Special Articles on Minnesota Treaty Rights  
Minnesota Treaties

Indian Band to Ask Court Friday to Dismiss Lawsuit

By Joel Stottrup

A hearing at federal court will be conducted in St. Paul Friday on a motion for dismissal that has been filed by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

The band is trying to keep a lawsuit from going to trial in June that Mille Lacs County has brought to have the federal court determine if the band’s contention is valid that it still has a 61,000-acre reservation in Mille Lacs County.

The Mille Lacs County Board says the 61,000-acre reservation was long ago disestablished. If proven to still exist, it would include the cities of Isle, Wahkon and Onamia, and the townships of Kathio, South Harbor and Isle Harbor.

Two Mille Lacs County commissioners were meeting in closed sessions with the band for much of 2001 to negotiate the reservation issue and other possible disputes between the band and the county board.

But on Nov. 20 of that year, after the commissioners decided the meetings were not leading to what the county board wanted, the board passed a motion to sue the band over the reservation question at the “appropriate time.”

The county board chose that time as Feb. 19 last year when it passed a motion to file the lawsuit.

The board decided to spend up to $1 million, or thereabouts, to have lawyers research the boundary and other Indian-related issues and prepare for and represent the county in the case. It has now spent about $800,000.

What the county hopes to get out of its lawsuit, and what it didn’t reach in the closed meetings in 2001, is to have the federal court say that, except for a few thousand acres that includes the band’s government center, museum, casino, and school, there is no more reservation. Certainly not the 61,000 acres that existed in 1855, the board has said.

A federal judge in Duluth, some time after the lawsuit was filed, ruled that the two sides had to be ready for trial by June 2003.

Since then the Band of Ojibwe has filed to ask the federal court for summary judgment, in other words, dismissal of the lawsuit.

Commissioner Frank Courteau, from the county’s northern end and one of the most outspoken of the commissioners about the case, said the band has given three points for seeking the dismissal. Courteau listed them as follows:

1. That the Ojibwe band has sovereign immunity and can’t be sued.

2. That because the United States government is not a party to the litigation, the suit should be dismissed.

3. That there is insufficient controversy to require judgment review of the complaint.

Courteau said last week he assumes that because the band brought the summary-judgment motion, it will be the first on Friday to give its oral argument.

The hearing is supposed to take one hour and so each side should get a half hour to make their oral argument, Courteau said. He noted that because First National Bank in Milaca is a party on the side of the county in the lawsuit, the county and bank will share their half hour.

Courteau, looking at the points the band is pressing to seek dismissal, said, “Clearly, the band officials are spinning the notion that the people’s fears about the reservation status is misplaced and irrational and likely motivated by political and racial tensions.”

But the band’s laws suggest otherwise, Courteau continued. Rather than this being a case brought on by emotions, it is just a situation of two governments disagreeing on “who has jurisdiction over whom and what and where their jurisdiction applies,” he said.

“Hopefully, the court gives answers on the merits of whether the reservation does or doesn’t exist. I further believe the band requires an affirmation of their claim. … We all need an answer to a legal, not racial, question so we can proceed on to building bridges that will endure.”

Courteau said that the United States government, through its Department of Interior under the umbrella of Indian Affairs, has since 1991 recognized the old reservation.

Courteau further asserted that none of the band members in the past 100 years, to his knowledge, have treated the 61,000 acres in question as if it is “Indian country.” When he was asked if there might not be some who had believed in the existence of the 61,000-acre reservation, Courteau answered that he could believe there were some.

Courteau said the whole movement by the band to declare it has a 61,000-acre reservation began in about 1991.

A solicitor from a Bureau of Indian Affairs office had rendered an opinion that the 61,000-acre reservation still existed and other federal agencies dovetailed on that, Courteau said. But the state of Minnesota and Mille Lacs County disagreed, he added.

Courteau also brought up an initiative among tribes across the country to get Congressional legislation for tribal sovereignty protection.

Courteau pointed out a story published last November about that. The story, written by a Rob Schmidt, said the tribal sovereignty protection initiative was raised during the National Congress of the American Indian meeting in November as an agenda item to pursue.

The Schmidt story, Courteau noted, said the goal of the initiative is to have the government affirm that Indian tribes retain their inherent right to govern all people and places within Indian country unless that power has been specifically limited by treaty or federal statute

American Indian Communities in Minnesota

Criminal Jurisdiction and Law Enforcement in Indian Country

What factors determine criminal jurisdiction on Indian lands?

Criminal jurisdiction to prosecute and punish crimes committed in Indian country in Minnesota depends upon a number of factors including where the incident took place, what type of law was violated, and whether either the perpetrator or the victim was a member of an American Indian tribe.

Under what circumstances does the federal government retain criminal jurisdiction?

The federal government has criminal jurisdiction over federal crimes of nationwide application on all American Indian lands and felonies committed by an American Indian against an American Indian or non-Indian, or by a non-Indian against an American Indian on the Red Lake or Bois Forte Reservations.

Under what circumstances does the state government retain criminal jurisdiction?

The state has criminal jurisdiction over any state crime committed by a non-Indian against a non-Indian on American Indian lands and, with certain exceptions, any state crime committed by or against an American Indian on American Indian land, except on the Red Lake or Bois Forte Reservations. The state does not retain jurisdiction to enforce state criminal statutes which are “civil-regulatory” rather than “criminal-prohibitory” under a series of court decisions interpreting Public Law 280, California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 408 U.S. 202 (1987).

Under what circumstances do tribal governments retain criminal jurisdiction?

The tribal governments of Red Lake and Bois Forte have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors committed by an American Indian against an American Indian on land owned or controlled by the bands.

How does Public Law 280 affect criminal jurisdiction in Indian country?

In 1953 Congress enacted Public Law 280, in part because of the absence of adequate tribal institutions for law enforcement. Public Law 280 applies to six states, including Minnesota. It required the state to assume complete criminal jurisdiction over all Indian reservations within the state with the exception, as noted above, of Red Lake and Bois Forte. That jurisdiction does not extend, however, to criminal statutes the courts would classify as “civil-regulatory” rather than “criminal-prohibitory” under Public Law 280.

What entity retains law enforcement authority in Indian country?

The Red Lake and Bois Forte Bands have tribal law enforcement agencies that are funded and administered by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa and the Lower Sioux Indian Community have concurrent jurisdiction with the Mille Lacs and Redwood county sheriff’s departments respectively. They have jurisdiction over all persons in the geographic boundaries of the bands’ trust lands; all tribal members within the boundaries of the reservations; and all persons within the boundaries of the reservations who commit or attempt to commit a crime in the presence of a Band police officer. The sheriff of the county in which the violation occurred is responsible for receiving persons arrested by the band’s peace officers, and the Mille Lacs and Redwood County Attorneys are responsible for prosecuting such violators.

The Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa is negotiating a similar jurisdictional agreement with St. Louis and Carlton counties. This agreement will go into effect July 1, 1998.

Law enforcement authority on the other reservations is the responsibility of the respective county sheriffs.

Courteau Takes on Sovereignty

by Joel Patenaude, Messenger Staff Writer
February 21, 2002

At the Isle town meeting on Saturday, Feb. 16, Mille Lacs County Commissioner Frank Courteau quoted several sources meant to bolster the county board’s stance in opposition to any new assertion of sovereignty by the Mille Lacs Band over the 61,000-acre reservation established by an 1855 treaty.

Only briefly did he mention the subsequent treaties that he believes disestablished the reservation — a time line
he’s described in greater length in letters, interviews and articles published by the Messenger in recent months.

A couple of people who heard Courteau’s presentation at the meeting said it was the most extensive they had heard from him to date.

Courteau said Mille Lacs Band officials have refused to disavow the continued existence of their original reservation because “they say they may need to assert jurisdiction over non-Indians in some circumstances. That’s unacceptable.”

Courteau quoted former Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Marge Anderson and band attorney Tadd Johnson, asserting that the tribe’s sovereignty is still applicable within the 1855 reservation boundaries.

Courteau and Johnson met over several months of county-band negotiation meetings last year. Those meetings ended after the county demanded that the band “disclaim” the 1855 reservation boundaries.

At the town meeting Saturday, Courteau brandished a copy of a letter written by Johnson to an Environmental Protection Agency official in 1989. In the letter, Johnson wrote that the band retains civil regulatory authority over the lands within the 1855 Treaty boundaries and over non-Indians living within “in certain circumstances.”

Johnson cited, and Courteau acknowledged, the tribal authority permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1981 decision in Montana vs. United States. The court said tribes may regulate “the activities of non-members who enter consensual relationships with the tribe or its members, through commercial dealing, contracts, leases, or other arrangements.” Montana also permitted tribes to regulate non-member conduct that “threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe.”

Courteau then read excerpts from what he said were Mille Lacs Band statutes concerning natural resource protection enforceable over non-band members.

Courteau said a 2001 Supreme Court decision does prohibit tribes from taxing non-tribal members doing business on fee lands within reservation boundaries. But he said a national coalition of tribes is actively seeking “a congressional fix” to the Supreme Court’s steady diminishment of their authority over non-Indians.

At the meeting, Courteau argued that constitutional rights are not guaranteed on Indian reservations. To emphasize this point, Courteau quoted Minnesota Appeals Court Judge R. A. Randall’s dissenting opinion in Cohen vs. Little Six, a 1996 case.

The judge concluded, “All the basic rights we take for granted, that allow us to live in dignity with our neighbors, are not guaranteed on Indian reservations under the presence of ‘sovereignty.’”

Courteau then read an excerpt from U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s concurring opinion in Nevada vs. Hicks, issued June 25, 2001.

“The ability of nonmembers to know where tribal jurisdiction begins and ends, it should be stressed, is a matter of real, practical consequence given (the) special nature of (Indian) tribunals … which differ from traditional American courts in a number of significant respects,” Souter wrote, quoted by Courteau. “It has been understood for more than a century that the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment do not of their own force apply to Indian tribes.”

Courteau added that non-Indians “should have a voice in any government that may assert jurisdiction over their lives and property.”

The 61,000 acres of the 1855 reservation includes what is now the townships of Kathio, South Harbor and Isle Harbor, as well as the municipalities of Onamia, Wahkon and Isle. About 4,000 people live in that area, which accounts for 26 percent of the county’s tax base.

“There are serious concerns that this issue could impact the tax base over the long term,” Courteau said. “I believe the significance is real and we need to get it resolved. One way or another, people here have a right to know whether they live on or off a reservation. People are in limbo.”

City, County to Meet with BIA

By John Mueller, Correspondent
March 1, 2002

A delegation of elected officials and staff from Prior Lake, Shakopee and Scott County will be in Washington, D.C. on Monday (March 4) and Tuesday (March 5), hoping to convince top officials in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to reject the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Commun-ity’s application to place land it owns in the cities into permanent trust status.

The delegation will meet with the BIA as well as members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation. This is the third time since 1998 that a delegation of local officials from the two cities and county has met with regional and national BIA staff to speak against a trust application submitted by the tribe. They also hope to learn the BIA’s timetable for a decision on the application.

The current application was filed in February 2000 and involves 776 acres: 593 in Shakopee and the rest in Prior Lake. The tribal land in Shakopee is located south of County Road 16, just east of County Road 83. The remaining acreage is located in Prior Lake adjacent to existing tribal lands. The tribe has indicated it wants the land for residential and governmental needs.

The objections of the cities and counties involve the loss of property-tax revenue from the land once it’s placed into trust and the loss of authority over zoning, land-use and local environmental controls. The cities and county contend they would still have to provide municipal services to the land with no guarantee of fees, creating a potential tax burden for taxpayers. The cities and county have also contended that the tribe’s population growth estimates do not support the need for 776 acres being placed into permanent trust.

The cities and county also argue that the tribe’s application does not meet the requirements of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. They point to the BIA’s rejection of the tribe’s previous application, noting that the tribe’s business success makes trust status unnecessary to meet its housing needs.

Willie Hardacker, tribal spokesperson and staff legal counsel, questioned the meeting and said the tribe is not seeking a similar meeting with the BIA. He said the tribe has made its case and wants a decision from the BIA or the U.S. Interior Department as soon as possible. At the same time, the tribe is “leaving its options open” regarding meeting with federal officials, he said.

“The tribe prefers the record be closed,” Hardacker said. “What more can be said?”

Hardacker said the lobbying efforts by the cities and county is “a curious use of local government resources.” He said the cities and county have submitted “hundreds of pages” of arguments against the tribe’s trust application.

“What else can they say that hasn’t already been said?” Hardacker asked. “What more can be said?”

Unified opposition

Prior Lake Mayor Jack Haugen expressed the importance of the unified opposition to the trust to the BIA as well as to Minnesota’s congressional delegation and staff members. Haugen added that the representatives of Prior Lake, Shakopee and Scott County would also seek clarification on the rules for applying for trust status on land owned by the tribe.

Haugen also said the trip is “another step in the process” and the cost of the trip is a wise investment of local funds given the potential impact of land placed into trust.

“We owe it to our citizens to make sure their interests are properly represented,” he said.

Shakopee City Administrator Mark McNeill echoed Haugen’s statement of unity. Along with Gov. Jesse Ventura, several state and federal lawmakers have also expressed their opposition to the application. The county contends it has tried to negotiate an alternative to the current application that meets the tribe’s needs. But those negotiations have been unsuccessful.

Minnesota Supreme Court: Income Tax on Indians Living Off-Reservation Upheld

Associated Press
Star Tribune
August 3, 2001

American Indians who live off tribal lands are subject to Minnesota income taxes, the state Supreme Court decided Thursday in upholding a lower court’s ruling.

Edward and Tina Jefferson sought shelter from paying taxes on income from Prairie Island Indian Community’s casino. They are members of the tribe, but don’t live on the reservation, which is near Red Wing.

Among other things, the Jeffersons contended that their equal protection rights were infringed upon when the state demanded tax payments, interest and penalties from 1991 to 1998. They said it created two classes of Indians, those who reside on the reservation and those who don’t.

The Supreme Court, agreeing with a ruling by the Minnesota Tax Court, rejected that and all other arguments.

“By taxing Indians who live outside Indian country, the state is not singling them out based on race, but is treating them like every other individual within its taxing jurisdiction,” Justice Alan Page wrote for a unanimous court.

All rights reserved.

Officials Charge BIA Letter to Tribe is Unfair

By John Mueller, Staff Writer
May 2, 2001

Scott County and the cities of Shakopee and Prior Lake have learned through their attorney that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) offered the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community the opportunity to “strengthen” its land-trust application without informing the county and cities of the action.

The local governments plan to insist that they be informed of all future changes in the trust application process. Prior Lake, Shakopee and Scott County are strongly opposed to the trust proposal.

In a letter dated March 26 from BIA Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs Sharon Blackwell to the tribe’s Minneapolis attorneys, the agency lists several deficiencies detected during “an informal cursory review” of the tribe’s application to have 776 acres of land in Shakopee and Prior Lake placed into permanent trust. Blackwell offered the tribe 10 working days to “re-examine your application and strengthen it.” Despite a request to be included in all correspondence and exchanges of information under the federal Freedom of Information Act, the BIA did not inform the county or cities of the offer to the tribe. The letter was obtained on April 23 by the Perkins Coie law firm of Washington, D.C., which has expertise in Native American law, nearly a month after it was sent to Blue Dog, Olson & Small in Minneapolis, attorneys for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community. Scott County received a copy of the letter by fax on April 23.

“They are very well-connected. They have contacts,” County Administrator David Unmacht said of Perkins Coie. “They just said, ‘We have the means to find out [about the letter].’ Certainly the BIA knows we’re interested in this issue. I have no answer as to why they left us out of the process.”

The review was performed at the request of the tribe, said Larry Scrivner, deputy director of the BIA’s Office of Trust Responsibilities. Scrivner said the tribe’s application lacked the clarity and greater detail he needed to offer a positive recommendation.

Willie Hardacker, the tribe’s staff legal counsel, said the tribe plans to take advantage of the BIA’s willingness to extend until May 30 the deadline for submitting stronger arguments in favor of its application. Hardacker said the existing application would be approved on its merits. Without any changes, Blackwell wrote, the BIA would proceed with a review and base a decision on the application as it stands.

The deficiencies of the tribe’s application the BIA noted include:

* Failure to equate the tribe’s land needs with the granting of trust status. The agency notes that the tribe did not clearly explain how its residency requirements equate to the need for the granting of trust status. The BIA also wants the tribe to detail how its government facilities are becoming “overburdened,” as the application states, and how the demand for government services justifies the need for trust status. The BIA also wants to know specifically how much of the proposed trust land will be utilized for governmental purposes and an explanation of that amount.

* The absence of a general, comprehensive plan for development that details the scheme of the “orderly progression of development” of the 776 acres over the next 50 years. It also questions whether the tribe needs that much acreage for the housing of its current and future members up to the year 2050.

* A lack of agreements on key jurisdictional issues pertaining to health, safety, building codes, and police and fire protection with the cities of Shakopee and Prior Lake and Scott County. The city of Prior Lake serves the existing reservation land with police and fire services.

* The lack of any “documentation that evidences support from the local community or governments.” The BIA states it believes “letters of support will benefit” the tribe’s application, especially given the controversial nature of trust applications.

* The lack of evidence that the tribe presented its need for trust status to surrounding non-Native American communities. The agency asked for any evidence of an educational effort since the proposed trust lands “are located in a densely populated area and will affect non-Indian communities.”

* Evidence suggesting the existing tribal members were involved in the decision to seek trust status and support the application.

* A better explanation of the need for “elder housing facilities” given the tribe’s position of providing housing for all its members. “Are members not able to provide for their own care? There must be a need of the community to provide this service as the wealth of the individual community members is well known,” Blackwell wrote.

* The absence of a tribal resolution that the land be placed in trust, a notation citing the specific statutory authority under which it could be placed into trust, and purpose for which the land will be used. The resolution should also state the tribe’s own constitutional authority to acquire land.

* The lack of a current environmental site assessment and appraisal for the property.

The BIA’s letter to the tribe’s attorneys indicates the agency believes the tribe makes a solid case for acquiring land to meet its growing needs. However, the agency questions whether the tribe has made a successful case for placing that land into trust.

“We believe the application is clear on the purposes for which the land will be used,” Blackwell wrote of the existing application. “However, we do not believe that purpose equates to a need for trust status.”

City and county officials said the questions the BIA raised during its cursory review are the same deficiencies they pointed out during the review and comment period. County Commissioner Art Bannerman of Shakopee said those flaws are evidence the tribe’s application does not meet the requirements of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act and should be rejected. Shakopee Mayor Jon Brekke joined Bannerman in a willingness to negotiate a smaller amount of land the city and county could agree to be placed in trust. But that amount would be “well short of 776 acres,” Bannerman said.

City and county officials are concerned that they were not informed about the BIA’s offer to the tribe to strengthen the application. The comment period on the application expired on Feb. 15. The tribe had until March 21 to respond to objections raised by local governments. Brekke said the city should have an opportunity to review the amended application and be afforded time to offer comments. Scrivner said the county and cities were not informed about the tribe’s request since it was a request for an informal review.

“We did not send anything to them [cities and county]) because it was not a decision. When we make a decision, then we’ll send that to them,” Scrivner said.

“This will likely change the nature of the application so we ought to have time to review and comment once again,” Bannerman said.

Choosing his words carefully, Bannerman tried to walk a fine line between respect and criticism of the BIA. He questioned whether the agency would grant the cities and county additional time to strengthen their respective cases against the trust application. Unmacht said the county is assuming the process is being reopened because of the time offered to the tribe.

“Effectively, we were left out of the process. From what we were told, the submission period was over,” Bannerman said. “There certainly is a concern. It appears the rules are different for the tribe than they are for us.”

Bannerman said the county would raise the issue with members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation.

Commissioner Barb Marschall of Prior Lake also wants to know why the county and cities were not informed, as they had requested, of any changes in the process. She said the letter also raises the question of whether other information has been kept from the local governments. Marschall said the BIA’s letter should reopen the process.

Scrivner said the county and cities would only be allowed to submit strengthened arguments if the tribe submits new data, information that goes beyond the bounds of strengthening the existing application.

Unmacht said the county would likely challenge any decision that appears to grant the tribe an unfair advantage in the review process.

“We’ll express our dissatisfaction with the way this has been handled,” Marschall said. “If they [the tribe] are going to have a chance to redo this application, then it opens things up to start over again. We expect to be able to do that.”

Minnesota Tribe Sues Federal Government Over Proposed Wisconsin Casino; Prairie Island Tribe Says Interior Secretary Babbitt is Ignoring the Law

Prairie Island Indian Community
July 17

The Prairie Island Indian Community on Friday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to stop the United States Department of Interior (DOI) and Secretary Bruce Babbitt from acting on a proposal to build an off-reservation Indian casino in nearby Hudson, Wis., until DOI consults with affected tribes.

The Hudson casino proposal was rejected in 1995 by DOI, but Babbitt recently agreed in the settlement of a lawsuit brought by three Wisconsin tribes to reconsider their application and his earlier decision. Prairie Island says Secretary Babbitt is ignoring federal law by not first consulting with nearby tribes and local communities, including Prairie Island, about the impact that the new casino would have on them.

“The process established under DOI’s settlement agreement violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and should be stopped until it is in compliance with federal law,” said Julie Fishel, an attorney representing the tribe. “The Department of the Interior previously denied this application. It has now decided to reconsider that earlier decision in response to a lawsuit brought by Wisconsin casino interests, but this time it wants to avoid its legal obligations and deny local tribes and communities their right to be consulted as guaranteed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

The 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) prohibits tribes from operating gambling on newly acquired off-reservation lands unless the Secretary of Interior first consults with other nearby communities and tribes and determines that a gaming establishment would not be detrimental to those communities or tribes.

Three Wisconsin tribes and a limited partnership run by a Florida businessman have petitioned DOI to take 55 acres in Hudson into trust so that the tribes can build a casino on a failing dog track, currently owned by a separate limited partnership also run by the same Florida businessman.

In 1993, Fred Havenick, the Florida businessman, formed a partnership with two Wisconsin tribes, the Lac Court Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, to purchase the dog-racing track and jointly manage a casino on the property. In 1994, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community joined the partnership.

In July 1995, Secretary Babbitt denied the partnership’s application to take the land into trust for the purposes of gaming. In that denial, Secretary Babbitt cited environmental, economic and competitive concerns under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and IGRA.

The partnership sued DOI over the decision and claimed that Babbitt’s actions were influenced by campaign donations made by tribes opposed to the casino. Babbitt was cleared of any wrongdoing and his department spent four years defending the decision until December 1999 when Babbitt unexpectedly announced a settlement agreement with the partnership. Babbitt agreed to throw out his previous decision and reconsider the application to take the land into trust.

According to the settlement agreement, the DOI will only consult with and accept additional materials and evidence related to IRA and IGRA from the three Wisconsin tribes involved in the proposed Hudson casino. New comments by any other interested parties are limited to written comments addressing environmental impacts and concerns governed by NEPA. As for any other comments or consultations, DOI says it will consider only those materials submitted more than five years ago by Prairie Island, other tribes and the surrounding communities relating to competition and economic impacts.

“Secretary Babbitt is not living up to the spirit or the letter of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” said Fishel. “When Congress passed IGRA it included specific off-reservation gambling restrictions to attempt to balance the interests of local communities and neighboring tribes from situations like this one. It certainly did not intend for any tribe or community to have its voice silenced in the process.”

Prairie Island Tribal Council President Audrey Kohnen said, “This Settlement Agreement and Secretary Babbitt’s actions are a slap in our face. Once again the government is saying it’s okay to ignore the law if Indian tribes are involved. How many times will we have to live with the federal government’s broken promises to Indian Country?”

The Prairie Island Indian Community is a federally recognized Indian Nation. The reservation for the 550-member band is located in southeastern Minnesota, along the banks of the Mississippi River about 50 minutes south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Bright Casino Lights Will Cast Dark Shadows on Indian Reservations

By Travis Armstrong, Mercury News editorial writer, San Jose Mercury News
May 14, 2000

The  allure of big money gambling on Indian reservations ended for me when my father collapsed from a heart attack.

At 3 in the morning.

On the floor of a casino operated by our own tribe.

You will hear more such stories as gambling halls multiply across Native America — particularly in California, which soon will be burgeoning with tribal casinos thanks to Proposition 1A. The federal government this month formally approved 58 tribal gaming compacts sanctioned by that initiative, which permits slot machines on Indian land in the state.

Commentators and lawmakers have bemoaned the social and economic problems that Las Vegas-style gambling will bring to California. But few people, including tribal leaders, have examined the devastating toll that the casino culture takes on American Indians.

They should.

These supposed engines of self-sufficiency often create hardship for reservation families, as the casino floors draw in more of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings. Tribal gamblers end up robbing themselves, financially and emotionally, by frequenting their own establishments.

My fellow tribe members and I own two casinos in Minnesota — filled with slot and video poker machines, blackjack tables and other slick games to take quarters and dollars from your pockets.

Remember your ATM and credit cards. The more money you bring, the more we make. Those are the only sure bets at our casinos.

For years I liked those odds, even though gambling isn’t the most noble business for the Chippewa people to operate. I thought casinos a necessary endeavor to help better the lives of my relatives and other tribal members who prefer the reservation to city life.

Gambling crept slowly and deceptively onto our land and into our minds. It seemed to offer a way to earn money and to assert our sovereign rights as a tribal government, — an irresistible combination.

Casino money would put an end to families living in government-issue block homes that fall apart after a few harsh winters. No more welfare checks. No more food stamps and boxes of surplus commodities from Uncle Sam. No more hand-me-down clothes. No more baskets of toys donated from the churches in town for my little sisters at Christmas.

Today such daily humiliations persist because slots and cards don’t earn the tribe enough profits to end our reliance on federal dollars. That’s common for tribes in rural locations throughout the Midwest and West, despite media tales of new Indian riches.

Some have traded addiction to alcohol — a serious problem on reservations — for compulsive gambling. Unlucky ones suffer from both.

My tribe’s experience with gambling began innocently, with low-stakes bingo games. Tribal councils on the reservations in Minnesota opened bingo operations on shoe-string budgets. Where my father lives, the game started out in a community gym, outfitted for the night with tables and chairs.

The evening was time to see relatives and friends, to trade stories about life in the woods and trips into the cities. It began with a prayer in our native Ojibwe, a language that teachers at federal boarding schools unsuccessfully tried to beat out of our grandparents. Children played outside the gym while parents socialized and marked bingo cards inside.

But that idyllic scene was replaced by whirling electronic games and green felt tables after Congress and the courts paved the way for full-blown casinos on federal Indian trust land.

These days bingo has its own big hall, across the parking lot from the new casino. The children are back at home, often alone or watched over by an older sibling or cousin. Bingo is an evening side show leading up to a trip to the casino.

Nights run late for many Chippewa, who sometimes outnumber other gamblers on the floor. The tempting mix of Vegas-style games and alcohol has been too great for many tribespeople.

Like my father.

He’s a skilled craftsman who earns his living making jewelry from porcupine quills and baskets from white birch bark and red willows. Now much of the earnings from his handiwork go for a night of bingo, slots or blackjack — or all three.

Pawn shops off the reservation offer another source of ready money during slow seasons. I’ve spent too many bleak days driving to these stores with my father so he can make “interest” payments to keep the pawn dealer from selling family belongings, from appliances to hunting rifles. Not the prosperous life we envisioned when the first casino opened.

A few years ago I received a frantic message on my office voice mail. “Travis,” the caller said, “Your dad had a heart attack. Call.”

Details would come hours later after I tracked down a relative with a working telephone. My father suffered the heart attack after a long night at the blackjack tables. He was on his way to the cashier’s window to redeem his chips.

He recovered — and slowly slipped back in the grip of the casinos.

And, sadly, reservation gambling soon will ensnare more American Indians, especially in California in light of Proposition 1A’s approval.

Two days after the vote, the 29 Palms band of Mission Indians announced a $60 million expansion of its casino near Palm Springs, with Donald Trump’s help. The Agua Caliente tribe plans to spend $240 million on two casinos near that desert resort town.

More will follow.

Before the construction boom overtakes tribal lands, California Indian leaders need to focus on how to balance big money dreams with the social costs to their own families and their own people.

I wish them luck. They’ll need it.

Travis Armstrong is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

Hospital Havens for Abandoned Babies, Indians’ Race Wouldn’t be Identified

Conrad deFiebre, Minneapolis Star Tribune
April, 2000

A compromise bill to make Minnesota hospitals safe havens for unwanted newborns was overwhelmingly approved April 11 by the Senate. The bill would lift criminal penalties and civil liability in cases where an infant up to three days old is left unharmed at a hospital.

Its supporters say it would stop some troubled mothers from abandoning babies to die in trash bins because they could bring the babies to hospitals anonymously.

Some critics, however, say the legislation would encourage parental irresponsibility and leave the babies with no information about their birth parents or family medical history.

The April 11 vote was 60 to 4 in favor of the bill, with the only vocal opposition coming from Sen. Sheila Kiscaden (R-Rochester), who said it could subvert Indian tribal rights to control the adoption of Indian children.
If the House approves the Senate version the legislation will go to Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Who Belongs to Shakopee Tribe?

February 22 , 2000

SHAKOPEE, Minn. (AP) – In Minnesota, who qualifies as a Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota is a million-dollar question.

As a member of the tiny tribe that owns Mystic Lake Casino, vice chairman Glynn Crooks makes about $36,000 every two weeks from his share of casino profits – or about $935,000 a year.

But his cousin David Crooks was rejected for tribal membership, and lives modestly in south Minneapolis.

“What do I need to get enrolled?” David Crooks asked. “Is there a secret handshake I don’t know? A password? What is it?”

It’s also a question that has prompted several members of Congress to call for hearings into the enrollment process.

The federal government gives Indian tribes wide discretion in defining their members. Some require one-fourth, one-eighth or 1/32nd blood; others have less precise standards.

But when a few tribes started to distribute hefty profit-sharing checks from their casinos, membership took on greater significance – and controversy. In August, differing membership philosophies among 2,500 Saginaw Chippewas in Michigan boiled into a dispute that led to standoffs with police, federal intervention and lawsuits over tribal control.

The Shakopee haven’t disclosed their membership, but estimates range from 250 to 300. By some accounts, the tribe has expanded its rolls by about 65 people in the past six years by “adopting” applicants who could demonstrate they were direct descendants of tribal members.

Crooks, 32, says he meets a more restrictive standard also allowed by the Shakopee tribe – that members have at least one-fourth Mdewakanton blood. He says he is more than one-third Mdewakanton.

“He is who he says he is,” said William Hardacker, a tribal spokesman. “He is related to the Crooks family.”

But that doesn’t guarantee admittance.

“By majority vote, his membership request was denied,” Hardacker said. “The reasons why? Nobody knows. It’s done by secret ballot.”

Crooks doesn’t deny he’d like the money, but says he’s also among the thousands of Indians who rediscovered their roots in the past few decades, dramatically increasing their census representation.

He grew up in St. Paul at a time when it was common for Mdewakanton and other Indians to live outside their reservations. His efforts to be enrolled began in 1992 – the same year the tribe’s casino opened and tribal members were poised to become millionaires.

Four years later, the tribe rejected him. Asking his cousin, Glynn, why, he said he was told: “It’s just because people in the tribe don’t know who I am.”

“Here I am, a first cousin to Glynn,” he said, “and I’m not getting anything.”

Housing Violations

Recently, Mille Lac County sent notices of housing violations to the Mille Lac band of Ojibwe regarding property that the band owns in fee in Isle Harbor Township. Band officials have made it known that they intend to restore a 61,000 acre reservation that was established by a treaty in 1855. On February 2, 1999, the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution stating they agree with, and indeed adopted as their own, the state of Minnesota’s position that the reservation no longer exists because the original reservation was subsequently disestablished by later treaties and laws.

The BIA denied a request by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community to place 593 acres adjacent to the current reservation into trust status. The tribe, one of the wealthiest in the country due to its two highly successful casinos and hotel complex, purchased the land for tribal housing and business enterprises. The tribe wanted to place it into trust status to ensure tribal jurisdictional control. The first time the tribe attempted to place the land in trust status, the City of Shakopee and Scott County filed an injunction against it, claiming that tax revenues would be lost, the tribe would expand its gaming operations, and that jurisdictional problems would result. The tribe plans to appeal the decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Cass County, Minnesota v. Leech Lake Band of Chippewa Indians (No. 97-174) on February 24, 1998. The Leech Lake Band purchased fee land within Cass County which had formerly been within their traditional use area and claimed, with the concurrence and assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice, that the land is exempt from taxes levied by Cass County, even though the land has not been placed in trust status by the federal government. Judge Diana Murphy of the Eighth Circuit agreed with the tribe. Thirteen states, more than a dozen county governments, and the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance have filed arguments supporting Cass County’s position. The amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief filed by CERA was prepared by Doug Freeman, Lana Marcussen, and Brian Thomas. The major argument presented in the briefing is that the reservation status of the land was extinguished when the United States disposed of the land through application of the Dawes Act and the Nelson Act. Furthermore, Congress cannot delegate to the Secretary of the Interior authority to create new Indian reservations because Congress itself does not possess that power under the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In a separate case, the State of Minnesota is appealing an Eighth Circuit decision that grants Minnesota and Wisconsin Chippewa tribes authority to spear or net fish on some lakes. The State of Wisconsin has not yet filed a brief in support of Minnesota’s appeal, which irks thousands of sportsmen in that state, 30,000 of which signed petitions asking Governor Thompson to use gaming compact negotiations to limit Indians, off-reservation hunting and fish spearing. Dean Crist, a stalwart opponent of the Eighth Circuit decision to allow off-reservation spearing in Wisconsin, filed his own amicus curiae reminding the court that any claims made by Indian tribes have been settled through the Indian Court of Claims and Indian Claims Commission in the 1940’s and 1950’s.