New regent Tadd Johnson makes Minnesota, university history

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An institution that was established on tribal land has a history of injustices against Native Americans.


Tadd Johnson is the face of this work. Johnson, a member of Bois Forte Band of Chippewa was the University of Minnesota’s first senior director of tribe relations. He also became the first Native member of either the Board of Regents or the Board of Governors.


Johnson was a senior director of tribal relations before he became the 2019 senior director. He worked for years on the Native community’s distrust of the university. Johnson stated that the university and tribal governments began to meet regularly at least three times per year after Johnson assumed that role. This was something that had never been done before in U’s history.

According to the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the history between the university of Minnesota and the tribal nations is complicated and fraught with inequity.


Johnson, who worked with the university and the affairs council, stated that the university’s foundation is a major contributor to today’s mistrust by the Native community.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862. This law took large amounts of Indigenous lands and made them endowments for colleges. The land grant gave the University of Minnesota 94,631 acres of land in 1868. This land belonged to the Ojibwe and Dakota tribes.

Because of their history and deep distrust, tribal nations and university had never established formal relations until President Joan Gabel’s administration. Johnson stated that it was tribal consultation which did not involve regular meetings.


Darrin Rosha, University of Minnesota Regent, said Johnson was instrumental in developing the relationship between the university’s and Minnesota’s tribes. He said that there has been a lot of progress, which has contributed to the advancement of dialogues between the university’s and Minnesota’s tribes.

Johnson was previously a faculty member at University of Minnesota Duluth where he developed courses for a master’s degree in tribal administration. Johnson also directed Tribal-State Relations Trainings that became mandatory for all Minnesota state agency employees.


As the senior director of tribal relations, he initiated conversations with Tribal nations and built relationships.


He also helped facilitate conversations with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council which includes Minnesota’s 11 tribe nations. He followed the example of the council and worked to improve trust by getting the university’s past wrongdoing acknowledged with the hope of reconciliation.


First tribal member regent


Governor. Johnson was appointed by Tim Walz to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Johnson is the tribal’s first member, but he isn’t the only Native American who has been considered for this role.

D. The Regent Candidate Advisory Council recommended Brandon Alkire (an attorney and citizen from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation) to be the Fourth Congressional District representative on the board. Alkire wasn’t one of the four new Minnesota State Legislature regents elected in March 2021.

Johnson was appointed after representatives of the University of Minnesota Morris wrote a petition asking Walz for a tribal member to be appointed from the 8th Congressional District. The petition cited the need to have tribal input in appointing a regent because the 8th District covers large swathes of tribal land.

The petition was also signed by the Minnesota Student Association, Twin Cities campus. A resolution sent by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council to Walz almost two years ago, following the death of Kao Ly Ilean Her, also advocated for his nomination.



The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council highlighted that Minnesota’s tribal nations are the only historically underrepresented groups in Minnesota. They were also the first to be represented on the Board of Regents.


It was also stated that a regent from a tribe would aid the university in building relationships with tribal nations, as this was previously stated by Gabel.


span style=”font weight: 400 The appointment of Tadd John is, I believe, one of most significant developments that have resulted from the (affairs council) resolutions,” stated Shannon Geshick who is the executive director of Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. “And that was really an advice that came from elected tribal leaders.”

The university was also sent a July 2020 letter by the council with a list containing barriers to strengthening their relationship.


In the letter, it stated that injustices must be acknowledged. The letter referred to the inhumane treatment of children from the Red Lake Nation by the medical school in 1950s. It also mentioned attempts by the university not to involve tribal governments in trying to reproduce the wild rice DNA without tribal governments.


The letter pointed out that the university had failed to teach tribal economies and their history in land-grant institutions, as well as the historical failure to meet with tribal nations.


Johnson took the items and brought them to Gabel. He and Gabel met with several tribal nations that year to discuss the matter.


His achievements


Johnson graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School. During his time on the University of Minnesota Duluth faculty, he was also the director of graduate study for the Department of American Indian Studies.

The TRUTH project is his contribution to opening dialogue between tribal countries and the university. In it, the university and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council are investigating historical facts such as the financial losses of tribes due to land-grab. Many of these issues have not been addressed or looked into in the past.


Johnson stated that there were many tragic events in Minnesota history, as well as the relationships between the university of Minnesota and the tribes.


Geshick says that the project findings will be released in the fall.

The university has made significant progress in the area of tribal relations because Johnson played a key role. Geshick stated that one is the acknowledgment of the collection of Mimbres-affiliated culture artifacts and the promise to return them, something the Indian affairs council has been demanding for a long time.


span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” We know that he will advocate for tribes in the best possible way because he has shown that. Geshick stated that he has proven this throughout his years of work. Tadd is trusted by us, and the tribes also trust him. He has proven his best intentions. So we’re in good hands.”


His relationship with the tribes is unique and gives the board a new perspective.


Rosha stated that he has a great history with the university and the Native American Tribes of Minnesota. This I believe is a valuable component to his service as a board member.”


Johnson served as a tribal attorney for over 30 years. He also served as a tribal court Judge and tribal administrator.


After five years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he became the staff director and counsel for the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. He was appointed by President Clinton to the chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission in 1997.


Walz stated that Johnson has a history in leadership and education as well as a deep understanding of government at all levels.


What’s next?


Johnson was also appointed to the board on the same day. He attended Red Wing’s annual retreat. Johnson met the rest of his regents while there and gained a better understanding of their dynamics.


He will continue to maintain his relationships with the tribes and university even though he is now a regent.


span style=”font weight: 400 As a regent I am specifically expected to create distance between myself, the university and me. He said, “So I’m doing it.”


He is unable to continue teaching tribal state relations courses professionally but would like the opportunity to volunteer.


His presence on the board is significant to many Indigenous peoples, but he wants it to be obvious that he wants the best possible for all university students and not just Native students.


span style=”font weight: 400 I want to do an outstanding job as a Regent, and ensure that the University of Minnesota students get the best education possible. He stated that this is his main goal. “I hope I can keep up the other regents. I’m confident in my other jobs, whether they were congressional staff director or small federal agency chief, that I have managed to rise to the occasion. I’m hoping that this time .”


Geshick believes that his position on the board can make a huge difference.


span style=”font weight: 400 Just having Tadd at the table reminds us not to forget about native people and to include them. She said that we are often invisible and make up a small percentage of the population. “Just being there is (something) that I know will be an impactful .”

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