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Regional & Local Briefs


Regional and Local Briefs: June 2015
Monday, June 08 2015
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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MILLE LACS HOSTS PRENATAL ADDICTION SUMMIT

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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FOND DU LAC DECIDES AGAINST NETTING ON VERMILLION

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
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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RED LAKE STATE OF BAND LOOKS TO FUTURE

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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FOND DU LAC BAND TO SPEND $3 MILLION ON MORE MODERN LOOK AT CASINO

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.


APPEALS COURT RULES FOR TRIBAL FISHING RIGHTS

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.”

 


Regional and Local Briefs: February 2015
Friday, February 06 2015
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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DEADLINE PASSES FOR CITY TO APPEAL HOTEL DECISION

DULUTH, Minn. – A 30 day deadline passed for Duluth to file an appeal regarding the federal decision to allow the Carter Hotel to be put into trust by the Fond du Lac Band.

The tribe bought the Carter Hotel in 2010, and later began the application to move the land into trust. The city alleged the band broke its contract when it requested to put the land into trust without first talking to the city.

However, a federal judge ruled on Dec. 22 that the band was legally allowed to that.

Duluth attorneys had said they might appeal that decision, but the deadline to do that was Jan. 21.

 

FOND DU LAC TRIBAL COUNCIL VOTES TO CONTINUE SMOKING AT CASINOS

CLOQUET, Minn. – The Fond du Lac tribal council voted on Jan. 22 to ban smoking within their offices. More details will be added to the band’s smoke-free policy, including no smoking inside tribally-owned government offices and businesses starting Feb. 15.

However, this smoking ban does not include the Black Bear or Fond–du–Luth casinos. The Fond du Lac tribe is located in Cloquet, but it owns and operate the Fond–du–Luth Casino and the Carter Hotel building, in Duluth.

There has been a push for casinos across the country to ban smoking, even in Wisconsin. According to a survey conducted by the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council of Wisconsin, a smoke-free policy at casinos would not reduce tribal casino patronage, but actually increase it. The survey found that over 75 percent of casino patrons are non–smokers.

As the Fond du Lac Band expresses its interest in the health of the community, that may signal a shift by looking at all non-smoking options, including casinos possibly in the future.

 

TAX LIENS FILED AGAINST LOWER BRULE CHAIRMAN

LOWER BRULE, S.D. – The chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe may owe the Internal Revenue Service hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, according to public filings.

The IRS has filed tax liens on Chairman Michael Jandreau and his property that total more than $664,000 since 1994. That amount could include unpaid taxes as well as interest and penalties.

Jandreau, who has presided over the tribe for more than 30 years, is at the center of a report issued last week by Human Rights Watch. The report, which followed a two-year investigation by the international nonprofit, concluded that $25 million in federal funds is missing. That money was supposed to have paid for social services and other essential programs on the reservation.

The report blames the tribe's leadership, including Jandreau and some former and current tribal council members, for overseeing a government that hides basic information from the public. That information includes financial reports, salaries of public officials, resolutions of the tribal council, minutes of council meetings, audits and more. In a statement, the chairman denied the report's conclusions as "baseless."

The tax liens raise questions about the sources of Jandreau's income and its origins. Marshall Matz, a lawyer representing the tribe, addressed the issue in a statement. "There was a dispute over 'sovereignty' and its impact on tax deductions," Matz said. "The dispute has been resolved and the lien is being satisfied."

The liens were filed with the register of deeds in Lyman County. The first lien was filed for taxes in 1994 and the final one for taxes in 2010. Between 1994 and 2010, the IRS filed liens against Jandreau and his now deceased wife, totaling $664,373.

The taxes in question relate to Jandreau's Form 1040, which is the federal individual income tax return. Although other taxes could be involved, the common taxes arising out of a Form 1040 would be individual income tax and self-employment tax, experts say.

The earliest liens, from 1994 to 1997, might have been released because the last day to refile already has passed. The other liens have refiling dates between this year and 2022. It isn't clear how Jandreau amassed the tax liabilities. Human Rights Watch estimated that tribal council salaries were about $81,000 per year, but as chairman, Jandreau probably makes more.


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