Regional and Local Briefs: April 2015
Thursday, April 02 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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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."



ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that allows religious exemptions to autopsies, spurred by the recent mishandling of Ojibwe leader Mushkoub Aubid.

Aubid's widow, Winnie LaPrairie, offered testimony on March 26 on her days-long fight in February to have Aubid's body released. "I still could not take him home. I was heartbroken," LaPrairie, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, told state lawmakers. "Everything that my family went through could happen tomorrow or to someone else. Please don't let that happen."

A bill is heading to the House floor after a committee unanimously approved it on March 26 and a similar bill is progressing in the Senate. At least eight states allow religious objections to autopsies.

Lawmakers must balance the concerns of medical examiners against those of Native American families and other religious groups whose faith leads them to object to autopsies. Representatives from both sides said that the bill offered by Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) achieved such a balance.

Green's bill requires medical examiners to notify a family of a planned autopsy and gives the family a basis to object on religious grounds. But it also provides an avenue for autopsies to proceed in cases of crime investigations, concerns about public health and a dozen other instances of "compelling state interest."

Aubid was involved in a car accident in northeastern Minnesota but died of a heart condition. LaPrairie and her family couldn't take Aubid's body home to East Lake for a traditional funeral because the county medical examiner wanted to perform an autopsy. After days of pleading and assistance from county attorneys, authorities finally released Aubid's body.

A similar incident in the death of a 24-year-old tribal citizen Autumn Martineau that same week hammered home the need in proponents' mind to change state law. It's not only Native Americans who may have religious objections. Brian Rusche of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition said that the bill could also give comfort to members of Muslim, Amish, Hmong and Orthodox Jewish communities, too. Gov. Mark Dayton supports the measure.



RAPID CITY, S.D. – A federal judge ruled March 31 that South Dakota officials repeatedly violated the Indian Child Welfare Act by not allowing parents to present evidence in hearings regarding the removal of their children.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken ruled in favor of the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux Tribes and parents Rochelle Walking Eagle, Madonna Pappan and Lisa Young, who filed the lawsuit in 2013.

The complaint alleged that Pennington County officials were removing Native American children from their homes based on insufficient evidence and hearings that violated the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The plaintiff's lawyers referenced a hearing on two children that lasted a little more than 60 seconds.

"Judge Davis and the other defendants failed to protect Indian parents' fundamental rights to a fair hearing by not allowing them to present evidence to contradict the state's removal documents," Viken wrote in his ruling. "The defendants failed by not allowing the parents to confront and cross-examine (Department of Social Services) witnesses. The defendants failed by using documents as a basis for the court's decisions which were not provided to the parents and which were not received in evidence at the 48-hour hearings."

The defendants were Judge Jeff Davis, Pennington County Prosecutor Mark Vargo, state Department of Social Services Director Lynne Valenti and Pennington County Department of Social Services employee Luann Van Hunnik.

Federal law requires that Indian children removed from homes be placed with relatives or with other Native American families, except in unusual circumstances. Tribal officials contend South Dakota removes too many Native American children from their homes and then puts them in foster care with non-Indian families.



LINCOLN, Neb. – More than seven decades of waiting came to an end on March 14 for the Winnebago boys basketball team.

The Indians completed their 28-game journey with a 66-51 win against Columbus Scotus in the Nebraska Class C-1 state tournament final at Pinnacle Bank Arena. It was Winnebago's first state title since 1940, when it defeated Minatare 23-22 in Class B.

With 31 seconds left in the game and senior Mathew Wingett at the free-throw line, Winnebago coach Jeff Berridge pulled his starters, much to the delight of the large Winnebago following. After Wingett made his second free throw to finish the game with 22 points and the tournament with 68, he exited and started hugging teammates.

With eight seconds left, senior reserve Levi Blackhawk stopped his dribble and held the ball in one hand. When the horn sounded, he threw the ball in the air and when it came down, the Indians were halfway to midcourt for a huge dog pile.

"We've been talking about winning this tournament," Wingett said. "We said after we win the state championship we're gonna be gods, we're gonna be legends."

Winnebago players gathered in a hallway after cutting down the nets and receiving their gold medals. There were more hugs, high-fives and tears. Legends, maybe, but definitely champions.

The Indians (27-1) sprinted to a 14-point halftime lead behind the scoring of Mathew's younger brother, David, a 6-foot-5 sophomore. David Wingett scored 15 points in the first half, including a 3-for-4 effort from beyond the arc. Isaiah Medina added nine of his 16 points in the first half.

Winnebago shot 48 percent for the game, compared with 34 percent for Scotus. The Shamrocks were 7-for-27 on three-pointers, while the Indians made 8 of 15.


PIERRE, S.D. – The state Public Utilities Commission on March 31 granted two short extensions of deadlines to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in the permit certification process for the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The commission agreed with the Rosebud Sioux lawyer that TransCanada, the project sponsor, should have been more responsive during the past two months to his information requests. The tribal government consequently received an additional eight days to pre-file its witnesses’ direct testimony. Those statements now are due April 10. The deadline for filing rebuttal testimony from Rosebud Sioux expert witnesses also was pushed to April 27.

However, none of the other interveners received more time. Among them are the Yankton, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Tribal governments, Dakota Rural Action and Bold Nebraska.

TransCanada received a state permit in June 2010 to build the Keystone XL pipeline through western and south-central South Dakota on a route that happens to avoid reservation lands. The pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before connecting with an existing network.

President Barack Obama vetoed a measure by the Republican-controlled Congress to expedite the federal permit necessary for the pipeline to pierce the Canada-U.S. border.

Various lawyers in the proceeding over the South Dakota permit are preparing for a May 5-8 evidentiary hearing before the PUC. South Dakota law requires that a company needs to certify the permit conditions will still be met if construction hasn’t commenced within four years. That is the process now under way for TransCanada. The various sides have been engaged in discovery of evidence from each other.

Rosebud Sioux lawyer Matthew Rappold said his request for access to TransCanada safety records was filed Feb. 20. TransCanada produced 34 documents on the afternoon of March 30. He asked the commission how he could be expected, under those circumstances, to prepare testimony that is due on April 2.

Commissioners Chris Nelson and Gary Hanson didn’t hide their opinions that the Rosebud Sioux had been put at a disadvantage. “I think this is a very unique position for Rosebud,” Hanson said. “I personally believe you need to have additional time.” William Taylor, a lawyer representing Trans-Canada, asked that the schedule changes apply only to the Rosebud Sioux. The three commissioners agreed. They decided that only the Rosebud Sioux tribal government presented evidence it was directly impeded by TransCanada.

They voted 3-0 to reject a request from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to push the evidentiary hearing back two months to mid-July.


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A tribal official says the longtime chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in central South Dakota is hospitalized with a serious illness.

Tribal attorney Marshall Matz said that Michael Jandreau is suffering from complications from pneumonia. He told media that Jandreau was flown to a Sanford Health in Sioux Falls on March 27 and that it is a serious situation.

Jandreau was recently in the spotlight after a report by human rights advocacy organization showed that millions of taxpayer dollars meant to benefit the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation have disappeared over several years. The report accuses Jandreau and others of diverting money and concealing financial activity.


WHITE RIVER, S.D. – Julia Charging Whirlwind, 49, was attacked and killed by a pack of wild reservation dogs in the Lower Swift Bear Community on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

Two of the dogs were shot and killed by the Mellette County Sheriff, who responded to a call about the attack shortly before 6:30 a.m., on March 14. Charging Whirlwind was transported by ambulance to the Rosebud Hospital, where she died.

Packs of dogs known as “rez dogs” have been a significant problem on reservations and have caused numerous deaths in recent years on different reservations in Indian Country. Tribal citizens want tribal police to take more aggressive legal action against those who do not contain their dogs and to round-up stray dogs when there are no apparent owners.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe released the following statement on March 14 in response to the death: “All residents of the Rosebud Reservation are hereby notified to tie-up or secure their dogs. Any dogs found at-large, outside the owner's property will be impounded.” The statement was signed by acting Tribal President William Kindle

Charging Whirlwind was a mother of five children and was employed as a childcare worker at the Spotted Tail Children’s Home on the Rosebud Reservation.

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