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Community, Fond du Lac Band members mourn death of elder, healer, politician

Ray "Skip" Sandman will be remembered for his service and commitment to protecting the environment for future generations.

Ray Skip Sandman
Ray "Skip" Sandman
Clint Austin / 2018 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A fire has been burning for the past few days in memory of Ray “Skip” Sandman, 68, a Fond du Lac Band tribal elder, also respected as a healer, or nananbawewinini, the Ojibwe word for "one who doctors."

Sandman, a former corrections officer, made a name for himself in the political realm, as well, twice running for Congress, 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 an afternoon spent watching children swimming in the Lester River. He revisited the scene in a dream that night, and the children asked him: What are you going to leave us?

A resolution asks for a Congressional investigation and possible redress.

“It was like a bolt of lightning hit him. He said, ‘I’ve got to protect the water. These are our little kids.’ And he thought the best way to do that was to run for Congress,” Sandman said, recalling his staunch opposition to the development of copper-sulfide mining.

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

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Anishinaabe spiritual leader Ray "Skip" Sandman, of Duluth, speaks during a vigil in June 2020 for George Floyd at Veterans Memorial Park in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

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

“For a lot of us young folks, what he did was create elbow space for everybody," Kozlowski said. "But also, he respected his gift so much as a spiritual adviser that he used that gift to help us step into the fullness of who we are, and that might include new workplaces, education, political spaces. For me, he played a humongous role in me being able to step 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 campaign."

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 during the renaming ceremony of Duluth’s Lake Place Park to Gichi-ode' Akiing in 2019.
Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune

“A lot of people sought him out for spiritual healing. His most recent employment was as cultural adviser 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 has left community members in a state of shock, according to Carr.

Sandman had appeared to be on the mend from a recent heart attack and was expected to begin rehab in a matter of days, but he unexpectedly took a turn for the worse, passing away Sunday night.

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

“He was given his gift by the Creator, and the only way you can get that gift is through the dreamworld. That’s how he became a traditional healer,” she said. “So, it wasn’t his gift. It was a gift he carried for the people who came to him for healing.”

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A wake for Sandman will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, followed by a feast and song at the Fond du Lac Head Start Gymnasium in Cloquet. Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at the same location. Sandman will then be buried with military honors in Indian Hill Cemetery.

This story was updated at 12:54 p.m. Nov. 2 with details about services to honor Sandman. It was originally posted at 5:44 p.m. Nov. 1.

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Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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