A university that was founded on tribal land and has a history of injustice against Native Americans is now finding ways to deal with that past.
Tadd Johnson has been the face of that job. A member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Johnson was the University of Minnesota’s first senior director of tribal relations and this year became the first native member of the Board or Regents.
Years before Johnson became senior director of tribal relations in 2019, he worked to address the Native community’s mistrust of the university. Taking on that role, the university and the tribal nations began to meet regularly, at least three times a year, something that had not been done in the history of the U, Johnson said.
The history between the university and tribal nations is complex and riddled with inequities and injustices, according to the Minnesota Council on Indian Affairs.
Johnson, who has worked with both the affairs council and the university, said the university’s founding contributes greatly to the native community’s current mistrust of the university.
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which took large sums of Indian land and turned it into endowments for colleges and universities. Through the land grant, in 1868, the University of Minnesota was allotted 94,631 acres of land, which He belonged to the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes.
Given that history and deep mistrust, the tribal nations and the university did not have formal relations until the administration of President Joan Gabel. Instead it was tribal consultationthat didn’t involve regular meetings, Johnson said.
University of Minnesota Regent Darrin Rosha said Johnson has been instrumental in further developing the relationship between the university and the tribal nations of Minnesota. “A lot of progress has been made, which has helped promote those dialogues between the university and the tribal nations of Minnesota,” he said.
Johnson was previously a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he created courses for a master’s program in tribal government and administration. he also led Tribe-State Relations Trainingswhich became mandatory for all employees of Minnesota state agencies.
In his role as senior director of tribal relations, he initiated conversations and built relationships with tribal nations.
He also facilitated discussions with the Minnesota Council on Indian Affairs, which includes all 11 Minnesota tribal nations. Taking the lead from the council, she worked to improve trust by having the university acknowledge past wrongdoing, with future hopes of reconciliation.
First regent member of the tribe
In mid-July, Governor Tim Walz appointed Johnson to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Johnson is the first tribal member to serve on the board, but he is not the first Native American to be considered for the position.
In January 2021, D. Brandon Alkireattorney and citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, was recommended by the Regents Candidate Advisory Council, along with two other St. Paul residents to represent the Fourth Congressional District on the board. In March 2021, the Minnesota State Legislature voted to elect four new regents and Alkire was not one of them.
Johnson’s appointment came after representatives from the University of Minnesota Morris student union drafted a letter requesting that Walz appoint a tribal member from the 8th Congressional District. In the petitionthe association cited the need for tribal input in appointing a regent, specifically because the 8th district covers large tracts of tribal land.
The Minnesota Student Association at the Twin Cities campus co-signed the petition. The Minnesota Council on Indian Affairs also advocated for his appointment through a resolution sent to Walz almost two years ago after the passing of former regent Kao Ly Ilean Her.
In the resolution, the Minnesota Council on Indian Affairs noted that Minnesota’s tribal nations are the only historically underrepresented group in Minnesota that has never been represented on the Board of Regents, calling it a “historic injustice” that was “long overdue.” weather”.
The resolution also noted that having a tribal member regent would help the university build relationships with tribal nations, which was an earlier stated goal of Gabel.
“I think the appointment of Tadd Johnson is one of the biggest developments that has come out of (affairs council) resolutions,” said Shannon Geshick, executive director of the Minnesota Council on Indian Affairs. “And that was really a recommendation that came from the elected tribal leaders.”
In addition to the resolution, the council sent a letter to the university in July 2020 with a list of barriers to strengthening your relationship.
The letter cited the need for injustices to be recognized. Among the injustices listed were the medical school’s experimentation with children in the Red Lake Nation in the 1950s, the university’s attempts to replicate wild rice DNA without involving tribal governments, and the university’s use of the Fond Du Lac land at the Cloquet Forestry Center. .
The letter also noted the university’s failure to teach about tribal economies and its history as a land-grant institution, as well as a historic lack of effort to meet with tribal nations.
Johnson took those items and brought them to Gabel’s attention. That year, he and Gabel met several times with tribal nations to begin work on the charter list.
Johnson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. He was also director of graduate studies for the Department of American Indian Studies while on the faculty at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
His work toward opening dialogue between tribal nations and the university includes the TRUTH projectin which the university, in collaboration with the Minnesota Council on Indian Affairs, are investigating various historical events, such as the financial losses of the tribes through land appropriation. Many of the issues that had not been examined or addressed in the past.
“We uncovered a lot of very tragic things that happened in Minnesota history and the internal relationships between the university and the tribes,” Johnson said.
Findings from the project are expected to be shared in the fall, according to Geshick.
Due to Johnson’s role, the university has made some progress in tribal relations. One is recognition and promise to repatriate objects from a collection of cultural artifacts affiliated with Mimbres, something the Indian affairs council has long demanded, Geshick said.
“We know that he will defend the tribes in the best way because he has shown it. He has shown that over the years of his work,” Geshick said. “We trust Tadd; the tribes trust Tadd. He has shown that he has the best of intentions. So we are in good hands.”
His relationship with the tribes and the university is a unique perspective that the board has not had before.
“He has a great history between the university and the Native American tribes in Minnesota, which I think is a very valuable component to his service on the board,” said Rosha.
Johnson was a tribal attorney for more than 30 years and also served as a tribal court judge and tribal administrator.
He spent five years in the US House of Representatives, becoming staff director and advisor to the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. In 1997, President Clinton appointed him chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission.
“With a background in leadership, education, and a deep understanding of government at all levels, he (Johnson) brings a wealth of higher education experience to this group,” Walz said at the Board of Regents appointment.
What is to come?
On the same day as his appointment, Johnson attended the annual board retreat at Red Wing. While there, he met the rest of the regents and got a sense of some dynamics.
Because he is now regent, he will keep his relationships with the tribal nations and the university, but he will take it a couple of steps further now.
“As regent, I am supposed to create a distance between myself and the university. So I’m doing that,” she said.
He is also unable to continue his role teaching tribal state relations courses in a professional capacity, but would like to volunteer in that capacity.
While her presence on the board means a lot to many indigenous people, she wants it to be clear that she wants what is best for all college students, not just native students.
“I want to do a great job as Regent and make sure University of Minnesota students get the best education possible. That is my main goal,” she said. “I hope I can keep up with the other regents, and I’m sure that in other jobs I’ve held in my life, whether it’s as congressional staff director or running a small federal agency, I’ve somehow risen to the occasion, And I hope to do it this time.”
Geshick believes his position on the board will make a big difference.
“Just having Tadd at the table is a reminder not to forget the natives, not to forget to include us. Because many times we are invisible, we are the smallest percentage of the population,” he said. “Just having that presence is (something) that I know will have an impact.”