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St. Louis Co. Commissioner's Remarks Spur Protest

Updated: 07/01/2014 8:51 PM
Created: 07/01/2014 4:20 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

Recent comments at a St. Louis County board meeting about European immigration sparked protest from some in the county's indigenous community on Tuesday.

About a dozen concerned citizens rallied outside the St. Louis County Courthouse to highlight remarks Commissioner Steve Raukar made at a board meeting last week.

Cassie Standing Bear Helgerson said she was at the meeting and was offended by what she heard.

“I did not memorize it verbatim, but he stated that we should bring in more immigrants from Eastern Europe, give them some land and some opportunities because they're an educated workforce,” Helgerson said.

She said the comments struck a nerve because they connected with racism she's faced and the oppression her ancestors suffered during European immigration.

“It brought to mind all the bullying and racist remarks that I've received throughout my life. It brought to mind what our ancestors have suffered. When the original wave of immigrants came in it didn't turn out so well for everyone,” Helgerson said.

During the meeting on Tuesday, Raukar explained why he made the comments. He said it was in the context of discussions about a declining county population and employers struggling to find skilled workers.

“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 have come from to Northeastern Minnesota decades ago to meet the needs of emerging industry,” Raukar said.

He also said he didn't mean disrespect to any race.

“I respectfully apologize for any misunderstanding regarding the intent to my remarks. I remain supportive of America as a melting pot of diversity,” Raukar said.

Helgerson hoped the incident will help change the minds of county board commissioners and others in St. Louis County.

“I want them to understand why it was offensive so that hopefully in the future they will be more careful with their comments,” Helgerson said.

Helgerson said she and those protesting were speaking for themselves and not for the indigenous community at large.

Raukar said the allegations of racial bias were off the mark, and he wanted everyone to focus on commonalities rather than differences.

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