August 5, 2020

MN350 Action endorses six Indigenous candidates for city, county, legislative races across Minnesota

MN350 Action today announced its endorsement of six Indigenous candidates, reflecting the growing number of tribal members seeking office nationwide at every level.

Sheila Lamb, an Indigenous member of the Cloquet City Council who was endorsed by MN350 Action in her 2018 race and is a member of MN350 Action’s board, said more Indigenous candidates are running for political office, both throughout Minnesota and nationwide. This trend follows the 2018 election of the first two Indigenous women to the U.S. House of Representatives: Deb Haaland of New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District and Sharice Davids of Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.

“Changing times have brought more issues to light,” Lamb said. “We have learned through Standing Rock the importance of using our voices to elicit change.”

After a candidate vetting process, MN350 Action last week endorsed Christian Taylor-Johnson for Beltrami County Commission; Audrey Thayer for Bemidji City Council; and Ernest Joseph Oppegaard-Peltier III for Bemidji City Council. MN350 Action earlier endorsed Indigenous candidates Lyz Jaakola for Cloquet City Council; Heather Keeler for Moorhead’s state House district; and Mary Kunesh-Podein for Columbia Heights, Fridley and New Brighton’s state Senate district.

MN350 Action is supporting Indigenous candidates across the state in this pivotal election year as part of its effort to promote strong climate leadership at every level of government and to center solutions to the climate crisis that come from the frontline communities being most affected by it.

“Indigenous leaders value human life and the environment,” Lamb said. “Giving them support looks to give a healthy and sustainable future for the next seven generations.”

Mary Kunesh-Podein is a second-term Minnesota representative now running for the state Senate seat in District 41, which includes parts of the North Metro area. She also is a founding member of the Native American and People of Color and Indigenous caucuses. She has worked on policy proposals to prevent collapse of bee colonies and stop corresponding agricultural losses.

“Growing up in rural Minnesota on the Mississippi River and Watab Creek, I learned how precious our clean air, water, and land really is,” Kunesh-Podein said. “I am proud of the endorsement from MN350 and look forward to partnering as good stewards of our environment and resources in order to preserve and protect the earth for the next seven generations.”

Heather Keeler, vice chair of the Moorhead Human Rights Commission, is running for MN House District 4A. She supports the move to cleaner and more efficient forms of energy and backs legislation to electrify school and city buses.

“Being Indigenous comes with a responsibility to care for Mother Earth,” Keeler said. “We must be a voice to protect our waters, air and nature. We need to pass Mother Earth down to the next generation better than we found it. With this spiritual connection and genuine appreciation for our land, standing up to protect the climate is something we live and embrace. With more Indigenous leaders at the table of change, our voices and passion will be multiplied.”

Lyz Jaakola is an educator and musician who hopes to improve cooperation between the city of Cloquet and the neighboring nation of the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa on climate justice initiatives.

Christian Taylor-Johnson, who is facing an Aug. 11 primary election in his Beltrami County race, pledged to prioritize his constituents’ needs over corporations lobbying for infrastructure projects such as landfills and pipelines. “We must protect the Mississippi watershed and all the food it supports as cultural and sacred,” Taylor-Johnson said.

Taylor-Johnson also noted an increase in Indigenous candidates running for local offices. “We have been fighting for social, political, and environmental justice for generations. That will never change. Our tactics are just expanding. We have been creating coalitions within our tribal and local communities to support and build up native community leaders to run for local offices.”

Also running in a primary is Ernest Joseph Oppegaard-Peltier III, seeking Bemidji’s Ward 5 City Council seat. Oppegaard-Peltier is working with social organizations in Bemidji to organize around racial justice issues. He is concerned about the intolerant and militarized response to locals protesting against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

Oppegaard-Peltier said Indigenous candidates are well-positioned to provide leadership on climate issues. “We see our local politicians sitting on our energy co-op boards, making decisions on the route for our energy needs and how that will look for our cities and counties. These local positions are where the front-line policy decisions are made about how we diversify our energy infrastructure and what projects that these boards approve and help fund.”

Audrey Thayer, who is running for a Bemidji City Council seat from Ward 1 and also faces a primary challenge, said the City Council has the opportunity to address human-made climate change locally and that the election of indigenous people, especially women, is an important part of that effort.

“Indigenous-American leadership gives voice to the teachings of our climate, our earth mother that must be protected,” Thayer said. “It is about this time of the earth cycle. It is about George Floyd and Minnesota. It is about our seventh generation teachings: Stand up, speak out.”



MN350 Action is the political and advocacy home for Minnesotans concerned about protecting our climate. It is the companion organization to MN350, a statewide group with 20,000 supporters working to make Minnesota a national leader in a just transition to a clean energy economy.


Brett Benson, Communications Director
MN350 & MN350 Action
(651) 368-1226