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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

The Bemidji City Council in northern Minnesota just got more Indigenous.

Dan Jourdain, Red Lake Nation, won a special election on Feb. 9 by defeating a former council member and mayor. Jourdain received 524 votes to Dave Larson’s 410 votes in an at-large council seat race. In November’s general election, Jourdain came in second to Larson — 1,784 to 2,160 — in a race where the two top vote getters advanced.

With the win, Jourdain joins a 7-person council that includes his mentor and friend Audrey Thayer, White Earth Nation. Thayer was elected in November.

“Being a Native American growing up in the city seemed rather daunting, but that’s just the norm,” Jourdain said in a short video statement. “It goes to show no matter who you are, if you work hard, good things will eventually occur.”

Jourdain, 35, and Thayer, 69, were part of a recent wave of Indigenous candidates seeking public office in the Bemidji area. Two other candidates ran for council and two ran for county commission, one being an incumbent. Tim Sumner, Red Lake Nation, was reelected to the 5-person commission in November.

Bemidji City Council candidates Dan Jourdain and Audrey Thayer at the Leech Lake Tribal College graduation. Thayer teaches at the school. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Thayer)

Bemidji, a summer tourist destination known for its outdoor activities, is the largest city in Beltrami County and was a player in the presidential election when then-President Donald Trump made a campaign stop in September. The county supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but shifted for Trump, and Minnesota Public Radio called Bemidji “Trump country.”

Jourdain’s win is a big deal for the Native community living in Bemidji and the surrounding reservations. The city is a border town and business hub for Native people living on one of the three nearby in Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth. For many, it’s the closest Walmart or Target or any other shopping plaza. Bemidji comes from an Ojibwe word bemidjigamaang, “a lake with crossing waters.”

Jourdain was quick to thank each of the tribes and its tribal citizens for contributing to the Bemidji economy and looks forward to working with them and for them.

“We will always look at ways to embrace one another, build bridges and work together for the common good,” Jourdain said.

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Jourdain’s campaign focus was public safety transparency, better options for low-income and needy families when it comes to housing and boosting small businesses.

Jourdain’s dad, Arlan Jourdain, is one of seven hereditary chiefs at Red Lake, and his grandfather, John Buckanaga, ran for Bemidji mayor in the 1960s before serving on tribal council and as chairman of the White Earth Nation.

Dan Jourdain and Tim Sumner, both Red Lake Nation. Jourdain was elected to Bemidji City Council in Minnesota on Feb. 9, 2021. Sumner serves on the Beltrami County Commission. (Photo courtesy of Dan Jourdain campaign)

Thayer, a Leech Lake Tribal College educator, was sworn in last month. She has known Dan Jourdain for years. Jourdain attended the tribal college.

Thayer said she’s been working with Leech Lake and White Earth tribes, among her other city duties. She said she has dedicated the next four years to bettering her community she’s known for three decades. Thayer said Bemidji is diverse and has citizens representing 57 different tribes.

Thayer also looks forward to working alongside Jourdain and said both have a lot of work ahead.

“Having two Natives on council is monumental for Bemidji,” she said.

“Thirty years in this city, this is amazing that we are there now,” Thayer added. “The old Bemidji is gone. We are gonna change it up, we are gonna change the narrative.”

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is the deputy managing editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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