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Tribal Council pledges to lead, protect

Judge Henry Buffalo swears in Johnny Johnson to his 11th term on Prairie Island Tribal Council. (Republican Eagle photos by Anne Jacobson)1 / 2
Tribal Council President Shelley Buck (left) and Vice President Lu Taylor laugh with well-wishers after Wednesday’s ceremony. 2 / 2

Newly appointed members of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council applauded Ron Johnson for his accomplishments during his term as council president for the past two years, including improved relations with Xcel Energy, which operates the nuclear power plant adjacent to tribal land.

“(Ron) has been a big part of the success of this tribe,” said Shelley Buck, who fellow council members appointed president at Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony. “Knowing him, the next two years, he will continue being a part of that.”

The council’s work with the nuclear plant is far from over. With dozens of nuclear waste storage casks near tribal buildings and only one evacuation route that is frequently blocked by trains, Buck identified the plant and storage as the community’s most urgent issue.

“The federal government has failed to fulfill its legal obligation under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to remove spent nuclear fuel that is piling up just 600 yards from our homes and businesses,” she said in a statement. “While we continue to work diligently to protect and preserve our Tribal homeland and hold the federal government accountable, we are moving forward with invigorated determination to position Prairie Island Indian Community for future success.”

Also among the council’s priorities for the next two years is high-quality education for the community’s youths.

“Through those 22 years of representing Prairie Island Indian Community, we’ve come a long way,” said Treasurer Johnny Johnson, who is entering his 21st year on the council. “Where we’re sitting today used to be a farm field. Today it’s a prosperous business for us to continue and work toward education for our youth and our community to stand up and get educated to become a council member like us in the future.”

With 14 years of previous experience on the council, 10 of them as president, Audrey Bennett returned to a seat on the council as assistant secretary/treasurer after a two-year hiatus. Ed Buck also returned for his third term, this time serving as secretary.

Lu Taylor maintained her position as the council vice president. She attributes much of her evolution in leadership positions to overcoming low self-esteem.

“Others would speak up and share ideas (at quarterly meetings), but I didn’t have the faith in myself to speak up,” Taylor said in her acceptance speech. “What caused me to have faith in myself and speak up was that my desire to do something and contribute was stronger than my fear of speaking up and the lack of confidence.”

Taylor’s son, Cole Jacobson, attended the ceremony and dedicated a painting of two of the four sisters who founded the community. A student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Jacobson said he drew inspiration from a photograph he’d frequently seen in the community growing up.

“I wanted to give this to the tribe because I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put it,” Jacobson said. “I didn’t want it to go to any gallery; it belongs to our people here. I wanted to keep it here to remind us that we’re all still related, no matter what.”

The Prairie Island Singers accompanied the ceremony with drumming and singing.

“If it weren’t for you guys I don’t know what we’d be doing,” Johnny Johnson said. “When I was growing up, my father and my grandmother and grandfather, who wasn’t around when I was born, said music is important to us, our culture is important to us. That’s a big part of what they’re doing right now behind us as they’re singing the songs.”