Candidate Essay: Leonard M. Fineday

Secretary-Treasurer Candidate: Leonard M. Fineday

Greetings People of Leech Lake!

My name is Leonard “Lenny” Fineday, and I am humbly asking for your support and vote to be your next Secretary/Treasurer. I was born at the CLIHS Hospital in 1982, and grew up in Portage Lake (Bena area) and in Cass Lake. I graduated from Cass Lake Bena High School in 2001, from Bethel University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2005, and from Marquette University Law School in 2011 with a Juris Doctorate. I have also been licensed to practice law since 2011. I have spent the last nineteen years working for Indian Country, from interning with the National Congress of American Indians to my present position serving as General Counsel for the White Earth Nation. My father was the late Rev. Leonard F. Fineday and my mother is Mary Fineday.

Previously, I served as a Cass Lake City Council member, as a member of the Leech Lake Tribal College Board of Trustees, and I am a former two-term president of the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association. Currently, I serve as a School Board member for the Cass Lake Bena Board of Education, as a member of the Children’s Justice Initiative Statewide Advisory Board and C o-Chair the Children’s Justice Initiative ICWA Subcommittee. These past and present leadership positions have instilled in me the importance of public service, understanding the role of a governing body, implementing strategic goals and priorities, and promoting effective and meaningful change. These are the qualities that I hope to bring to the Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee.

My top priority is to work very hard to re-establish trust between our people and the tribal government. We must have greater transparency in our decision-making and we must take the time to gather Band member input in all impactful, long-term and strategic decisions. Our Band members’ voices need to be heard and lead the way in our decision-making. All meetings of the RBC should be livestreamed for Band member input and comment, with agendas posted with as much advance notice as possible so our members are aware of the decisions that are going to be made. Local Indian Councils need to have a bigger role in gather community input and setting the direction for our tribal government.

Along with transparency, we need to move away from the subtle culture of fear that has poisoned our tribal politics for far too long. I know even now rumors are circulating that with the upcoming transition in RBC, there is a growing “list” of people who are going to be fired.  I can assure you that I do not have a list and it is my hope and intention to work with everyone. Working in tribal government, whether as a member of the RBC, a director, manager or frontline worker, all positions are positions of service to our Band Members. This is what we need to keep front and center in any discussion about tribal government employment. Who you support or who you know or who your family is should not determine whether you will have a job or not; the knowledge, skills and abilities one brings to the table along with the ability to effectively serve our people should be the guiding principles in our employment decisions.

Furthermore, the RBC should not even be involved in hiring and firing and other Human Resources matters. The RBC sets the policies and procedures, then the HR Department and executive staff implement those policies and procedures fairly and consistently. This is how our HR process should work, and I hope to bring this change to Leech Lake so the RBC can focus on governing and bigger picture items.

As it relates to our Band finances, we need to develop short and long range plans that will ensure that we are using our resources properly and living within our means. I was pleased to see the recent attempt to meet with Band members on the FY23 budget as required by the Budget Ordinance, but I am also saddened to hear that the RBC has failed to enact the FY22 budget and that even at this late stage planning is still incomplete for the FY23 budget. I am thankful for our hardworking accounting and finance staff at both the RBC and within Gaming, but there needs to be much stronger support from the Secretary/Treasurer in our accounting teams for financial planning moving forward. I will be directly involved in helping to shape our budgets and financial plans in accordance with direction from the full RBC, our people and the strategic plan we create together.

There are, of course, many other areas to address: housing, chemical dependency, child welfare, education, natural resource protection, elder services, healthcare, and many more. My hope and desire is to tackle these issues together, as the Leech Lake people, incorporating your voice in our planning and implementation. This is the only meaningful way to bring true and lasting change. I intend to work toward a comprehensive plan for Leech Lake that addresses all of these areas with Band member input setting the priorities, goals and benchmarks. This comprehensive planning document will be the map to our success and help us work together to help restore and rebuild our Reservation and our communities.

I am confident that our greatest days are still in front of us and that by working together, we will become stronger, healthier, and better positioned to live our Anishinabe way of life for generations to come. I am available to meet with you or your family in advance of the election. Please reach out to me at (218) 760-1712 if you would like to meet! Also call or email if you need an absentee ballot or a ride to the polls. Again, I humbly ask for your vote on June 14, 2022 and am available to answer any questions you may have.


Leonard “Lenny” Fineday