Indigenous candidate joins field seeking DFL nomination in 8th Congressional District

Calling herself "an example of Greater Minnesota," Gaylene Spolarich launched her campaign Feb. 1.

Gaylene Spolarich speaks to a supporter during the public supper and sign-making party Feb. 1 that launched her campaign from her home in Palisade, Minnesota. (Submitted photo)

The race for the DFL nomination in the 8th Congressional District widened earlier this month with the arrival of Gaylene Spolarich into the picture.

Spolarich, 59, is a member of North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and a 40-year resident of Aitkin County.

“I decided it was time for someone who had more care about the environment, the land, and the water, and felt I was the only one who could really speak to that,” she told the News Tribune on Friday. “Somebody needed to step up, and I decided I was going to be a different candidate than what has been run in the past.”

Spolarich joins Quinn Nystrom , of Baxter, and Soren Sorensen , of Bemidji, in pursuit of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nomination. Republican incumbent Rep. Pete Stauber announced his reelection bid in January.

Spolarich launched her campaign earlier this month, opening her kitchen in Palisade, Minnesota, to friends and supporters. She’s spent the past 25 years working in tribal government for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.


“I’ve worked with children and families, underrepresented people and overlooked people for a large part of my working career, so I feel like I’m the right candidate,” she said. “I’m an example of greater Minnesota.”

Spolarich was in Duluth earlier this month, taking part in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Memorial March.

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Gaylene Spolarich

In preparation for Tuesday’s statewide caucuses, she was hoping to reach as many delegates as possible in the coming days. She’ll be in Lindstrom, Minnesota, at the southern end of the district, this weekend, before stops in the Twin Cities, where she hopes to meet delegates who will amplify her message via social media.

“I don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “I’m using volunteers right now.”

Her volunteers, she said, are to credit for building her website , where she advocates for healthy people, healthy places and a fair economy.

“We need good jobs and economic opportunities in Northeastern Minnesota — but these opportunities should uplift and connect our communities, preparing us for the future,” she said.


Spolarich spoke to the News Tribune during her work break. She has previously served on the City of Palisade Board, and is a self-described mother, grandmother and caregiver to four young children.

The 8th District DFL convention is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 2 at Grand Casino in Hinckley.

In 2018, 170 delegates went to the 8th District DFL convention, which yielded no consensus pick and resulted in a four-candidate primary won by Joe Radinovich.

Spolarich is hoping delegates will take notice of her message: “I believe we can have a thriving economy and compassionate culture in Northeastern Minnesota by putting the health and well-being of all people, and our natural environment, at the center of decision-making.”

This story originally listed an incorrect year for the 2018 8th Congressional District DFL convention. It was updated at midnight, Feb. 22, 2020. The News Tribune regrets the error.

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