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Miranda Pacheco plans to vote for the first time ever this summer — and she will be voting for herself.

Pacheco, 43, is an alcohol and drug counselor at Mash-ka-wisen Treatment Center in Sawyer, Minn., where she began her own addiction recovery journey. She's a convicted felon, from a drug possession charge in 2013 — which means she didn't have the right to vote until completing probation in April.

Now she's hoping to bring her experiences with homelessness and addiction to the nine-member Duluth City Council, advocating for housing and mental health care.

"I found my voice in that time, and now I'm able to use it in a good way," Pacheco said.

The field of eight candidates running for two at-large council seats will be narrowed to four in the Aug. 8 primary before heading to the November election. If she wins, she hopes to bring a voice to communities that have been underrepresented.

Pacheco, who is Ojibwe, would become the only Native American on the City Council following the death last summer of Renee Van Nett, the first Indigenous woman elected to the council.

"Now they have somebody that looks like them that they can vote for," Pacheco said she thought when she decided to run.

Pacheco moved around Minnesota with her mother while her father bounced in and out of prison and dealt with addiction. By the end of 10th grade, she had dropped out of high school and was working in Minneapolis. In her early 20s, she started drinking and using cocaine.

She entered an abusive relationship with someone whose life was "based on drinking and partying," she said. They had two children together before he got deported to Mexico. Pacheco said that was when she started taking pills while drinking.

"I just didn't care," she said.

Pacheco entered her first treatment program, where she became addicted to painkillers. Then she encountered meth. "It was just all downhill from there," she said. "I would have to commit crime to maintain my habit as well."

She lost custody of her children and was caught with a large amount of drugs. There was a period of incarceration, probation and homelessness. After a felony conviction and probation violation landed her in jail, she realized she could be facing a long term in prison.

"That's where I was like, I have to change, or else," she said.

In 2015 Pacheco entered Mash-ka-wisen, which serves Native Americans in recovery. The treatment center, nestled by a lake in the woods, describes itself as one of the first such facilities owned and operated by Native Americans in the United States.

At the time, Pacheco said, she was not particularly in touch with her Ojibwe roots. On the advice of counselors, she began to offer tobacco and pray every day by a tree. After 90 days in the treatment center, she moved to a halfway house, where she began to look for a job and housing.

"Every single step that I took in that direction, I would lay out my tobacco," she said. "That is literally what got me through everything."

She got her first full-time job at a Duluth homeless shelter and looked for an apartment, telling a prospective landlord that she was in recovery. The landlord rented the apartment to Pacheco, who regained custody of her kids.

Pacheco's family began attending traditional ceremonies, dancing in powwows and going to sweat lodges. She started running long distances and enrolled at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, where she began an internship at Mash-ka-wisen.

She bought her first house in 2021 and recently finished her junior year on the dean's list at the College of St. Scholastica. Now she has her own office at Mash-ka-wisen.

"When I graduated from here in January 2016, I said to myself, and probably out loud, 'I'm going to come back here and I'm going to be a counselor,' " she said. "And I did."

Melisa Gomez-Romo, who operates a homeless shelter in Duluth, met Pacheco on a 17-mile run and texted her earlier this year to see if she wanted to run for City Council. Her experience with homelessness and addiction can help her break down obstacles for other Black and brown people, Gomez-Romo said.

"Miranda ... knows she can overcome things," Gomez-Romo said. "She got her kids back. She beat addiction. She's one of those people that can make impossible things happen."

At the DFL Party convention in May, Gomez-Romo said, Pacheco spoke with every delegate at every table and shared the story of her addiction. She won party endorsement.

"That was really reassuring for all of us," said Bridget Holcomb, Pacheco's campaign manager. "We knew that people were going to love her as much as we do."

Holcomb encouraged Pacheco to share her story with her voters.

"When people know that this is what you've been through, and you've come out the other side, and your first question was, 'How do I give back to my community,' we immediately know that we can trust you," Holcomb said.

While door-knocking, Pacheco enjoys meeting people's cats. She has used her athleticism as a fundraising gimmick, hoisting elected officials and candidates on her back.

"It's so fitting, because she lifts everybody up anyway," Holcomb said.