MINNEAPOLIS -- Marge Anderson, the legendary leader of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, was remembered Monday as courageous and principled.
"Marge was a great tribal leader, a great person and Indian Country's going to miss her," Tadd Johnson, a friend and longtime tribal attorney told KARE.
"As a mentor, as a tribal official, she always taught us to stick to our principles, and to always do what is right."
Anderson died Saturday of natural causes in Onamia at the age of 80. She served as the Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band from 1991 to 2000 and again from 2008-2012.
She had served in various capacities in the Mille Lacs Band government since 1976 and made a name for herself as an ardent defender of Ojibwe sovereignty and self-governance.
"Marge Anderson was a great leader and when she became the leader in Mille Lacs there were literally no women tribal leaders in Minnesota," Sen. Amy Klobuchar told KARE.
"Since then we've seen several other female tribal leaders in Minnesota, but Marge was the first one and made quite an impact."
She came to the forefront in the 1990s during a dispute over tribal fishing and hunting rights. Anderson fought to enforce historic treaties, which gave members use of Lake Mille Lacs, and took the legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
"She took that to the United States Supreme Court and won, but there were a lot of threats against Marge," Johnson recalled.
She viewed it as a struggle to preserve Native American ways, rather just a fight over how many fish could be taken out of the lake.
"She showed a lot of courage."
Anderson was among those who signed the gaming compact with the state, which led to the creation of the Grand Casino Mille Lacs on reservation land north of the town of Onamia in east-central Minnesota.
Anderson insisted that gambling proceeds be invested in the community and used to start tribal businesses and build facilities such as schools, an outpatient clinic, an assisted living center and a community center.
"I remember visiting Mille Lacs while campaigning for the senate," Sen. Al Franken told KARE.
"Every place you looked there was a new building, some new resource that Marge had a hand in helping create."
The Mille Lacs Band currently has 4,300 members and an estimated 2,300 of them live within the boundaries of the reservation.
"Her strides made it possible for me to come back here,"
Michele Palomaki, the assistant tribal administrator, told KARE.
Palomaki grew up mainly in Michigan, but her mother grew up near Mille Lacs Lake.
"I wanted to come back and serve the community and I was able to do that because she opened up the doors."
Another part of Anderson's legacy is a renewed emphasis on teaching the Ojibwe language to younger members of the tribe.
In a 1998 interview with KARE, Anderson pointed out that many members of the band had been away to boarding schools as children and separated from people who spoke their ancestral tongue.
"This is an extraordinary loss for the band," Melanie Benjamin, current Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band, who at times had been Anderson's political rival said.
"Marge Anderson was a great tribal leader for the band and a trailblazer for all of Indian country."
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