Moms Who Make Duluth is a monthly series featuring interviews with industrious, local women who are shaping the face of Duluth’s professional sphere while simultaneously raising their families. Duluth Moms Blog and Krenzen are delighted to highlight the positive impact working moms have on our community. We want you to get to know some of Duluth’s most notable women: professionals who balance work, community, civic engagement, and family.
Introducing... 4th District Councilwoman Renee Van Nett!
On November 7th, 2017, Renee Van Nett was elected to the Duluth City Council. She may be the first Ojibwe woman elected to council, but she has long been active in advocating for the voices in her community through her work with the Duluth Civilian Review Board, the Cross Cultural Alliance of Duluth, and the Lincoln Park Children and Family Collaborative. Renee gave up some of her valuable free time to talk with Duluth Moms Blog about everything from her run for office to her favorite way to spend time with her daughters.
Renee, will you share a little of your background with us?
I am an extrovert. I just learned this about myself! I have two 11 year old girls who I get the pleasure of raising. I hope I am teaching them how to help make this world a better place. We live here in Duluth where I am employed at Community Action Duluth as an Employment Navigator. My mom has 10 siblings and near 100 grandchildren of which I am the oldest. I am from the Red Lake and Leech Lake bands of Ojibway. My family and I live a pretty traditional lifestyle as it pertains to the Ojibway culture. We attend a lot of ceremonies and powwows. I worked very hard for my BA in Organizational Management and Communications from Concordia University in St. Paul. I have lived in Duluth for most of my life (since I was around 10 years of age). My girls and I love this town and the people.
On to the questions!
What advice do you wish you could have given to your younger self?
With consideration to the surroundings I came up in, I would just reassure myself that the hard times fly by faster then you know. Cherish the good times, love your parents because they leave you early. Their absence teaches you resilience and how to help others deal with grief. Enduring a lot at a young age will teach you empathy for others.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I have taken a lot of life risks in my time, but as of late entering the political landscape has been by far the hardest one. Running for office is scary and risky but worth it.
What has motivated you to run for public office? Do you have any advice for other women and mothers who are interested in making a change in the community through elected public service positions?
I was motivated by my kids being left out of any equation in regard to their education. I had to send my son back to our home reservation to finish high school because our needs we not being met in the city. My experience of being a mom running for office (and now holding an elected position) is that you have to be strategic about your time: your self time, your family time, your job or work, and the elected seat you hold. Understand that being an elected official is a position of the people who elected you to help them meet their needs. But DO IT FOR SURE! Be scared, but not afraid to move forward; be fearless. I was and am often afraid but push to still be fearless all the time.
What is the most exciting thing about your job(s) right now? The most challenging?
I am excited that I am the chair of public safety, which means I get to support the people who keep us all safe in this town. I love it because I love helping people. The most challenging part right now is learning the process and adjusting my schedule to fit in everything, but I will get it figured out.
What is your family’s favorite way to relax together?
We love to travel. We go to powwows and dance, and go to the lake or shop!
You are involved in the Duluth community in so many different ways. What is your current passion project outside of your elected duties?
I am very involved in my kids education and bringing the Myers Wilkins community schools model that is in Lincoln Park over to Denfeld High School.
Do you have any hidden talents? If so, what are they?
I was an awesome football player in high school I played a lot of sports. I can do good beadwork and have the gift of working with people.
Tell us your biggest joy and most challenging part of motherhood.
We are in the midst of challenges and joys daily. I find it challenging that my daughter has the tenancy to be super slow or forget things; it happens every day! Being a single mom with no help at home is hard but I am used to it. It brings me joy to see my girls make good choices and think for themselves. I like knowing they know how to make good choices and how to be safe.
What is your favorite cheesy movie?
Name a “hidden gem” North Shore spot.
I love being anywhere by Lake Superior where the sun has its rays on me and my puppy and girls can play free.
What are some ways in which Duluth residents can get more involved in making positive changes in their own neighborhoods?
There are citizen patrol meetings in areas, farmers markets, block parties, community gardens… get out, talk to one another!
Renee, thank you so much for sharing your words with us. Duluth is lucky to have your vision and passion working hard for its citizens!
Join us over the next few months as we get to know some of Duluth’s most notable women. Do you know a mom who is making waves in the community? Speaking out? Pushing for change, or implementing new and innovative ways to better our schools, neighborhoods, government, or commerce and agriculture? Drop us a line at [email protected] and let us know!