Regional and Local Briefs: June 2015




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


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


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


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


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.