leaders, members of the Black and Hmong communities,” Flanagan said.

“We are doing our work while looking through a lens of equity and inclusion; we believe that people directly affected by policy should have a seat at the table,” she said.

Having a tribal member as lieutenant governor also adds an increased level of accountability towards the state’s Native American tribes and community according to Flanagan.

Notably, Minnesota’s executive order regarding tribal and state consultation expands those of past administrations. Executive order 19-24 requires each state agency to identify a tribal liaison and create a timeline for tribal consultation. Past orders exempted some agencies.

During a speech at White Earth’s State of the Nation address on April 4, Flanagan described the executive order.

“It is time for policy being done to Indian people to stop, and for policy to be done in partnership with Native Nations to begin and continue. That order changes that.”

Walz’s proposed budget includes many of Flanagan’s priorities such as education, health, and community prosperity which ensures families’ access to affordable child care and other social services. “As a Native woman and child advocate, my fingerprints are all over our budget,” she said.

The proposed nearly $50 billion Walz/Flanagan budget includes the following points:

• The use of traditional healers and the work being done in the Native community to provide traditional, rehabilitative, and restorative services.
• Invests in training at the Minnesota Department of Transportation that support our commitment to respect treaty rights and tribal sovereignty across all levels of state government.
• Stabilizes and equalizes funding for American Indian tribal schools for the first time to ensure our state better serves American Indian students.
• Supports culturally specific reentry programs for Indigenous people who are incarcerated, so that they have the tools they need to successfully reenter communities and reconnect with families.
• Funds the formation of a task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women to address the growing crisis facing our Indigenous communities across our state and country.
• Provides full funding for investments in tribes’ child welfare delivery system to support the costs of out-of-home placements, helping to ensure more American Indian children are placed with people they know and trust.

Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (D), center, embraces Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) as Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) looks on. A reception in Washington, D.C., on February 12, 2019, marked the first time the three elected Native women had been in the same room together at the same time. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Paid for in part by raising the state’s gas tax by .20 per gallon, the budget includes raising the Minnesota Family Investment Program by $100.00 per family. MFIP is Minnesota’s version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides families with financial assistance for food, clothing, rent as well as job training and finding employment.

The family investment program “hasn’t seen a raise since 1986 when I was in first grade and my family used the program. If we want to get serious about making sure everyone in the state who needs it has an opportunity to lift their families out of poverty we need to increase funding for social programming,” Flanagan said.

The work of her administration’s first 100 days is only the beginning. Now she and Walz must get buy-in for their budget from a divided state legislature.

“Although we are fairly aligned with the House of Representatives, a lack of leadership among Senate Republicans is preventing them from meeting us even halfway on many issues,” Flanagan said.

For instance, despite Republican support, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s bill first introduced in 2018 by Democratic Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein of the Standing Rock Nation failed to move to the Senate. The bill would create a task force that would report to the legislature about the causes and extent of victimization of Indigenous women and girls in the state as well as offer strategies to reduce and end violence.

“There is no excuse not to move forward with this bill. In the grand scheme of the overall budget, it won’t’ cost much. Native women and girls are worth the investment,” Flanagan said.

“My hope is that the MMIW bill won’t be used as a bargaining chip at the end of the session. No one should play politics with the bodies of Native women and girls.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of Flanagan’s first 100 days has been hearing from Native women and girls.

“It’s really been an honor and humbling to be able to demonstrate a path and space forward for young Native women,” she said.

In February, Flanagan was invited by Senator Tina Smith, Democrat-MN to attend the president’s state of the union address in Washington D.C.

“It was so hopeful and exciting to join Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland in that space,” she said. Davids, D-Kansas is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Rep. Haaland, D-New Mexico is a member of Laguna Pueblo. All three Native women were elected to office during the 2018 midterm elections.

Mary Annette Pember has covered Indian Country for several years for Indian Country Today, and other publications. She has won numerous industry awards and fellowships including the Clarion, Native American Journalists Association Photographer of the Year, Medill Milestone Achievement Award, Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellowship, USC Annenberg National Health Journalism and others for her coverage of sex trafficking, missing and murdered indigenous women, sexual assault, impact of historical trauma and other topics. She is an enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe.

This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today on April 15, 2019.

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