Regional & Local Briefs

DNR: Minnesota wolf population down slightly; packs grow in size
Thursday, September 03 2015
Written by Dan Kraker/MPR News,
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Minnesota’s wolf population is down slightly, according to the latest survey from the Department of Natural Resources.

The count from this past winter estimates 2,221 wolves in the state. That’s down about 200 wolves from last year’s survey, but it’s nearly identical to the 2013 count, said DNR wolf research scientist John Erb.

“Our wolf population remains healthy. Our wolf range encompasses a very large area of the state and that in itself is a positive attribute that helps ensure good conservation status,” Erb said.

The biggest change is in the number of wolf packs. Researchers estimated 374 packs this past winter, down about 100 from last year. The packs are also slightly larger and are prowling larger territories, because of a drop in the deer population, Erb said.

Packs require larger areas to meet their nutritional demands to maintain a competitive pack size. Average pack size grew this year to 5.1 wolves, up from 4.4 wolves. Their average territory size also grew, from 58 square miles to 73. Erb expects the wolf population to increase along with deer numbers.

Minnesota’s wolf population has grown from fewer than 750 animals in the 1950s. It peaked at around 3,000 wolves in 2004.

Hunters killed 272 wolves last year during Minnesota’s third wolf hunting season. There will not be a wolf hunting season this year, after a federal judge in December placed Great Lakes wolves back under endangered species protection.

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

Regional and Local Briefs: August 2015
Monday, August 03 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe does not owe any more gaming revenues to the city of Duluth, Minnesota, a federal judge ruled on July 28.

The tribe shared $75 million from the Fond-du-Luth Casino with the city until 2009. The National Indian Gam­ing Commission struck down the ar­rangement in 2011 after determining that it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The city went to court to seek ad­ditional money for the years 2009 through 2011. Judge Susan Richard Nelson initially agreed that the funds were owed.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals re­versed. A unanimous decision from May concluded that IGRA requires tribes to be the “primary beneficiaries” of their casinos and Nelson has em­braced that finding.

Nelson wrote that “directing mil­lions of dollars away from the band is directly contrary to the IGRA’s goals of promoting tribal economic develop­ment, tribal self-sufficiency, and strong tribal government.”

About $13 million, a figure that in­cluded interest, was in dispute before Nelson made her ruling. The fight, however, is not over.

The city is still suing the NIGC for ending the revenue-sharing agree­ment. A judge in Washington, D.C., sided with the agency but the city has taken the case to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Regional and Local Briefs: July 2015
Friday, July 10 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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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
Written by The Circle Staff,
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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
Written by The Circle Staff,
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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.

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