Regional & Local Briefs

Regional and Local Briefs: July 2015
Friday, July 10 2015
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BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. – The Ho-Chunk Nation is going smoke-free at its gaming facility in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison will be the first tribal facility in the state to eliminate smoking. The change goes into effect on Aug. 1.

Electronic cigarettes, however, will continue to be allowed on the gaming floor. A separate area for smokers of traditional cigarettes will be created away from the facility.

“We still believe in providing areas to accommodate all of our guests, but, want to assure the existing building will be 100% smoke-free,” Daniel Brown, facility executive manager, said.

The Wisconsin Smoke-Free Air Law, which went into effect in July 2010, requires restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other public facilities to go smoke-free. The law does not apply in Indian Country.


FLANDREAU, S.D. – The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota plans to sell marijuana by Jan. 1, 2016.

The tribal council voted 5-1 in mid-June to legalize the drug for commercial, recreational and medicinal use. Marijuana will be grown at a dedicated facility located on the reservation. The drug will then be sold and consumed at separate facility on the reservation. The tribe plans to welcome all people – Indians and non-Indians – to the operation.

But South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said any non-Indians who consume marijuana on the reservation will be in violation of state law. He asked the tribe to work with the state to address law enforcement, safety and other issues.

“I want to encourage tribal leaders to continue to work with state authorities to better ensure our respective laws are followed, public safety on our roads remains a consideration, and that both Indian and non-Indian persons are not put in harm’s way by the jurisdiction complexities being created by our federal government,” Jackley said in a press release.

The tribe is the first in South Dakota to legalize the drug and adopt a comprehensive set of laws and policies to address its sale and use. Elsewhere in the state, drug laws remain extremely strict.

The Department of Justice opened the door to legal marijuana in Indian Country with the 2014 Wilkinson memo. So far, only one tribe in California has started growing the drug and local authorities plan to assert jurisdiction if they believe the operation violates local laws.

The tribe is the first in South Dakota to legalize the drug and adopt a comprehensive set of laws and policies to address its sale and use. Elsewhere in the state, drug laws remain extremely strict. The Department of Justice opened the door to legal marijuana in Indian Country with the 2014 Wilkinson memo.

Regional and Local Briefs: June 2015
Monday, June 08 2015
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ONAMIA, MN – Elected leaders and staff from Minnesota's tribal communities and other experts gathered May 28 on the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation for a summit on the issue of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

American Indian communities in Minnesota face some of the highest rates of NAS, or children born addicted to opiates. Tribal leaders from Bois Forte, Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake and Mille Lacs were in attendance along with policy experts from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, staff from U.S. Sen. Al Franken's office and Minnesota Sen. Chris Eaton, (DFL-Brooklyn Center).

Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin called the problem of opiate-addicted babies "the single greatest threat to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe." She said recent data on the prevalence of neonatal abstinence syndrome on reservations was a wake-up call for tribal leaders.

Benjamin also highlighted the strength and resilience of Indian people who have overcome disease, genocide, and relocation. "If there is one thing I'm convinced about, it's that we have the ability to fight this epidemic right here in this room.”

Joe Nayquonabe, a retired chemical dependency counselor and Mille Lacs Band elder, opened the event with a prayer in Ojibwe, and he also shared his perspective on the opiate epidemic. "It strikes everybody. It doesn't discriminate. It's not only affecting us but it's affecting our children. The creator gave us a wonderful body, and it's up to us to take care of it."

Additionally, the agenda included comments by Bois Forte Chairman Kevin Leecy, White Earth Secretary Tara Mason, Red Lake Chief Darrell Seki and Jim Koppel, Minnesota Department of Human Services Assistant Commissioner.

It was the second summit on the crisis of American Indian children in Minnesota. The first summit took place in September of 2014 at Bois Forte Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Regional and Local Briefs: May 2015
Monday, May 04 2015
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LAKE VERMILION, Minn. – After planning to gill net a maximum of 2,500 pounds of walleye on Lake Vermilion this spring, the Fond du Lac Band decided not to undertake the operation, according to a news release from the Bois Forte Band.

The decision came after a meeting in late April between leaders of the three bands who have fishing rights on Lake Vermilion under the 1854 Treaty — Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage — and staff members of the Department of Natural Resources and the 1854 Treaty Authority.

Prior to the decision, the Bois Forte Reservation Tribal Council passed a resolution urging Fond du Lac not to issue netting and spearing permits due to reasons including methods and the upcoming Governor’s Fishing Opener event.

In response to this request, the Fond du Lac Band agreed to suspend fishing this year. “Fond du Lac has the right to harvest fish in the 1854 ceded territory, and we defend their right,” said Bois Forte Tribal Chair Kevin Leecy. “But we have significant concerns about them harvesting in our backyard. Fond du Lac tribal members use motorized boats to net, while Bois Forte tribal members net in the traditional way with canoes only. Also, Fond du Lac has access to many lakes in the ceded territory besides Lake Vermilion, which we consider part of our reservation.”

With the governor coming to Lake Vermilion in a few weeks, Leecy said that the spotlight should be on the community and tourism, not tribal netting. “Our Fortune Bay Resort Casino is an active member and the single largest tax contributor to the Lake Vermilion Resort & Tourism Association,” Leecy said, “we have fostered good relationships with neighboring resort owners. The opener should be a time for all of us to shine.”

Last month, the Fond du Lac Band informed the state of Minnesota that it intended to allow its citizens to net and spear on Lake Vermilion. The Band, as well as many others, were looking for alternative spots to harvest fish since the restrictions on Lake Mille Lacs indicated that the walleye population is in trouble. An Associated Press story reported that only 11,400 pounds of walleye would be available for netting this year on Mille Lacs.

As a sign of respect, most bands that have previously netted there have given their shares to the Mille Lacs Band, and Fond du Lac has indicated they will not net on the big lake. This fishery issue could lead to nearly 80 lakes in central and northern Minnesota seeing additional tribal harvesting of walleye.

Regional and Local Briefs: April 2015
Thursday, April 02 2015
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RED LAKE, Minn. – Red Lake Band of Chippewa Chairman Darrell Seki offered an optimistic outlook on the condition of the nation, but said social issues still challenge citizens.

Seki described the nation's situation in the 2014 State of the Band address on March 27 at the Humanities Center. "I am honored and humbled to stand before you as your Red Lake chairman," Seki said, after opening with an introduction in Ojibwemowin. "Our nation has made great progress to build and sustain our culture and provide a stable, strong future for generations to come. However, we still have plenty to do an accomplish."

Seki listed the plagues of illegal drugs, alcohol, gang violence, bullying and suicides as heavy burdens Red Lake citizens carry but encouraged citizens to overcome them.

Following that ceremony, Seki launched into the statistics for the band since he took office nine months ago. Current enrollment is at 11,707 enrolled citizens. The permanent trust grew by 4.7 percent in 2014 and the treasurer made a special distribution in December of $250 per citizen.

The Red Lake Police Department now has its own dive team and the purchase of snowmobiles has made remote law enforcement operations more feasible, Seki said. The juvenile detention center has opened to "operate with the goal of reducing the amount of repeat offenders." And 100 children joined police officers for the "Cops and Bobbers" fishing program last summer.

Seki moved on to the housing situation, noting that 45 units were built last year in the Highland Addition II and sold to Red Lake citizens for $78,000 at five percent interest. Development of six more units at Heart Lake is underway.

Seki's gaming report held both good and bad news. Gaming employed 981 people in 2014, an increase from 925 in 2013, with 87 percent of the employees being Red Lake citizens. Gaming wages and benefits came to $25 million in 2014, an increase from $24.4 million in 2013. However, because of the unusually cold and snowy winter in 2014, gaming income decreased by $900,000 to $8.1 million in 2014, down from from $9.1 million in 2013. Business did pick up during the warmer months of 2014, he said.

Seki said the ultimate political goal is to "return Red Lake to the front of Indian Country by not only protecting our sovereignty, but expanding it. The fight isn't over, but we will continue to lead the fight."


Regional and Local Briefs: March 2015
Wednesday, March 11 2015
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DULUTH, MN – The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians will spend $3 million on upgrades at its casino in Duluth, Minnesota.

The Fond-du-Luth Casino will get a more modern look. Work will start this summer and take about four months, WDIO reported.

The casino has been the subject of numerous legal battles over a revenue sharing agreement that was invalidated by the federal government. The tribe paid $75 million to the city of Duluth before payments stopped in 2009.

In November, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments over an additional $12 million that is in dispute. A decision hasn't been announced.

In addition to the Duluth upgrades, the tribe is installing a one-megawatt solar panel near the Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton.


ST. LOUIS, MO – The federal government can’t prosecute members of an Ojibwe tribe who gill-netted fish on a Minnesota reservation and sold their catch off-reservation, an appeals court ruled on Feb. 10.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Judge John Tunheim correctly dismissed charges against four Native men who were indicted in April 2013 for fish poaching. “We conclude that the historic fishing rights of the Chippewa Indians bar this prosecution of defendants for taking fish within the Leech Lake Reservation and selling them,” the appeals court said.

The four arrests came as part of a federal crackdown on poaching on some of northern Minnesota’s most popular lakes.

“The ruling affirms the traditional fishing rights that the Chippewa Indians have had for more than 150 years. The ruling upholds what they negotiated in 1837,” attorney Paul Engh said, referring to a treaty Chippewa Indians signed at Fort Snelling. Regrettably, he said, defendant Marc Lyons died a month ago, “before he could see his victory.”

Chris Niskanen, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the DNR was disappointed by the decision. “These were very serious violations that involved the illegal and black market sale of protected game fish,” he said, adding that they would be encouraging prosecution of the individuals in tribal court.

Rich Robinson, natural resources director for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said the cases are in tribal court. “We did not think the cases should be in federal court because we have our own laws here. One of them is that you cannot sell or barter game fish.”

Tunheim had ruled in November 2013 that the four federal indictments should be overturned because the 177-year-old Indian treaty trumped the legal case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office. Charges against four others were dropped last year at the request of federal prosecutors. Two other cases were put on hold, awaiting the outcome of the 8th Circuit.

Attorney Jan Stuurmans represented one of the two, Alan Hemme, a restaurant owner accused of aiding and abetting the Indians by buying fish. Stuurmans said he expected federal prosecutors will dismiss charges against Hemme “because the principal claim has been dismissed.”


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