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Wellstone Action programs offer political, advocacy training

ST. PAUL, Minn. - In early 2007, Wellstone Action formed the Native American Leadership Program. Wellstone, founded in 2003 and named after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., offers training programs that include nonpartisan voter advocacy training as well as the education and preparation of potential candidates for political office.

In addition to offering training in the political arena, Wellstone also offers advocacy training for domestic violence professionals and advocates through the two-day Camp Sheila Wellstone training program, named after Paul Wellstone's wife. Sheila was known for her tireless advocacy and campaigns to end domestic violence against women.

The first NALP kicked off in February 2007 with the Camp Sheila program.

The 60 Native women who attended the training learned strategies from trainers and peers on how to encourage changes on a local, state and/or national level.

''The women were from all across the nation, and they talked about how to advocate on behalf of Native women,'' said Peggy Flanagan, deputy national field director and senior trainer.

Most of the women from the camp met again Dec. 19 for an intensive one-day training that addressed both domestic violence and voter mobilization, Flanagan said.

They learned how to improve voter turnout and advocate for Safe at Home legislation in their communities. Under the legislation, victims of domestic violence are able to register to vote without worrying about their perpetrator finding their address. Typically, the information is public record.

Flanagan, Ojibwe, said a few of the women that attended the February training left inspired and ready to make changes. They eventually made the trek to the nation's capital to meet with a Senate committee to share their experience and knowledge on domestic violence - all with the goal of garnering an increase in funding for shelters and preventive education on reservations.

Lonna Stevens, director of Wellstone and senior trainer, said they are still in the process of setting up the 2008 training schedule, and training on reservations tops the list.

Stevens, Tlingit and Dakota, said the staff has plans to go out and meet with tribal officials from Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota to discuss programs and a timeline for the training sessions. ''We hope to meet with tribal leaders this month so we can create a plan for developing leaders in their communities,'' she said.

In addition to visiting tribes, NALP plans to offer its leadership training to tribal colleges through the Campus Camp Wellstone training program.

Flanagan said the primary goal of the two-day training is to connect college students with their surrounding community. Students will learn how to create short campaign radio addresses, effective messaging and additional forms of communication to increase the political involvement of students both on and off campus. ''I think there are a lot of young people who are frustrated and want change,'' she said.

Kevin Killer, a student at Oglala Lakota College and tribal member, was invited aboard as a Campus Camp trainer. He serves as the student senate president and sits on the board of trustees for the OLC.

Killer said there is a disproportionately large population of young people under 27 when compared to older adults living on the reservation. ''Our reservations are getting younger and they are in need of training,'' he said. ''It's really great and going to be good for tribes.''

Supporting his concerns is statistical information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau for the 2000 Census. The data state that, for example, 49 percent of the population living in Shannon County, S.D., which includes Pine Ridge, were 19 years of age or younger.

The NALP also plans to implement the Wellstone Voter Engagement School. During these trainings - most likely to occur on reservations - Native trainers will share strategies on how voting advocates can improve tactics to encourage more people to register to vote and get them to the polls, regardless of the type of election.

''The overall goal of this program is to help folks know that they absolutely have the right to not only vote, but to be an advocate for themselves and their community, and to lobby and be a really strong voice for change,'' Flanagan said.

Paul Wellstone was known as a strong voice for change on the Senate floor. The Wellstone Action Web site states that during his two terms as senator, he spurred changes in health care reform, economic security, environmental protection and more.

Both Paul and Sheila died Oct. 25, 2002, when their plane crashed near the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport en route to northern Minnesota. The couple was on their way to attend the funeral of a state lawmaker's father. On board were seven other people, including their daughter, Marcia, and three campaign staffers.

Prior to the tragedy, Flanagan had worked on Paul's campaign in his third bid for the Senate. She described him as a friendly and benevolent man who supported legislation that protected minorities, including Minnesota tribes. He was an adopted member of her tribe, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.

According to Wellstone's latest statistics, in the past three years the organization has provided more than 14,300 training programs. To find out more about upcoming NALP training, call (651) 645-3939 or visit www.wellstone.org.