First Native American appointed to University of Minnesota Board of Regents

A man poses for a portrait
Tadd Johnson, a member of the Boise Forte Band of Chippewa, is the first Native American appointed to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz has appointed Tadd Johnson to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, the first Native American to be appointed to the Board since it was established more than 170 years ago.

Johnson, 65, is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa who lives in Duluth. He retired last month as the University of Minnesota's first senior director of American Indian Tribal Nations relations, a job that he said came about in 2019 when he complained to new President Joan Gabel that the University needed to do more to consult with tribes.

He's also a former professor, tribal attorney and tribal court judge. He still serves as senior advisor on government affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Johnson will represent the 8th Congressional District on the Board. He replaces David McMillan, who resigned to be interim chancellor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

"My passions are giving a voice that hasn't been heard from before, and making sure that the 8th District and the University of Minnesota Duluth are well represented on this board,” he said.

Johnson said the University of Minnesota has lagged behind other universities in teaching about tribal issues at the law, public policy and business schools.

He said it’s also important for Native Americans to be represented on the governing board of a University that was built with funds generated from land taken from Native people.

"There's an old saying, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu,” Johnson said. “For many, many years we were on the menu, as the Board of Regents and other universities were using Indian land to build their endowments. It's an honor to be finally sitting at the table."

Johnson said he'll likely seek an appointment for a full six-year term when this term expires next February.