Mary and her dog MissiAs a middle child of a tight-knit family of 13 kids, I learned early on the valuable lessons of collaboration, commitment, and the common good. I knew that when we worked together, things got done more quickly and everyone benefited. Those lessons have stuck with me throughout my life and helped guide my civic leadership and community engagement.

My life’s path has taken many twists and turns. Twenty-five years ago you would have found me a single mother of three, attending weekend college to earn my teaching degree and often working three jobs. On my path to becoming a teacher, my carefully laid plans hit an unexpected bump in the road and my family’s economic security and wellbeing were at risk.  At one point I couldn’t do it all myself and that’s when Minnesota was there for me. If it hadn’t been for the financial and medical assistance that our state provided I could have easily lost my home and been unable to care for my children. I want to ensure that policies are in place so that Minnesota continues to build strong families and strong communities, always looking through an equity lens.

I have had the great fortune of living a life surrounded by diverse and productive people who have influenced the woman I am today as a wife and mother, a teacher and union member, a person proud of my Lakota heritage, and an active community member.  I care deeply about our region and our state. My unique life experiences coupled with leadership positions in our community provide me with a strong understanding of local and regional challenges and the experience to work with diverse stakeholders to find practical solutions to issues.Senator Kunesh speaking on the senate floor

As your State Senator, I firmly believe that all members of our community have a stake in the success of our neighborhoods. I will continue to bring our stories and our voices to the Capitol. I’m excited to serve – together!

A State Legislator

I was first elected as State Representative in House District 41B in 2016 and re-elected in 2018. The outcome of that 2016 election, while exciting for me personally, was deeply troubling for our state and nation. It pushed me to dig even deeper into what type of leadership is required in this urgent moment and to become even more committed to making progress here in Minnesota. During my House tenure, I served as an Assistant Majority Leader and Vice-Chair of the House Education Policy Committee.

In my first House term, I was a founding member of the Native American and People of Color & Indigenous (POCI) caucuses. I also began the ongoing work of establishing a task force to assess and develop solutions to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people in our state. I am so proud that in 2018 we passed a groundbreaking Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Taskforce and presented a report with mandates to the Minnesota legislature. Read the report here. By 2020 we established the first-in-the-nation, MMIR (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative) office and in 2023, we created a reward fund and created an MMIR license plate. (Order yours here)

In my second term, other seeds I planted with colleagues and community leaders came to fruition. I authored and together we passed legislation that invests in our schools, our families, and our communities:

  • Community solutions for healthy child development grant programs
  • Direct funding  for teacher preparation
  • Increased  funding in the Teachers of Color Act for American Indian and teachers of color for mentorship and retention, and establish a fund of $1.5 million to assist during student teaching
  • Secured an addition of $99k above base funding for Collaborative Urban Educator Grants
  • Secured an increase of $100 per month — for the first time in 30 years — general assistance cash grants Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP)
  • Directed the Commissioner of human services to develop a medical assistance TEFRA stakeholder group  to review content, medical assistance TEFRA
  • Eliminated the exclusion of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct for non consensual, intentional touching of another person’s clothed buttocks
  • Amended requirement for Minnesota’s  Prairie Island Tribal Police to exercise concurrent state law enforcement jurisdictional authority
  • Permanently secured American Indian Tribal Contract school aid
  • Allocated $3.6 million to the Indian Affairs Council for increases in language preservation, language immersion, and working groups via the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund in Legacy Funding

From passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) – in both the House and the Senate – to establishing a 100% renewable economy to address funding shortcomings in our public schools, there was so much more work to be done. So, when I was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2020, I continued building toward more successes for Minnesota with allies and partners in the newly redistricted, Senate District 39.

MKP reading to small childrenAn Educator

I am an educator at heart and have a passion for learning. At the age of 35, I received my teaching license and began my career in inner-city schools in Minneapolis and Robbinsdale. In November 2020, after 25 years of working in the public education system, and four years teaching and legislating, I decided to retire, hand my school library into good hands, and focus on representing my constituents in the best way possible.

I know firsthand how important it is that we provide a 21st century education for all students and that will always be my top priority as your Senator and as the Chair of the Senate Education Finance.

A Community Builder

In New Brighton, I sat as the Chair of the New Brighton Parks, Recreation and Environment Commission after serving as a commissioner for six years. Always pining for a local farmers market, I teamed up with a handful of like-minded New Brightonians and we began a very successful New Brighton Farmers Market that serves a broad reach of communities. These community connections have helped me to have a deep understanding of local issues surrounding transportation, connectivity, and the environment.