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.


ST. PAUL, MN - The Minnesota Swarm will be moving to Georgia.

The professional indoor lacrosse franchise made the announcement on May 29, after finishing its 11th season in the National Lacrosse League. The organization said it has agreed in principle on a lease to play home games at the Gwinnett Center. The arena is located in Duluth, a suburb northeast of Atlanta. The team will be called the Georgia Swarm.

The NLL currently has nine franchises. Minnesota finished 6-12 this year.

Owner John Arlotta said earlier this month that continuing to play at Xcel Energy Center, the NHL arena in St. Paul that's home to the Minnesota Wild, wasn't sustainable financially for the Swarm franchise.


CASS LAKE, MN – A tribal court postponed a hearing on May 29 for two Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe citizens, charged with selling the walleye they caught in tribal waters.

The case hinges on the question of whether the tribe has the right to tell its members what they can do with the resources they hunt, fish and gather on the reservation and whether members have an obligation to conserve those resources for future generations.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spent three years on an investigation that led to charges against 21 people for selling, buying or dumping protected game fish caught by on Red Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, Leech Lake and Cass Lake. A federal judge threw out the charges against five tribal members, saying tribal courts had jurisdiction.


LOWER BRULE, S.D. – The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of South Dakota welcomed a delegation from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in late may to examine its financial documents in late May.

The BIA agreed to visit the reservation to inspect the tribe's financial documents. Vice Chairman Kevin Wright, who declared himself chairman shortly before the death of longtime longtime Michael Jandreau in April, has been concerned about mismanagement.

“The BIA is closely monitoring the events at the tribe and we share your concerns.” regional director Tim LaPointe said in a letter to Wright, media reported.

A report from Human Rights Watch accused the tribe of failing to account for millions of dollars in federal funds. The spending occurred under the Jandreau, who led the tribe for 36 years before his passing, but there has been no concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

However, the Inspector General at the Interior Department is looking into the acquisition of a Wall Street firm that later shut down, the Associated Press reported last month. The tribe bought the firm with a $22.5 million loan that was backed by the BIA.

Wright and other council members said they weren't able to see the tribe's financial records when Jandreau was in charge. Wright is now clashing with some of Jandreau's allies.


RAPID CITY, S.D. – A Philip man accused of racially charged misconduct at a Rapid City hockey game last winter won't face jail time, a judge ruled.

Fourth Circuit Magistrate Judge Eric Strawn said May 28 that Trace O'Connell will face only fines if convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in a case involving beer spilled on Pine Ridge grade school students at a minor league hockey game at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in January. The decision also means that O'Connell will not face a jury trial.

Prosecutor Joel Landeen, who is Rapid City's city attorney, said he did not want to see jail time "taken off the table. I was prepared to seat a jury and go forward."

Strawn made his ruling at a motion's hearing in Pennington County Court where he also set a new trial date of July 22. The case, which received wide attention and prompted demonstrations and social media debate, was originally scheduled for trial on June 28. O'Connell's lawyer, Michael Butler of Sioux Falls, had requested a delay to acquaint himself with the case after O'Connell's first attorney, Patrick Duffy, died May 8. Butler declined to comment after the May 28 court appearance.

Strawn ordered that O'Connell's trial be held in Rapid City's Performing Arts Center in the main theater in order to accommodate all of the people involved in the case as well as interested members of the public.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the courthouse. "I'm here to ensure that justice is done in the right way," said Dan Merrival. "This fellow was charged with a misdemeanor but in my mind it should have been a felony.”

On Jan. 24, a group of 57 students, 9 to 13 years-old, boarded a bus in Allen, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the two–and–a–half hour ride to Rapid City. The American Horse School students were headed to a Rapid City Rush hockey game, the first professional sporting event many of them had ever attended. The students earned their spots on the bus through exemplary scholarship and comportment at school.

During the third period of a close game between East Coast Hockey League rivals, the Rapid City Rush and the Wichita Thunder, a group of fans in a luxury suite allegedly spilled beer and racially charged taunts on the students who were sitting in Section Q of the Rush's 5,132 seat arena in the municipally owned, and operated Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Civic Center security officers were alerted to the incident. No arrests were made, and no one was asked to leave the arena.


DULUTH, MN – The Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe said it's baffled by Duluth's continuing failed legal strategies against them.

The City of Duluth's suit against the National Indian Gaming Commission was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. At the time, the court wrote that a previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson that the Band should make retroactive casino payments to the city was over-reaching. “The district court abused its discretion on remand by failing to consider congressional policy and its intent that tribes be the primary beneficiaries of Indian gaming,” the Eighth Circuit ruled.

And now the city is appealing that dismissal. The district court dismissed Duluth's case challenging the gaming commission's ability to call the Fond-du-Luth Casino agreements illegal.

The Fond-du-Luth Casino agreements required the band to share revenues with Duluth, and the gaming commission ruled those agreements violated the Indian Gaming Act.

In 2011, the gaming commission ordered the band to stop the payments.

The band said the city's relentless litigation and misunderstanding of the law, is further undermining any potential for a future relationship with the tribe. City officials made no comment to media at press time.


CLOQUET, MN – In the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe's April newsletter, a tribal attorney says marijuana is illegal on the reservation at this time.

Attorney Sean Copeland says the band has been receiving questions from tribal citizens about marijuana legalization. The attorney said that if a tribe legalizes marijuana and develops a regulatory system then the federal government will focus on prosecuting a limited number of marijuana offenses, such as those involving drug cartels or distribution to children.

He adds that the legalization presents major public policy and business issues for the band to consider, even though it could generate more money, it could also lead to substance abuse and public safety problems.

Since the tribe is privy to Public Law 280, Minnesota maintains jurisdiction over criminal offenses. Even though the state has legalized some forms of marijuana, the issue has not been litigated and needs to be resolved before any decision would be made.

In the future, the attorney says band members might be able to take advantage of the state's medical marijuana law, which allows cannabis in pill or oil form with a doctor's order for patients with qualifying conditions.

The tribe is reviewing legalization issues, but is not taking any action at this time. The band is interested in learning their members' views on legalizing marijuana.

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