The first Native woman elected to Duluth City Council Renee Van Nett died on June 3 after battling cancer. She was 52.
She was born to Victoria Yellow Earrings and James Van Nett on Jan, 6, 1970. Her Ojibwe name was Mashkiikii Makwa Ikwe, or Medicine Bear Woman.
She had a strong commitment to her Ojibwe culture and spiritual ways. She identified as a “First Nations Indigenous single parent” in her “about me” section of her campaign website.
She was serving her second term on city council, serving the city’s 4th district, but had announced a run for state Senate earlier this year, only to end her campaign just two months later in May.
Van Nett was running for the state senate’s district 8 seat. Her platform was strong in its support of unions. She comes from a union family of iron workers (Local #512) who moved to Duluth to work. Her slogan was, “Not me, we”.
In a social media post, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flannagan, White Earth Nation, posted a Gov. Tim Walz proclamation declaring June 7, the day of her funeral service, “Renee Van Nett Day.”
“Renee was a fearless Anishinaabekwe who fought with fierceness for her people and used her voice to challenge systems to create positive change. She will be deeply missed, but her legacy will inspire future generations to lead with heart and bravery. Happy Renee Van Nett Day,” the post read.
Van Nett’s legacy is filled with encouragement, inspiration and tradition. She had a deep love for powwows and jingle dress dancing. She sang for a world champion drum group, Eyabay. Her participation took her around the world and the group won powwow competitions across North America.
People were shocked to learn about her passing. She was the first Indigenous leader in many roles she held and they say she stayed fierce in the face of adversity and always put her people first.
She worked on numerous boards and was a fierce advocate for Indigenous communities, raising visibility around many issues. She loved her work as a public servant and prided herself on her ability to build bridges. She was also the first Native city council president.
She’s survived by her special parents: Tom, Betty & Lucille. Her Children: Tiarah, Nevada, Charmaine, Namiah, Jazz, Frankie Jr, Ryan, Matthew, Opwaganse, D’ez. Sisters: Maria, Beverly (Roy), Bonnie, Heidi, Tami, Dawn, Chrissy, Susie, Kathy, Jackie, Michelle, Irene Green and Annie. Brothers: Boy, Frankie, Dino, Michael, Lee, Garritte, Jerritte, Danny J, Wes, Dan H, Jeremy W. Numerous Aunts, Uncles and Cousins.
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