Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

We Are Still Here

By Leo I. Brisbois

Boozhoo Niijii; Gdinimikoon. Hello, Friend; I greet you in a good way.

At the time of the arrival of Columbus, there were possibly upwards of 12 million indigenous people (American Indians) living throughout what is now the United States and Canada. Over the next four centuries, by 1891, as a result of disease, the destruction of primary food sources, warfare, forced relocation to barren lands, and institutionalized efforts to stamp out American Indian culture, the indigenous population in the United States had been reduced to a mere 237,000. However, despite the loss of innumerable individuals, the cultural and sovereign identity of more than 560 federally recognized Indian tribes and approximately 70 state-recognized Indian tribes has survived; today, census estimates report 4.9 million American Indians living in the United States. American Indian communities and cultures have survived, among them theOjibwe/Anishinaabe people (in which I have personal roots), because communal life and organization, tradition, and culture were not dependent upon any single person:  as one individual would fall, although their loss was grieved deeply, other members of the community were always there to step in and carry on the culture, the traditions, and work to meet the ongoing needs of the community. Ojibwe/Anishinaabe people can thus sometimes be heard to say “we are still here”—giinawind goshkwaawaadabimin.

This past December, we were all saddened and deeply troubled to hear of the allegations made in the criminal charges brought following the unexpected arrest of the MSBA Treasurer. However, as an association of attorneys, we all recognize, appreciate, and defend the essential constitutional principle of the presumption of innocence. Therefore, it is important to respect the legal process and allow the justice system to resolve the issues raised in that criminal case.

The MSBA and its members have, each in their own way, been affected by these developments; it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, the MSBA will continue to function guided by its member-derived “Mission” statement and “Goals”:

  • Mission:
  • To aid the courts in the administration of justice.
  • To apply the knowledge and experience of the profession to the public good.
  • To maintain in the profession high standards of learning, competence, ethics and public service.
  • To conduct a program of continuing legal education.
  • To organize into the MSBA the entire bench and bar of Minnesota and correlate the activities of the affiliated associations.
  • To provide a forum for the discussion of subjects pertaining to the practice of law, the science of jurisprudence and law reform, and to publish information relating thereto.
  • To cooperate with other bar associations and organizations to further MSBA objectives.
  • Goals:
  • Access/Quality Justice. The MSBA commits to a partnership with Minnesota courts to provide meaningful access for Minnesotans and to maintain a quality justice system.
  • Acceptance/Inclusion. The MSBA commits to principles of equality and fairness and will clearly demonstrate the value of diversity to the legal community.
  • Technology. The MSBA commits to develop technology resources to: a) assist members in becoming more successful by applying technology in their practices and b) make the MSBA more efficient in delivering services to its members.
  • Professionalism. In cooperation with the court and law schools, nurture the lifelong quest for professionalism by promoting professionalism ideals and implementing programs which develop a sense of professionalism.
  • Communications and Community Education. Position Minnesota’s legal profession as a positive and constructive force in society.”

The MSBA is continuing to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals on a daily basis, but not solely because of any individual member of the Assembly, not solely because of any individual member of the Council, and not even solely because of any individual officer. Rather, the MSBA is continuing to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals on a daily basis principally because of the collaborative efforts of the dedicated staff of the MSBA, the dedicated MSBA member-volunteers serving on the 26 existing committees and task forces, the dedicated MSBA members who belong to any of the 34 practice-area sections, and most importantly, because of the collective voice, support, and commitment to the profession of the almost 17,000-strong general membership of the MSBA.

American Indian culture and sovereign communities have persevered and survived for more than 500 years because there have always been community members ready and able to step in and carry on when one of their own has fallen. So too, regardless of any difficulties or challenges faced in the past or that might be faced in the future, will the organizational life and works of the Minnesota State Bar Association continue to persevere and serve our profession and the greater community in which we live because of the Association’s real strength: its general membership who are always ready to step up.

The MSBA will endure; through its members at large, it will go on serving the legal profession and all of our neighbors; and MSBA members present and future can and will justly say after facing any challenge, “we are still here”—giinawind goshkwaawaadabimin.

Miigwech bizindawiyeg. Thank you for  listening to me.

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