And now the facts about Native Americans in the Minnesota Legislature


With the Legislature headed to town for the session that opens Tuesday, January 24, I find myself thinking and fretting about issues of transparency and open government.  At the same time I am intrigued by the changes in legislative composition that result from recent elections, including the election of Kari Dziedzic to replace Larry Pogemiller as Senator from my legislative district.

On the way to learning more about the history of similar legislative turnovers I returned to my hands-down favorite legislative resource, the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.  Their resources and service are astounding – and the website supported by the LRL staff is a constant and totally reliable source of fascinating information.  Today I found this treasure I just have to share, partly to stem the free flow of misinformation and, even more, to share a good story about the Minnesota Legislature – a unique history that deserves to be known.

The following is taken directly from the Legislative Reference Library website, 12/7/2011.  Though it was clearly posted before the final election, the facts are relevant, timely and prescient in light of the election results:

Minnesota Legislators of Native American Descent

Attorney Susan Allen won the DFL primary in District 61B. She will face Nathan Blumenshire in a special election on January 10, 2012, to fill the seat of Jeff Hayden, newly elected to the Senate. If elected, Allen would be the first woman of Native American descent to serve in the Minnesota Legislature.

Some news outlets have noted that Senator Skip Finn was the first Native American to serve in the Senate, and even the first Native American Minnesota legislator. Wrong on both counts!

There was at least one member of the Minnesota Legislature who was Native American who served in the Senate long before Skip Finn. Senator Henry G. Bailly served in the first state legislature (1857-1858). For years people have been inaccurately reporting that Sen. Finn was the first to serve in the Minnesota Senate. Bailly also served in the Minnesota Territorial Council, the predecessor to the Minnesota State Senate. 

In addition, there were a few House members who had Native American ancestry who also served before Finn. As we do more research, it’s more than possible that we will find other former members who had Native American ancestry. Here are the members we’ve found, so far, who are members of minority groups (there are probably more that we haven’t found yet). Self-Reported Minority Legislators Use the drop down box to limit the list to Native Americans.

Note:  If you do make your way to the LRL website, take a few minutes to poke around this digital treasure trove – you never know what you’ll need to know and share with your representative during the months to come – it’s likely accessible through LRL.