Bemidji News | Local Government

Bemidji City Council, Leech Lake Tribal Council formally meet for the first time

View Of Sanford Center

The Bemidji City Council met with some representatives from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in a historic joint meeting.

There does not appear to be any written record of any such meeting happening before.

The Sanford Center hosted the two government bodies for the meeting Monday evening.

The two councils exchanged a series of gifts including hand-carved wooden animals from Mexico, Leech Lake wild rice and Visit Bemidji toy hockey sticks.

Introductions were given in Ojibwe, English, and, from Mayor Jorge Prince, Spanish.

City Manager Nate Mathews and Leech Lake Government Relations Manager Irene Folstrom each gave a presentation that went over the history of the two governing units.

These presentations were followed by some fluid discussion on shared issues such as public safety, transportation and housing, as well as a discussion on accepting tribal IDs citywide and displaying tribal flags at City Hall.

The tribal ID is a federally recognized form of identification but it has not always been recognized locally.

Tribal flags have flown at the Sanford Center and at the Beltrami County Court House for years, but last March the council failed to come to a consensus on posting them in City Chambers.

Both issues, Folstrom explained, are important for recognizing tribal sovereignty and making Indigenous community members feel welcome.

Leech Lake Secretary-Treasurer Arthur “Archie” LaRose said the meeting was a good first step for more cooperation in the future.

Mayor Prince said smaller meetings have been happening with representatives from Red Lake and White Earth and hoped to see a summit with the three neighboring tribal nations soon.

Representatives from the Leech Lake Band and Tribal Council are expected to tentatively meet with the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners in early March.