Group claims comment by Comm. Raukar offensive

By KBJR News 1

July 2, 2014 Updated Jul 2, 2014 at 11:03 AM CST

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The biggest topic at Tuesday morning's St. Louis County Board meeting concerned something that happened during their meeting a week ago.

A group of citizens spoke out against comments made by Commissioner Steve Raukar that they say were offensive to the Native American Community.

"My instant reaction was anger and the more I thought about it, the more irritated I was," said Kassie "Standing Bear" Helgerson.

Helgerson attended the board's meeting on June 24 to hear their vote on a resolution that would oppose a type of environmental review in the Superior National Forest. But it was what Helgerson heard from Commissioner Steve Raukar when he was discussing the area's workforce that she says shocked her.

This is what Raukar said during the Board meeting on June 24:

"We send them [workers] away, we educate them. (inaudible) But there needs to be enough opportunities for more of them to return to, uh, revitalize (inaudible). I've said many times perhaps we need another wave of immigrants from eastern Europe to come here. Let's give them some land, some opportunity. They're an educated workforce and let's rebuild. Let's get more Finlanders here. Let's get more Yugoslavians, Croatians, Germans. It's worked well once already. Why wouldn't it work again?"

Helgerson says she thought the comment was offensive to Native Americans.

"The first things I thought about were the racist remarks, the bullying that my children and grandchildren and that I have dealt with throughout my lifetime," said Helgerson.

The comment drew a group of people to the Board's meeting on Tuesday, speaking out about their concerns.

"When the Commissioner made his statement about bringing in more immigrants, I thought about all the atrocities that my ancestors suffered," said Helgerson.

Commissioner Raukar says his comments were about recruiting workers and not racial bias.

"My point was to suggest, in a 'thinking outside the box' context as a possible consideration, recruitment of workers, citing a few countries where immigrants had come from to northeastern Minnesota decades ago and could meet the needs of emerging industry as an example, not as a mandate. I meant no disrespect to the Native American community or any race for that matter," Raukar said during the Board meeting Tuesday.

The comment came during a discussion by the board on whether to officially oppose a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) in the Superior National Forest.

The board voted unanimously to oppose the statement, with Commissioner Frank Jewell abstaining.