Regional and Local Briefs: February 2015

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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.