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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.

MAYOR HODGES FOCUSES ON REACHING OUT TO MINNESOTA TRIBES

MINNEAPOLIS – In her push to make Minneapolis more equitable, MayorBetsy Hodges is turning her attention to the group facing the city’s greatest disparities in wealth, employment and education.

Since she was elected, the mayor has made a point to spend time with American Indian organizations. She gave her first state of the city address at the Minneapolis American Indian Center and she’s participated in cultural events along Franklin Avenue, the cultural hub for the city’s Indian population.

And late last year, Hodges began making good on a promise she’d made to a tribal leader: that she’d visit each of the offices that function like embassies for members of different tribal nations living in the Twin Cities.

Hodges’ effort marks the most significant mayoral outreach to the city’s Indian community in recent history. Tribal leaders say Hodges’ drop-ins have surprised many in the community, who have often felt overlooked by city leaders or wary of politicians. They say it’s the first time a mayor has requested to meet at the urban offices.

The visits – four so far, with two more planned this winter – have left those leaders feeling encouraged. In addition to the Mille Lacs office, Hodges has visited those of the Boise Forte, Fond du Lac and Red Lake bands. Leech Lake and White Earth are left on the visit itinerary.

The urban offices help direct tribal members to local government and nonprofit services of all kinds. The disparities between white residents and minorities that Hodges often references are particularly stark for Natives, who have the highest poverty rate of any group in Minneapolis.

Census data from 2011 put the Native poverty rate at just over 53 percent. The city’s overall poverty rate was close to 24 percent. Meanwhile, the most recent four-year graduation rate for Native students enrolled in Minneapolis public schools was just under 34 percent, the lowest of any racial group. Overall, about 54 percent of Minneapolis students graduated in four years.

Former City Council member Robert Lilligren, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and president and CEO of Little Earth of United Tribes Housing Corporation, said the relationship between the city and Natives has tended to be a “reactionary” one. In the past, he said, members of the community would do most of their interacting with officials after some kind of negative event, perhaps protesting someone’s treatment by the police, or a lack of affordable housing.

Peggy Flanagan, a White Earth citizen and a board member of the Native American Community Development Institute, said tribal members have taken note of Hodges’ support for protests against the Washington NFL team’s mascot and the council vote to transform Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day.


PROPOSED STATE AND FEDERAL AID TO TRIBAL SCHOOL CAUSE OVERLAP

BENA, Minn. – The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school in northern Minnesota, held up as an example of the decrepit conditions found at Indian schools across the country, now is getting caught in the crosshairs of competing efforts to rebuild it.

State Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), spurred by reports of the school’s deterioration, has proposed a bill that would rely on state and private funding to finally fix the tribal school. But tribal leaders, who have been in Washington lobbying for federal cash, fear the Bonoff bill could wind up hurting more than it helps, dropping Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig even further down the federal priority list and putting major upgrades out of reach if the state pulls through with funding. It could also set an expensive precedent.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who has been working with tribal leaders for years to secure more federal money, said Bonoff should have coordinated with the tribes before launching her own effort. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, McCollum noted, has its own school board and elected officials.

Bonoff says she is standing by her bill and is frustrated with the slow pace of progress in Washington. She said she stands “100 percent” with McCollum on the need for the federal government to “keep their promise with regard to our BIE schools, and I’m very disappointed that it hasn’t happened.” Bonoff’s bill would provide $5 million in a matching state grant that would supplement any private money raised.

McCollum, the ranking Democrat on a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Bureau of Indian Education, said she’s optimistic funding will come soon, despite years of inaction by Congress.

Leech Lake Band Chair Carri Jones said the bill introduction surprised tribal leaders; they expect to meet with Bonoff next week to discuss her legislation regarding the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school in Bena.

The BIE operates 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states, including Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig and three other Minnesota schools. Sixty-three of those schools are rated in poor condition, including the Bena school. BIE schools have been underfunded for years, particularly compared to Department of Defense schools, another federally funded system that serves military families.

In 2010, the Department of Defense requested $3.7 billion to replace or modernize 134 schools. In 2014, the Indian Education budget received just $55 million for construction and repairs – for the entire system. The estimate to replace the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school alone is about half that.

McCollum, who also co-chairs the House Native American Caucus, said she has worked with U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and is making headway on the years-long effort to secure more funding for Indian schools.


MILLE LACS CHIEF EXECUTIVE URGES CITIZENS TOWARD CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY

ONAMIA, Minn. – More than 1,200 members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe gathered on Jan. 14 to hear Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin share her vision for the future at the 31st annual State of the Band address.

Benjamin focused her address on the importance of exercising cultural sovereignty and embracing Ojibwe language and spirituality as a way to prosper and thrive as a Band, according to a news release. “Cultural Sovereignty is our inherent right to use our values, traditions, and spirituality to protect our future," Benjamin said. "It goes much deeper than legal sovereignty, because it's a decision to be Anishinaabe, to not just protect a way of life, but to practice living Anishinaabe, every day."

Benjamin highlighted progress that the Band made in 2014, including the addition of new Native physicians, a Native nurse practitioner and expanded physician services in Districts II and III, new wrap-around services for Band members and families in crisis, the restoration of Ogechie and Nammachers Lakes and an expanded tribal college.

Benjamin also announced that violent crime on the reservation has decreased, thanks to the efforts of the tribal police department. In addition to the progress being made on public safety, the Mille Lacs Band's economy is strong and growing. Benjamin said that for the first time in the Band's history, every single business owned by the Band is making a profit. "While some other tribes must cut services when gaming declines, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe no longer depends on gaming alone."

Despite the positive developments of 2014, Benjamin addressed an ongoing crisis for Mille Lacs Band families: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or babies born addicted to opiates. To confront this challenge, Benjamin announced a Band-wide summit to be held this winter, including sessions directed at youth. The Mille Lacs Chapter of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations will be organizing the event.

In addition to sharing her plan for addressing the problem of opiate addiction, Chief Executive Benjamin also instructed her cabinet to develop a program to provide one-stop services for families in crisis; continue working with the state to restore the health of our walleye population; protect manoonmin (wild rice) from the threat of water pollution that could arise from pipelines, including the Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline, and mining; create a teaching recruitment plan to attract and keep the best teachers, especially those who speak Ojibwe; grow jobs and drive economic development across the reservation, with a special emphasis on the East Lake region; and bring more cultural practices into the Band's government and businesses.

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