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State of Band Address Opioids and Mille Lacs Co. Lawsuit

ONAMIA -- Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin came to the podium with a message of righteous anger, ready to fight those who would poison and destroy her tribe. She also fired a shot across the bow of those who otherwise might be traditional band allies. The theme of Benjamin’s 2018 State of the Band address -- delivered Tuesday to a crowd of at least 1,000 inside a huge ballroom at Grand Casino Mille Lacs -- was the warrior spirit within each tribal member. The past year was one of political and civic awakening for the tribe, she said: one of the deepest changes for the Mille Lacs people in decades. “This is the band’s revolution against drugs, crime, violence and environmental destruction,” she said. “As a band, we are awake.” She listed the ways Mille Lacs residents took it upon themselves to combat negative influences, from protesting the proposed Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline, to mounting “per cap patrols” staking out drug dealers’ homes on the same day tribe stipends are distributed, to the grandmothers confronting dealers on Facebook. Benjamin devoted the bulk of her remarks to marshaling her forces against the spread of opioids on the reservation. Between July 2016 and Tuesday, more than 70 people overdosed on the reservation and 15 people died as a result, Benjamin said. About 1,850 band members live within the reservation’s borders. “We can, and will, beat this epidemic,” Benjamin said. She noted 30 band government initiatives offered prevention and treatment, including a possible Mille Lacs drug court to help divert people from prison. The crowd cheered when she proposed all Mille Lacs Band elected officials and employees undergo random drug testing multiple times a year. “As band members, you should demand that from us, and I hope that you will,” she said.