Star Tribune steps up to the plate on treaty rights, swings, and misses

I was excited when I read the Nov. 13 Star Tribune headline: Minnesota officials work to mend historically fraught relationship with tribes. I was hoping for a thoughtful analysis.

Reading it, I was reminded of what my friend Bob Klanderud called a “wish sandwich”: Two pieces of white bread with nothing in between other than a wish for some peanut butter.

The story lacked peanut butter, I wish it were there.

The story didn’t mention Enbridge Line 3 once. It’s an open wound and central to Minnesota’s current “fraught relationship” with Native nations in northern Minnesota.

For years, the Red Lake and White Earth nations have argued that the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline violates treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on lands they ceded to the U.S. government. They have received zero support from the Governor’s Office or his agency heads.

The Star Tribune was willfully ignorant of how important Line 3 is in Indian Country and/or it didn’t want to ask tough questions.

Stop Line 3 event sign calls out Walz’ silence.

The article covered the bill signing for a new law making yet more promises to Native Nations about “meaningful consultation.”

The legislation was initially introduced as HF903 by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, a descendant of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. It passed July 1 as part of the Special Session’s Tax Omnibus Bill, HF9.

“We’re signing something that changes the way things have been done for 163 years,” Walz said.

The state has been promising consultation with Native Nations at least since Gov. Jesse Ventura issued an executive order in 2002. That was 19 years ago.

This new law reflects what Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan promised in their 2019 executive order. Healing Minnesota Stories wrote positively about that 2019 executive order and predicted that Line 3 would be its first big test.

It was. Walz and Flanagan failed.

Bizarrely, the Star Tribune article on mending tribal relationships started by describing Walz’s attire. In place of a tie, “Walz wore a bright orange and blue beaded necklace to the bill-signing ceremony,” it said. It was “a deliberate fashion choice.”

The story failed to point out the disconnect (and disconnect is a polite word) that Walz had done the symbolic thing rather the right thing. He wore beads but failed to have meaningful consultation with Indigenous Nations on Line 3 and take their concerns seriously.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan

The Star Tribune article quoted Lt. Gov. Flanagan, an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation: “For 400 years, we have been fighting to be seen and to be acknowledged,” she said. “Sometimes when there’s good stuff that happens, it’s hard for us to completely acknowledge it because we’ve been fighting for so long.”

Flanagan was an outspoken critic of the Line 3 pipeline when she served in the state legislature. Since becoming Lt. Governor, she’s been silent except for occasional social media posts.

Why didn’t the Star Tribune ask her about Line 3 and the 2019 executive order? Did she think the administration met its commitment to meaningful consultation? If not, why not? How will this new law impact future pipeline decisions?

No tough questions.

The nearly 900-word article had only one brief quote from a tribal leader: “‘We’re all in this together, like a spiderweb, we’re connected,’ said Faron Jackson Sr., tribal chair of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.”

The Star Tribune missed key context. The article didn’t quote Red Lake or White Earth leaders who strongly opposed Line 3, or even let readers know if they attended the event. Their absence would have been a significant rebuke and worth mentioning. If they did attend, it would have been helpful to hear their comments on the law.

White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks and other tribal leaders came to the Capitol in July to ask Gov. Walz to honor the treaties and engage in meaningful nation-to-nation consultation on Enbridge’s dewatering permits. Nothing changed.

The Star Tribune article gave little detail of the new law, other than to say “It requires each state agency to designate a liaison to work with tribes, as well as tribal-state relations training for those liaisons and other leaders in the state’s workforce.”

Remember Danielle Oxendine Molliver? She was the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s tribal liaison for a time. She resigned in 2017, citing the state’s failure “to fulfill its obligations of good faith and fair dealing with the tribes in connection with the Line 3 project.”

The point is, just because a new law requires state agencies to hire tribal liaisons doesn’t mean they’ll have power or anything will change.

The new law promises “timely and meaningful consultation between the state of Minnesota and Minnesota Tribal governments.”

Here’s how it defines “consultation.”

“consultation” means the direct and interactive involvement of the Minnesota Tribal governments in the development of policy on matters that have Tribal implications. Consultation is the proactive, affirmative process of identifying and seeking input from appropriate Tribal governments and considering their interest as a necessary and integral part of the decision-making process. … During a consultation, the burden is on the agency to show that it has made a good faith effort to elicit feedback. …

Special Session, HF9

It promises “direct involvement,” “seeking input,” and “eliciting feedback.” Those are wiggle words that lack commitment. They don’t guarantee substantive changes.

That becomes clear in the legislation’s last paragraph. It offers fancy legalese that means Native nations can’t enforce these promises.

This section is not intended to, and does not, create any right to administrative or judicial review, or any other right, benefit, or responsibility, substantive or procedural, enforceable against the state of Minnesota, … Nothing in this section prohibits or limits any agency from asserting any rights or pursuing any administrative or judicial action under state or federal law to effectuate the interests of the state of Minnesota or any of its agencies.

Special Session, HF9
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn

The end of the Star Tribune story quotes Rep. Becker-Finn, the bill’s author, who seems to speak more as a political outsider confronting state leaders than a political insider herself.

Tribal leaders would be watching how state agencies respond, she said.

“I want you to be humble, because we are going to call you out.”

2 thoughts on “Star Tribune steps up to the plate on treaty rights, swings, and misses

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