Our View: Van Nett now the one in need of support
From the editorial: "A GoFundMe account has been created to support her two teenage daughters, both students at Denfeld High School. After she has given so much to support her community, Duluthians are being asked to give a little to support her family as we all grieve. And as we all celebrate her."
To become not just an elected representative for her neighbors but an effective and knowledgeable one required “steep learning,” Duluth City Councilor Renee Van Nett conceded in a frank and honest moment during an interview in January with the News Tribune Opinion page.
Her success in that was perhaps never better illustrated than during the public divide in 2018 over purchasing protective gear for the Duluth Police. As chairwoman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Van Nett took it upon herself to exhaustively research the needs and the pros and cons, and she became an unwavering and strong advocate for our officers and the equipment they need to protect their safety while on duty — so they can protect ours.
In that moment, Van Nett’s leadership and ability to bridge differing viewpoints was clear. It was no surprise then that her colleagues picked her to serve as council vice president and, last year, as president. She became the first Indigenous person to hold the lofty perch of distinction and honor in the history of Duluth.
Heartbreakingly, this week, Duluthians learned we may soon be losing Van Nett, a city councilor who has grown in effectiveness and knowledge as much as she has embraced public service and given back with compassion. Van Nett has suffered an apparent relapse after previously beating back the relentless ravages of cancer. “Her death nears,” the News Tribune reported Tuesday.
A GoFundMe account has been created to support her two teenage daughters, both students at Denfeld High School. After she has given so much to support her community, Duluthians are being asked to give a little to support her family as we all grieve.
And as we all celebrate her.
Van Nett — who serves District 4, which includes Piedmont Heights, Duluth Heights, Lincoln Park, and a part of West Duluth — forged a legacy not only for her support for our police and public safety but for her tireless advocacy for housing, economic development, and Duluth businesses big and small. By building relationships, she worked to make sure everyone had access to and a voice in City Hall.
"I believe in the work that I'm doing,” she said at a candidate forum in September co-sponsored by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. “I do that work by my traditional values as a Native person and an Anishinaabe person who comes up from the traditions. What that means to the constituents is my views are broad and I think about your view as well as mine. That's what I'm taught.”
In the quest to end homelessness, Van Nett tried out, in her own backyard, an idea to assemble yurts as small wintertime shelters. She also supported housing initiatives in her district like Lincoln Park Flats at the former Robert's Home Furnishings site at Superior Street and 21st Avenue West. To encourage job creation and to change Duluth's unfortunate reputation as a tough place to do business, she reached out last summer to the Duluth Chamber and business leaders via a series of roundtable discussions.
Van Nett also served as a member of the citizen board in Duluth that reviews police-community matters, on the Duluth Civil Service Board, and on the board for the Damiano Center. She founded a nonprofit called the Cross Cultural Alliance of Duluth to strengthen the community by bringing people together. She worked as an employment liaison for Community Action Duluth. (Her job, literally, was connecting Duluthians in search of work with open positions.) And she was working most recently as an impact director for Head of the Lakes United Way.
"I believe City Council work is nuts-and-bolts work," she said at the forum. "I believe in constituent services and helping people who live in the district."
Van Nett and her family are the ones now in need of the community’s help. And our prayers. And our heartfelt appreciation.