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First Native American member appointed to Board of Regents

University of Minnesota student representatives advocated for this decision through a letter and petition to Gov. Tim Walz.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Gov. Tim Walz appointed Tadd Johnson to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents on Wednesday as former regent David McMillan’s replacement. Johnson is the first Native American member to serve on the board and is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.

McMillan announced his resignation from the board on June 14, with his term expected to expire in June 2023.

McMillan represented the 8th Congressional District, which covers much of northeastern Minnesota including some tribal nations. However, a redrawing of district boundaries has led to the 8th Congressional District representing all tribal nations across the northern part of the state.

“I am proud to appoint Regent Tadd Johnson — the first Native person ever appointed to this board,” Walz said in a press release Wednesday from the governor’s office. “With a background in leadership, education and deep understanding of government on all levels, he brings a wealth of higher education expertise to this group.”

Johnson is a graduate from the University’s Law School and recently retired from the University system where he pursued many roles throughout his time. His most recent position was as the University’s first senior director of American Indian Tribal Nations Relations. He was also the director of graduate studies for the Department of American Indian Studies and a professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus.

“I want to speak for the voices that are not heard often enough by the regents; the students, the educators, Native Americans, rural Minnesotans and the working class. That’s where I come from and that’s who I am,” Johnson said in the press release.

According to Dylan Young, the president of the Morris Campus Student Association and member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the University has had strained relationships with tribal nations in the past but has taken some action to improve their relationship.

Some of the University’s actions to try to mend the relationship between tribal nations include the Native American Promise Tuition Program and the return of sacred objects in the University’s possession, Young said.

A boarding school for Native American children used to stand on the grounds of the University of Minnesota-Morris’ campus and banned these children from speaking their home language or practicing their cultures. After a Morris student’s research in 2018 led to the uncovering of death notices for children who died at the school and a federal investigation was launched into the U.S.’s once 350 boarding schools, the student group Circle of Nations Indigenous Association started a petition in July 2021 for Morris to search the school for the unmarked burial sites of the victims.

The petition states that Morris has a moral obligation to search the sites and “this is an essential action step towards fulfilling Morris’s policy of truth telling, understanding and healing in regards to our institution’s history as a former Indian boarding school.”

According to a June 29 update to the petition, Morris Chancellor Janet Schrunk Ericksen announced a non-invasive search of the unmarked gravesites would begin; Young said the search started last week.

Representatives from the Morris Campus Student Association drafted a letter on June 20 petitioning for Walz to appoint a tribal member from the 8th Congressional District to the University’s Board of Regents. Representatives from the Minnesota Student Association co-signed the petition.

The petition was written due to the lack of student involvement in the selection process of the new regent appointed and to work toward creating a more diverse board in the future.

Sara Davis, a student representative to the board from MSA, said Morris students have been advocating for this for a while, and ongoing collaboration between leaders had been focused on making sure that everyone’s voice is heard.

Davis said leaders requested the governor to consult with tribal leaders prior to a new appointment to ensure that the regent selection process went smoothly.

The discussions about appointing a Native American regent came as the University continues to improve relationships between tribal nations. Young said he hopes that by appointing a Native American regent, the board will prioritize the needs of Native American students and faculty.

“The seat represents those people, those people should have a say in who represents them,” Young said.

Due to tribal history and recent actions taken by the University, Young believes a Native American regent will change the makeup of the board, allowing for more diversity on the board.

“We’ve never had a better time to have Native American leadership in the Board of Regents,” Young said.


Clarification: A previous version of this article misstated who wrote the petition to Gov. Tim Walz. The Morris Campus Student Association wrote the petition and the Minnesota Student Association co-signed the petition. 

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