Fond du Lac Band Members Mourn Death of Elder, Healer and Politician – Bemidji Pioneer

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DULUTH — A fire has been burning for the past few days in memory of Ray “Skip” Sandman, 68, an elder of the Fond du Lac tribe, also respected as a healer, or nananbawewinini, the Ojibwe word for “one who heals.”

Sandman also made a name for himself in politics, running for Congress twice, once as a Green Party candidate and again as an Independence Party candidate.

His wife, Babette, said her husband’s political ambitions were inspired by a dream he had after spending an afternoon watching children swim in the River Lester. He revisited the scene in a dream that night, and the children asked him: What are you going to leave us?

“It was like a bolt of lightning had struck him. He said, ‘I have to protect the water. These are our grandchildren. And he thought the best way to do that was to run for Congress,'” said Sandman, recalling his fierce opposition to the development of copper sulphide mining.

“I said to him, ‘Skip, we don’t really do that.’ And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ Because I was raised on welfare and thought about poverty. “You were raised on a reservation, and like, we don’t do that, Skip.” And he said, ‘Why not us?’ Then he told me his name and that he had to protect the water. And I just shut up and said, ‘Okay, let’s go. Holy fumes.’

Anishinaabe spiritual leader Ray “Skip” Sandman of Duluth speaks during a June 2020 vigil for George Floyd at Veterans Memorial Park in Cloquet.

Clint Austin/File/Duluth News Tribune

Babette Sandman said her husband’s bold decision to run for office inspired others to step in, including one of his seven children, Alicia Kozlowski, who is running for a District 8B seat in the House of Minnesota representatives.

“For a lot of us young people, what he did was create elbow space for everybody,” Kozlowski said. “But also, he respected his gift as a spiritual advisor so much that he used that gift to help us come into the fullness of who we are, and that could include new workplaces, education, spaces For me, he played a huge role in allowing me to come into the fullness of who I am as a queer person, as an Indigenous person, and he actually made the first $100 donation to my country.”

Shawn Carr, a military veteran, said Sandman was proud to have served his country in the Vietnam War. “I think he felt it was his obligation to his people and his country,” Carr said. “In fact, his whole life revolved around service to the people.

Tribal elder and Vietnam veteran Skip Sandman speaks during the renaming ceremony of Duluth's Lake Place park to Gichi-ode 'Akiing on Friday.  Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Tribal elder and Vietnam veteran Ray “Skip” Sandman speaks at the renaming ceremony of Duluth’s Lake Place Park to Gichi-ode’ Akiing in 2019.

Tyler Schank/File/Duluth News Tribune

“Many people have sought him for spiritual healing. His most recent job was as cultural advisor for Fond du Lac, and he did a lot of healings and ceremonies there. So everything with Skip was about the people,” Carr said. “He was so many things to so many people.”

Sandman’s death left community members in shock, according to Carr.

Sandman had appeared to be recovering from a recent heart attack and was due to start rehab in a few days, but he unexpectedly got worse and died on Sunday evening.

Babette Sandman said her service to the Creator was of paramount importance to her husband.

“He received his gift from the Creator, and the only way to get that gift is through the dream world. This is how he became a traditional healer,” she said. “So it wasn’t his gift. It was a gift he carried for people who came to him for healing.

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