The six Chippewa Indian reservations in the State of Minnesota that are organized and governed under Section 16 of the Indian Reorganization Act, i.e., The Wheeler-Howard Act, of June 28, 1934.
Fond du Lac (FdL) Band or Naagaajiwanaang belongs to the Anishinaabeg of Lake Superior and is governed by the five-member Reservation Business Committee (RBC) composed of Chairwoman Karen R. Diver, Secretary-Treasurer Ferdinand Martineau, Jr., and Wally Dupuis, David Tiessen, Jr., and Kevin Dupuis, Sr. who represent District 1, Cloquet; District 2, Sawyer; and District 3, Brookston respectively. All of the RBC members are elected to four-year terms on a staggered basis. In addition, both the chairwoman and secretary-treasurer also serve as members of the Executive Committee of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
The FdL offers many services for its community members such as Energy Assistance and Food Distribution. The reservation Community Services also provides the Elder Nutrition Program that serves and delivers meals to FdL elders. The reservation also has a Housing Division that provides quality housing and housing assistance for tribal members. There are many other such programs offered to FdL band members; these programs are funded in part by the Band’s two casinos.
A major problem facing the FdL Band is relying too much on projected casino revenues. Anticipating this, Chairwoman Diver has tried to get ahead of this problem. In doing so she looked at the contract between the City of Duluth and the FfL Band in regards to the revenue distribution earned by the tribe’s Fond du Luth Casino which sits in the heart of Duluth, Minnesota. At the time of the original contract, many Duluth citizens and Band members believed there weren’t any major problems with the contract. City of Duluth officials and Tribal Board members had come together and worked out what many from both communities considered a win-win situation.
Under this agreement, the Band would pay a portion of gaming revenues to the City of Duluth in order to operate in Duluth. Now, however, the FdL Band believes that requiring payments from the reservation to the City of Duluth is illegal under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. To date, the band has paid approximately $80 million of Fond du Luth Casino earnings to the City of Duluth but have recently stopped all payment.
As their part of the agreement, the City of Duluth was supposed to set this money aside in a special fund for street repair. Anyone who lives in the City of Duluth or even those who visit can tell you that the roads are not only in poor condition but some are actually unsafe.
Since the RBC stopped paying the revenues to the City of Duluth, a media storm has attacked the Band and especially Chairwoman Diver. This situation has become racist in many of the attacks from residents on both sides. The road conditions of the City of Duluth are not Chairwoman Diver’s concern, and Band members elected Chairwoman Diver to represent and speak for their interests. The citizens of Duluth did not elect her to her reservation position.
A year before Chairwoman Diver was elected, I was involved in a meeting between Duluth Mayor Don Ness; Morris Ojibway, General Manager of Fond du Luth Casino; and a few others. The gaming revenues were still being paid at the time but the original 25-year contract between the Band and the City was about to expire. I was disappointed and embarrassed by how Mayor Ness received Morris and our group. We were there to talk about the original contract was coming to an end and how any new contract should be re-worked. I walked out of the meeting ashamed and embarrassed for my city.
In my opinion the biggest challenge facing the FdL Band is how they handle the contract dispute moving forward. The only winners thus far have been the lawyers from both sides of the issue. I remember having said to Mayor Ness at that meeting to discuss the ending contract, “I hope you can find a way for both sides to win or both sides will lose.” So far both sides have lost and, mark my words, both sides will continue to lose unless both parties can become better neighbors.