The first woman to lead a Minnesota Indian tribe has died. Marge Anderson led efforts to secure tribal hunting and fishing rights on Lake Mille Lacs. She died Saturday at age 81 of natural causes at the Mille Lacs Reservation in Onamia, Minn.
"Appointed chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in 1991, following the death of longtime tribal head Arthur Gahbow, she was elected to the top post in 1992 and 1996, leading the band until 2000 when Melanie Benjamin replaced her. Anderson was returned to office in 2008, serving until last year, when Benjamin was again elected chief executive.
"She became nationally known as a leader in efforts to strengthen tribal sovereignty and government in areas of law enforcement and environmental protection. She used the band's profits from its Hinckley and Mille Lacs casinos to fund social programs, schools and clinics for the band's approximately 3,500 members instead of handing out individual payments to band members."
The Star Tribune has an extensive look at Anderson's life and career, so we'll direct you to their website. But our colleagues at Minnesota Public Radio spoke to Tadd Johnson, head of the American Indian Studies department at the University of Minnesota Duluth, about Anderson.
Johnson, who was also chief legal counsel to the Mille Lacs Band during Anderson's tenure as chief executive, called her "a woman of great integrity, courage and strength." This is what he said about her most significant achievement:
"Internally, she did a lot for the Band government. When I first started, she was the secretary-treasurer of the Band. And during that time, the Band separated out its decision making on businesses and its decision making on governance, and that was very astute because they created a corporate commission which makes all the business decisions, and they also put in place a separation of powers form of government. ... and a lot of those ideas were new to Indian country in the 1980s when the Band came up with them, and Marge followed through."