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Long-standing partnership between state, tribal nations could become state law

Since at least the administration of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an executive order has been issued by the governor ordering state agencies to consult with the state’s 11 federally recognized tribal nations in addressing state matters with tribal implications.

As amended, HF903 would put that practice into statute.

“We can maintain those good relationships and that tribal consultation going forward regardless of who the governor is,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville), the bill sponsor.

Approved 13-0 Thursday by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee, its next stop is the full House.

“This creates an expectation that issues that affect us will be discussed with us in a timely way and that our voices are heard in the decision-making process,” said Robert Larsen, chair of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and president of the Lower Sioux Indian Community. “… A strong and broad consultation policy benefits the state just as much as the tribes. It is good governance.”

He provided an example of a positive partnership.

“Imagine a Department of Human Services staff member who works on social service and mental health issues with tribes and Minnesota’s Indigenous population. If he or she can be trained to understand generational trauma, the long-lasting effects of Indian boarding schools and how people are battling to break cycles and create healthy families, how much more meaningful and effective could the work of this state employee be?”

Shannon Geshick, the council’s executive director, noted the bill does not provide veto power over agency decisions, give more power to challenge agency decisions or require consultation before emergency action is taken to address the health, safety or welfare of Minnesotans.

“We should work with the folks who we live next to but are of different governments. This is a fine approach to do that,” said Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia).

Each agency subject to a consultation requirement would be required to designate a tribal liaison to serve as the agency’s principal point of contact.

Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-New Brighton) sponsors the companion, SF1415, which awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

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