Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan speaks at annual American Indian Night

Maria Ly
Staff Writer

Minnesota’s Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan spoke about the importance of native leadership in her keynote address during Minnesota State University, Mankato’s annual American Indian night on Monday. 

American Indian night not only celebrated Native American Heritage month but also honored American Indian students graduating in the 2019-2020 academic year. 

Flanagan addressed the graduates, “We are so proud of you and know that you are fully living, there are so many people cheering you on and want you to be successful and believe in you, and I just want you to know my job is to hold that door open at the capital, for whatever you see in your future.”

Flanagan talked about her own personal journey into her role as Lt. Gov. of Minnesota as it was never her intention to become a leader in government. 

Flanagan grew up in St. Louis Park with her mother who provided shelter for them using a section 8 housing voucher and kept them alive by relying on food stamps and government medical assistance. Throughout her life she lived as what society called, “those people”. 

Flanagan said, “A lot of times down at the capital, we hear leaders talk about ‘those people’, well I am those people, and those people deserve to have a seat at the table. I share that with you because it was not my dream, it was not this little girl’s dream to grow up and become the second most powerful person in the state of Minnesota, that was not my path. My path kind of found me.”

Her path did not open up for her until she started school at the University of Minnesota when she entered her lecture room and saw an American Indian professor who looked like her, talked about her community, and who they were and where they came from. It was the first teacher who told her she was smart and encouraged her to take graduate courses as an undergraduate. 

She said, “I knew that my education wasn’t for me, but it was for my community and what I was supposed to do with that education, to give back and pay it forward.”

After her time at the University of Minnesota, she worked in a job where her roles sometimes ranged from attending parent teacher conference meetings with nervous families to helping mothers flee a batterer in the middle of the night. 

Her start in politics began when she noticed that native children and their families were not given the opportunities they needed in public schools in Minneapolis. She worked with Judy Farmer, a member of the school board at the time, to find someone from the native community to run for the board. 

She had very little luck and quickly realized that not a lot of native people wanted to be involved with the government. 

After attending an event at the American Indian Center, and advocating for the position, she was approached by some people who suggested she run for the board.

She never thought she was going to win, but none-the-less went door to door to the homes of “those people”, advocating for the issues that are important to the community. 

Flanagan said, “Again I am those people, and those people are the most affected by the policy decisions that were being made by the board, and several months later we won, and we were able to implement some pretty important policies when it came to working with partnerships with the native community.”

She continues that work in advocating and encouraging communities that have been marginalized to advocate at the capital in her position as Lt. Governor of Minnesota. 

Flanagan says her and her team have prioritized working through an equity lens and plan to increase and create inclusive agencies and change the way policy proposals are made to center around equity and inclusion. 

She also talked about specific policy changes that affect the native communities such as Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order 1924, that requires all 24 state agencies to engage in meaningful consultation with the 11 tribes in Minnesota by October 1 of each year before the legislative session. 

Flanagan encourages students to follow their path as she said, “Things change when we live in the path that has been laid before us. I’m only in that office because of the people who came before me, it is crystal clear to me that I’m standing on the shoulders of so many people who made it ok, who made it safe, and who made it another day at the capital where indigenous people are leaders.”

She continued, “Now I know that we all have a long way to go for education, but it matters when our people step up and they serve in positions of leadership across universities, colleges, communities, organizations, so I just want to try to plant that seed. Each and every one of you have something to offer, your role, your gift in the community – to be able to give back.”

Header photo: MNSU President Richard Davenport speaks at the American Indian Night held in the Centennial Student Union Ballroom Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 in Mankato, Minn. (Jack Linell/MSU Reporter)

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