Beltrami County Commissioner candidate Tim Sumner answers a question while Quentin Fairbanks listens. Both are Red Lake Nation members. This is the first time two nation members are running against each other for a county position.

Beltrami County Commissioner candidate Tim Sumner answers a question while Quentin Fairbanks listens. Both are Red Lake Nation members. This is the first time two nation members are running against each other for a county position.

Two Red Lake Nation Members Run For County Commissioner Position, Discuss Issues at Candidate Fair

The Red Lake Nation in Minnesota faces a first this Election Day. Two of its own members are facing off for the title of Beltrami County Commissioner, which is District 4, where Red Lake is.

Incumbent Quentin Fairbanks and challenger Tim Sumner were on hand October 10 at the Red Lake Seven Clans Casino and Event Center for a Candidate Fair held by the Red Lake Political Education Committee (RLPEC), a tribal nonprofit, and non-partisan organization.

The 100 attendees, many of whom were from the Red Lake Indian Reservation’s 2,900 registered voters, though some came from other tribes and some were non-Indian, submitted questions on 3×5 cards to the candidates.

Subjects covered by the county commissioner candidates included roads, social programs, commissioner influence with the Sheriff’s office, and what amounted to constituent services.

Fairbanks said he hasn’t come very often to give reports to the tribe, however he “maintains close communication with three members of the Tribal Council, and I feel there is a good relationship between the county and the tribe,” he said. “There is much more to the county board business than just roads and social service.”

Fairbanks closed by talking about his 12 years of experience on the county board and asked to be reelected. He then looked at Sumner and graciously offered to aid Sumner in anyway Sumner saw fit in the event that he (Fairbanks) should lose.

Sumner, who said his slogan was “New Leadership; Fresh Voice” said he would visit with the Tribal Council at monthly meetings from time to time to maintain good communication.

“I think it’s important to have that government-to-government relationship, there are ways the county and tribe can work better together,” he said. “I’ll also do the same for city governments in the district if they would like me to visit on occasion.”

When questioned about communication with the Sheriff’s office, Sumner said that he had introduced himself to the Sheriff and said he looked forward to visiting with him more should he be elected. “I’ll do all I can to work with all county directors and programs, as well as the Sheriff, to maintain open and good communication.”

Both agreed that it was important to treat everyone the same in the district both on and off the reservation.

The issue of the proposed voter ID constitutional amendment came up during the fair as well. “Vote no on voter restriction November 6,” said Kathleen Blake representing the group Our Vote, Our Future. “The voter restriction amendment is costly and poorly written with serious consequences for eligible voters,” she said during a 10-minute break between forums. (“Yes” advocates were invited but declined)

“The proposed Photo ID elections amendment is unnecessary, extreme and an expensive overhaul of Minnesota’s election system. The amendment could end Minnesota’s successful Election Day voter registration system,” Blake noted.

“Minnesota’s election system is recognized nationally as the best. Our system isn’t broken,” said Blake. “There is every reason to protect our existing system and no reason to make such a costly and harmful overhaul.”

Blake then went on to site three reasons to vote no. The voter ID amendment is:

Unnecessary: photo ID laws only prevent voter impersonation, a crime for which no one has ever been convicted in Minnesota.

Expensive: The proposed amendment imposes a new unfunded government mandate-forcing a choice between more cuts for vital services or higher taxes. The secretary of state’s office says that the cost to local governments could be as high as $50 million to implement the complicated new system.

Extreme: the amendment places unfair hurdles in front of active duty military personnel, elders in nursing homes, rural and absentee voters, students, the poor and minorities. There is no provision that exempts tribal IDs.

Ojibwe Language Voting Billboard

The Red Lake Political Education Committee sponsored this billboard near the Bemidji Theaters encouraging everyone to vote, and to teach a little Ojibwemowin at the same time.

Here’s a look at the other candidates who shared their views with the voters:

School Board

Only four of the six school board members running were able to attend the fair: Chris Jourdain, Darwin Sumner, Tom Barrett Jr., and Robert McClain. School board candidates Nicole Desjarlait and Mike Barrett had previous commitments.

Some of the issues the school board candidates discussed were bullying, the possibility of posting grades online, and dealing with kids with low self-esteem.

Few questions were answered because of time constraints, but all candidates encouraged those in the audience to call on them if they would like answers to specific questions and where they stood on all issues.


Judicial candidates, incumbent John Melbye and challenger Diana Sweeney, differed little on most issues, but there seemed to be a contest with the individuals on various aspects of courtroom experience, Sweeney claiming to have more.

Many of the questions from the audience reflected the perception of inequality in the courts many Red Lakers see, as well as racial profiling.

“I am aware that a higher percentage of Indians come before the courts than members of the majority population,” Melbye said. “Much of that problem is due to social issues such as poverty, lack of jobs, and alcohol abuse. These are some of the reasons for the disparity.”

Sweeney agreed and went further when she said, “I believe the system victimizes the poor and that people in poverty sometimes commit traffic offenses because they can’t afford insurance and licenses. Laws must be applied fairly,” she said. Both agreed that socio-economic factors influence the higher percentage of Indians that show up in court.

Other issues discussed were profiling, longer sentences for domestic abuse, same sex marriage, and the judiciary and Red Lake working better together through open communication, cooperation, and mutual respect.


The legislative candidates, Rod Skoe (Democratic-Farmer-Labor), who is running against Dennis Moser (Republican) for State Senator and Roger Erickson (DFL), who is running against David Hancock (Republican) for State Representative.

Some of the issues discussed were the sales tax agreements between the state and the tribe, jobs, education, Indian education, peat mining, balanced budget, partisanship, and working together on a government-to-government basis.

There was some discussion on the two amendments that will be on the state ballot, including the voter ID and the marriage amendment. The voter ID amendment got the most discussion with the speakers falling along party lines regarding both amendments, the DFLers all thought the voter ID amendment should be defeated and the republicans said they would vote yes.

All agreed that the state should not enter into the gaming business in competition with Red Lake or any other Indian tribe, although Hancock said Red Lake needs other sources of wealth to become economically independent.

Related articles:

Minnesota’s Proposed Voter ID Constitutional Amendment Could Jeopardize Use of Tribal Identification

Candidate Fair Coming Up at Red Lake Seven Clans Casino in Minnesota


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Two Red Lake Nation Members Run For County Commissioner Position, Discuss Issues at Candidate Fair