Red Lake voters take tribe in a new direction

The Red Lake band of Ojibwe has approved longtime treasurer Darrell Seki, Sr. as the new tribal chairman. The vote held Wednesday ends Floyd "Buck" Jourdain's decade-long administration.

Unofficial tallies show Seki won with 1,907 votes while Jourdain had 1,284. They were followed by Kathryn Beaulieu, who received 292 votes, and Ron Lussier, with 57 votes.

Seki couldn't be reached for comment on his victory, or what he plans to do in his new office. Red Lake spokesman Michael Meuers, a longtime friend of Seki, said the new chairman will take a little time off before taking on the position at the next tribal meeting on June 10.

"Darrel is a traditionalist," Meuers said, "He's a [Ojibwe] first speaker. He follows the old ways, but that doesn't mean he's not progressive."

Seki has an extraordinary reputation in Red Lake Meuers said, growing up in Ponemah, a Red Lake village so traditional Seki spoke the native language exclusively until middle school. He has 40 years of experience in tribal politics and nearly universal respect, according to Meuers.

"Four years ago he ran for treasurer and no one challenged him," Meuers said. "If you know Indian Country, you know that doesn't happen."

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The job of chairman isn't explicitly laid out within the tribal government, according to Jourdain. Each leader has some flexibility within a four-year term. The chairman is like the president of a small country, Jourdain said. "It's a bigger deal than people realize."

Jourdain oversaw casino projects, established two Boys and Girls Clubs and got roads repaired, but said those weren't his main priorities.

"I didn't run just to build a few buildings," he said. "I wanted to change tribal government."

Seki's victory, Jourdain said, represents a shift back to an older form of tribal government that won't emphasize a separation of powers that Jourdain was focused on.

Currently the tribal government dictates much of Red Lake life, including business development, housing and arguably, employment. Jourdain wanted constitutional reform to set Red Lake on a progressive heading.

This tribal election set a new bar for active campaigning. Candidates ran print and radio ads and set up professionally made signs.

Races were also held for treasurer, secretary, and tribal council representatives from Little Rock, Red Lake, Ponemah and Redby.