Since 2008, Americans have observed Native American Heritage Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. On this day, we celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Indignenous people. We should also take time to work toward repairing the harm inflicted on Indigenous communities by white settlers.
Here in Minnesota, that work is ongoing. This year, Governor Tim Walz signed a law to recognize the sovereignty of Minnesota’s 11 Native American tribes and foster collaboration between the tribes and state agencies. Walz also established a state office to investigate and prevent violence against Indigenous women.
Since 1960, The University of Minnesota, Morris has offered a tuition waiver for Native American students. Starting in 2022, this program will expand to all five University of Minnesota campuses, allowing more Indigenous Minnesotans to pursue a college degree without the heavy financial burden.
These strides would not have been possible without the tireless work of Native American leaders and advocates. This Native American Heritage Day, we’re highlighting three Indigenous women who are making history in Minnesota.
Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan
A citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe–and one of the first Native American women in the country to be elected to executive office–Peggy Flanagan is a longtime advocate for children, families, communities of color, and Indigenous people. She got her start in politics in college, working on Paul Wellstone’s U.S. Senate campaign and has served Minnesota ever since.
Before being elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, she fought to increase Minnesota’s minimum wage and worked to create a better Minnesota for the youngest Minnesotans as executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund.
She was the first Native American woman to address the Democratic National Convention as an official speaker in 2016, and was one of only two Native American state representatives in Minnesota at the time of her election. In 2017, she formed the POCI (People of Color and Indigenous) caucus with other state legislators to reduce academic and economic disparities that affect communities of color.
Today, Flanagan works alongside Governor Tim Walz to improve the lives of all Minnesotans.
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig
Justice Anne McKeig, a descendant of the White Earth Nations, often talks about her humble beginnings. Growing up in tiny Federal Dam, Minnesota, she couldn’t have imagined that some day she’d join the state’s highest court.
Through her appointment in 2016, she made history as Minnesota’s first ever Native American Supreme Court Justice and the first Native American woman to serve on any state’s Supreme Court.
McKeig began her legal career in Hennepin County working on child welfare cases. To this day, she is still a fierce advocate for the wellbeing of Native American children.
Her advice to students looking ahead toward their careers? “All I can say is. . . dream.”
Judge Sarah Wheelock
Earlier this month, Governor Tim Walz appointed the first Native American judge to Minnesota’s Court of Appeals. That judge is Sarah Wheelock, an experienced legal professional and citizen of the Meskwaki Nation.
Before joining the Court of Appeals, Wheelock served as legal counsel for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. She was also as an appellate judge for the White Earth Band of Chippewa Court of Appeals.
Governor Walz described her as “a dedicated public servant committed to advancing the common good.”