Tribal state relations director discusses sovereignty, communication with Minnesota agencies
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Tribal state relations director discusses sovereignty, communication with Minnesota agencies

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced this month the promotion of Patina Park to executive director of tribal state relations, where she will continue to serve as a direct link between the state’s 11 tribal nations and tribal communities.

In 2021, state government officials put an emphasis on recognizing tribal sovereignty, Park said, requiring state agencies to appoint tribal-state liaisons. The state also set forth in mandating tribal-state relations training for state leaders and employees. The reason for this was to have deeper understanding of sovereignty for the 11 tribal nations in Minnesota, including the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

“There was sense of paternalism, a lack of understanding of government, tribal government, that has existed within Minnesota and other states and even within the federal government,” Park said in an interview with WTIP.

Park’s previous work involving tribal and state and federal government involved consultation on behalf of tribal nations with agencies across the state. She said there was a widespread lack of understanding when it comes to the specifics and laws involving tribal sovereignty.

“It was always remarkable to me how many of them knew so little about tribal nations, tribal governance, tribal sovereignty, and what an eye opening, light-bulb moment it was for them and their work to learn the whys, and the hows, and the historical context,” she said, “and to get out of the ignorant positions that tend to be very strong armed and paternalistic.”

Park and the tribal state relations team is responsible for promoting effective government-to-government relations, working with state agencies to support appropriate tribal consultation and engagement, and coordinating with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council on issues impacting tribal nations as needed.

Tribal state relations was previously embedded in the public engagement department within the governor’s office and funded by private resources from the Bush Foundation. Tribal state relations is now a separate department and included within the governor’s budget, Park said.

Park, is Mnicoujou Lakota, and her biological family comes from the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes; her adoptive family is Osage. Park graduated from Hamline University Law School in 2001 and focused her early legal career on advocating for Native American families involved in Indian Child Welfare Act cases. Park also served as an appellate court judge for the Prairie Island Sioux Community. In addition, Park is approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior to provide tribal consultation. She spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about a variety of topics related to this story. Audio below.