Mille Lacs Tribe and County at odds over law enforcement deal
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Dan Kraker/MPRNews,
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The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is denouncing a decision from Mille Lacs County official to end a cooperative law enforcement agreement with the band.

The county says it revoked the agreement due to a dispute over state law. But what’s really at the heart of the disagreement is a long-running dispute over the band’s reservation boundaries.

The unanimous decision ends about 25 years of cooperation between the band’s police department and the county sheriff’s office.

Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh says the cooperative agreement had ceased being cooperative.

“There’s been a breakdown in communication between the tribal police department and the Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office, between the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office and the Mille Lacs tribal police department that is tremendously concerning to me.”

The deal had allowed band police officers to respond when they saw anyone committing a crime on the reservation. It also allowed the tribe’s officers and sheriff’s deputies to call each other for backup.

The communication breakdown began about a year and a half ago, Walsh said, after the band applied to the Department of Justice to allow federal prosecutors to also charge crimes committed on the reservation.
As part of that application, which the federal government approved early this year, the Department of the Interior issued an opinion on a decades-old battle over what constitutes the band’s reservation.

The band argues it consists of the 61,000 acres set aside in an 1855 treaty with the federal government. That area spans the entire southern shoreline of Lake Mille Lacs.

However, the county says it’s limited to land held in trust for the band by the federal government – only about 3,000 or 4,000 acres.

In effect, Walsh argues, the band leveraged a decision about law enforcement to advance its point of view on the much broader reservation boundary question.

“All that Mille Lacs County wants is a truly cooperative relationship with the Mille Lacs Band,” he said, “and to put aside this boundary issue to be resolved separately.”

In response, Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin said the band had no influence on the federal government’s decision. She argues the county’s decision places politics over public safety.

“It’s plain and simple, if you end a law enforcement agreement, apparently you’re not that concerned about the public safety of individuals,” Benjamin said.

And public safety is a big issue on the Mille Lacs reservation right now. Benjamin says there’s a rising tide of drugs and violence on the reservation, with more than 1,600 crimes committed since 2013. And the band cites a problem called “rez hopping,” where criminals travel from reservation to reservation to try slipping through jurisdictional cracks.

Jessica Intermill, a founding member of the Hogen Adams law firm in St. Paul, says cooperative agreements between counties and tribes allow officers to focus on stopping crime.

“What these agreements really allow people to do, they allow the first responders to be the helpers they want to be without asking those jurisdictional questions,” said Intermill, who specializes in Indian law.
It’s unclear how those jurisdictional questions will be resolved after the county board’s vote goes into effect on July 21.

County Attorney Joe Walsh says he plans to ask the state Attorney General’s office to issue an opinion on how much authority the band’s police will have without a state cooperating agreement.
Meanwhile, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Solicitor General Todd Matha says the department will continue to do what it’s always done.

“Our police officers are going to provide the same level of law enforcement services that they always have and that the community has come to rely on,” Matha said. “We believe we have that authority by virtue of federal law, tribal law, as well as state law.”

But the Mille Lacs Band says response times could be affected if sheriff's deputies are farther away than tribal cops.

To address that issue, the county is planning to hire 10 additional deputies.

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Tribal school in northern MN gets funds to rebuild
Thursday, May 05 2016
Written by John Enger/MPRNews,
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native_american_school_gets_federal_funding.jpgThe federal Bureau of Indian Education announced funding  to rebuild the crumbling campus of Leech Lake’s Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig tribal school.

For years now, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig high school students have been taught in a decades-old pole barn known as “Killer Hall” for its flimsy construction. When a storm rolls in those students sprint across a parking lot and take shelter in the middle school, because the high school might collapse under high winds.
Now the Bureau of Indian Education has allocated $11.9 million to replace the old pole barn, according to the office of Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Lawrence Roberts.

“We’re ecstatic about the money,” said Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig Superintendent Mary Trapp. “We’ve been waiting a long time for funding.”

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken said he’s been lobbying to build a proper high school building at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig for six years. For a long time, he said it seemed impossible to get traction.

“We dramatically underfund everything in Indian Country,” he said. “It’s deplorable.”

It’s been nearly two years since U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell toured the dilapidated school, saying at the time that she’d lobby Congress to fund a new $25 million high school building.

A year after that, U.S. Reps. John Kline and Rick Nolan toured the school again. At the time, Kline said the Bureau of Indian Education was tangled in bureaucracy and failing to take care of tribal schools.

“Washington must fulfill its promise to Native American students across the country,” Kline said in a statement. “I have long argued the Bug School is in need of dire replacement to address safety and educational needs of its students.”
While she’s happy that the bureaucracy seems to be untangling a bit, Trapp isn’t sure $11.9 million will be enough. The school is planning to build an addition onto the middle school to house high school classes.

“I have the plans on my desk,” she said. “A few things will have to be redesigned if we’re going to do this for $12 million.”
The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig replacement funds are part of a larger push to rebuild Bureau of Indian Education funded tribal schools across the country. Of the 183 run schools, 78 are in such poor condition, government inspectors recommend they be torn down and replaced.

A list of 10 schools in the worst repair was also released in April. Those schools are in line for replacement funding, though just how much funding is not yet clear.

Franken said Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig didn’t make the list of priority schools, but Minnesota lawmakers were able to find other funding.

While the 10 priority schools will still have to wait for money to be allocated and doled out, Franken said, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig will be able to start work within the year.

Minnesota  Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at .

Tribal protesters charged for gathering fish and wild rice
Friday, February 05 2016
Written by John Enger/MPRNews,
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fishingprotestorsweb.jpgFour Ojibwe tribe members have been charged for gathering wild rice and setting gillnets during a protest last summer. In an attempt to strengthen hunting and gathering rights under the 1855 Treaty, dozens of tribal members from White Earth and Leech Lake bands gathered at Hole-in-the-Day Lake in late August.

Two protesters were handed citations at the time for harvesting wild rice without a permit, and two others for setting gillnets. In December 2015 Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan decided to officially charge all four protesters. Ryan’s move opens the door for exactly the court battle protesters were seeking.

“Things are lined up,” said Frank Bibeau, a White Earth member and attorney. “We believe that federal court will uphold our treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather.”

The state’s longtime position has been that it’s illegal to harvest wild rice without a license off reservation land. It’s also illegal to gillnet off reservation.

Tribe members believe they have the right the hunt, fish and gather on all lands ceded in the 1855 Treaty, which covers much of northern Minnesota.

The Hole-in-the-Day protest was organized by the 1855 Treaty Authority. Bibeau works with the activist group. He said protesters hoped to garner charges and win their land use rights through a series of court appeals.

Morningstar Shabaiash and Harvey Goodsky paddled out into Hole-in-the-Day to gather wild rice, but DNR enforcement officers didn’t arrive until two men crossed over into Gull Lake and set a gillnet.

White Earth tribal member Todd Thompson, son of well known Native rights activist Leonard Thompson, and Fond du Lac Band member James Northrup, set a 6-by-200 foot gillnet in Gull Lake.

“The DNR doesn’t really care about wild rice,” Leonard Thompson said at the time, “but they get very touchy about their fish.”
DNR officers removed the net and handed out citations.

Actually charging tribal protesters is a change for Minnesota. In 2010, a group of 200 tribe members set gillnets on Lake Bemidji. Their nets were taken and reports were filed, but the Beltrami County attorney avoided a court battle by not pressing charges.

Bibeau said Ryan might have filed the charges just to see the longstanding land use issue resolved. “Everyone would like this settled once and for all,” he said, “so we don’t have to wonder about it anymore.”

Ryan would not comment on the details of the case, except to say the charges were based upon evidence of crimes and nothing more.

Shabaiash and Goodsky were both charged with misdemeanors for harvesting wild rice without a license.

Thompson and Northrup both face gross misdemeanor charges for gillnetting, as well as a handful of misdemeanor charges for fishing without a license, using an unregistered boat and not wearing life jackets.

All four will appear in District Court in Crow Wing County on Feb. 1.

Minnesota  Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at

Power fight could cost White Earth chairwoman Vizenor her job
Thursday, January 07 2016
Written by Tom Robertson / MPR News,
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A power struggle over constitutional reform on the White Earth Reservation could cost longtime tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor her job.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) removed Vizenor from its governing board in December. The MCT governs six Minnesota bands, including White Earth, and is led by a board made up of tribal chairs and secretary-treasurers from each band. Vizenor sat on that board for the past 18 years, but lost her seat when the MCT voted to censure her.
White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason said the censure was sparked by Vizenor’s efforts to reform the tribal Constitution. Mason has opposed Vizenor since taking office in 2014.

In 2013, Vizenor and the tribal council drafted a new constitution for White Earth that would have drastically shifted the government structure and changed requirements for tribal membership.

The new Constitution was approved in a referendum vote but implementation stalled shortly after.

In May, Vizenor sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, hoping to jumpstart the effort. That letter, according to Mason, overstepped Vizenor’s powers as chairwoman.

“Her letter violated our current Constitution,” Mason said. “She didn’t have the authority to go outside the tribe.”
In a ruling handed down at the Shooting Star Casino, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe representatives agreed.
Vizenor said that she did send the letter to Washburn, but called the censure vote a move to crush constitutional reform.

“The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has no separation of powers,” she said. “It’s open to corruption. We need change, but they don’t want to lose power.”

Vizenor still holds her office on White Earth, but the MCT vote leaves her job in the hands of the White Earth Tribal Council. Meetings have not yet been scheduled, but the council could vote to either force Vizenor out, hold a recall election or take no action at all.

Vizenor isn’t worried about her future with the tribe. If forced out, she said, 2016 is an election year and she’ll just run again.
“I have five degrees,” she said. “Two of them are from Harvard. I could be a lot of places, but I’ve been called by the Great Spirit to be here, because we need change.”

Calls to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe were not returned.

Minnesota  Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online.

New Wisconsin bill threatens centuries old burial mounds
Thursday, January 07 2016
Written by The Circle,
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wismoundsindangersm.jpgA bill from Wisconsin Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Representative Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, would remove protections for American Indian burial sites and force the Wisconsin Historical Society to allow the excavation of a centuries old effigy mound in order to prove there are human remains within the mounds on their land.

The bill stems from a company’s wishes to extract $10 million to $15 million in limestone aggregate from the site. Wingra Stone and RediMix, a concrete and stone producer, has mined extensively on the 57-acre plot surrounding the effigy mounds for years. The site is located inside the company’s Kampmeier Quarry, north of the town of McFarland.

Opponents of the legislation say the mounds are a significant cultural, religious, and spiritual site, and that the bill runs counter to the purpose of Wisconsin Burial Site Protection Act.

At a packed town hall meeting held at the Waukesha Public Library on December 14, Kapenga heard from numerous community members their opposition to the proposed bill. Ho-Chunk District 2 Legislator David Greendeer, said the issue is nothing new to the Ho-Chunk people. “Every place that we walk within the state of Wisconsin; every building that’s been built; every metro-city is built over all of our people. Everywhere around the entire United States, is over all of our Native people,” said Greendeer.

Greendeer was careful to emphasize that the Ho-Chunk presence was not to “oppose” Kapenga personally but rather to work cooperatively towards a favorable resolution for all.

Officers from the Waukesha Police Department were present at the public meeting. It is not clear if law enforcement is present at each of Kapenga’s monthly public meetings.

As mining has exhausted other parts of the 57-acre quarry, Wingra has challenged the existence of human remains at the site in an effort to prove it should be removed from the state’s registry of protected burial sites. That was in 2010 and in 2012, the State Historical Society ruled there was insufficient evidence to determine the mounds do not contain human remains. Since that decision, the issue has been tied up in litigation.

“The fact of the matter is there is no proof that there’s any burial materials there,” said Wingra President Bob Shea. “We certainly wouldn’t disturb a known burial site. But there needs to be some definitive means to be mostly certain – if not completely certain – that there are remains at the site.”
The mounds at Kampmeier Quarry are part of the once-larger Ward Mound Group, which has mostly been destroyed.

Wingra began operating the quarry in 1962, but the Ward mounds remained unprotected until a 1986 law gave the Historical Society the power to identify and catalog potential burial sites and their surrounding lands for preservation. Destruction of the remaining mounds was stopped when the Ward mounds were officially cataloged as a burial site in 1990.

“For us, our oral traditions and history tell us those are human remains,” said Ho-Chunk spokesman Collin Price. “These mounds, to our people, represent so many things. They are a huge part of our culture and what would essentially happen is they’d be destroyed. To excavate their remains is grotesque to even consider,” added Price.

Reprinted with permission from the Red Cliff Band of  Lake Superior Chippewa Indians’ Miisaniinawind “This is Who We Are ”.

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