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Minnesota Native News

180 EpisodesProduced by Minnesota Native NewsWebsite

Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


Minnesota Native News: Primary Elections Approach, Casinos Reopen and a Superfund Site Stays Put

Headlines: This week on Minnesota Native News, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe elections and more. This is Minnesota Native News, I’m Marie Rock.

STORY 1: MCT Postponed Primary Happening on June 9 

HOST: The 6 Bands who are part of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe are holding their primary election on June 9. Reporter Melissa Townsend has the details. 

MELISSA: Mille Lacs, White Earth, Boise Forte, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage will be choosing candidates for Band Chairmen and several District Representatives seats. The primary election was postponed from March 31 because of safety precautions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Gary Frazer is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.  

FRAZER: I think the voter turnout is going to be way lower at the polls because they’ve been requesting people vote with absentee over the last month and a half. (:10)

He says tribal leaders are taking a number of precautions to keep voters safe. MCT members can vote by absentee ballot up through June 9. 

At polling places, some Bands will practice social distancing and some may require a temperature check before you can vote. If a person has an elevated temperature, they can get an absentee ballot.The candidates who make it through the Primaries will run in the General Election. That’s scheduled for August 18. 

In other news… Some tribes in Minnesota are reopening their casinos. 

All tribes in Minnesota closed their gaming enterprises in mid-March as a part of social distancing to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Joe Naquanabe, the head of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s Corporate Ventures says that decision to close was really tough.

NAQUANABE: It was really scary knowing what the properties represent to the region and especially the Mille Lacs Band. (:08)

But he says - the decision to reopen is even more difficult. 

NAQUANABE: It’s harder because there’s this fact that we will be increasing the same risks that we are trying to avoid by closing. (:13)

The Upper Sioux community opened their doors earlier in May. The Shakopee Mdewaukanton Sioux Community, Prairie Island Indian Community, the Red Lake Nation and the Mille Lacs and the Bois Forte Bands of Ojibwe casinos are reopening this week. 

Angela Heikes [HIGH-kiss] is President and CEO of the Shakopee Mdewaukanton Sioux Community Gaming Enterprise. Both Naquanabe and Heikes say their tribes are consulting both with their own internal health and safety departments and outside agencies.

HEIKES: We are really watching and understanding the guidance coming form the federal government, the CDC, different health organizations, coming from the state of Minnesota. We also have our own tribal public health department. (:19)

The casinos are not opening to full capacity so that patrons can practice social distancing. Customers will have their temperature taken at the entrances. Shakopee is requiring everyone to wear masks; Mille Lacs is not. Other tribes around the country are also reopening their casinos.

GILES: Casinos in different states are further along in the process, particularly Oklahoma. (:05)

Jason Giles, Muscogee Creek, is Executive Director of the National Indian Gaming Association.  It’s a non-profit advocacy organization for tribal gaming operations.

GILES: To be honest it’s not without its hiccups right off the bat.  There are reports of employees showing up a-symptomatic but they have the virus. There have been other reports of people showing up not wearing a mask. (:15)

Giles says there are some tribes who say they will NOT reopen their casinos in the near future.  

GILES: There’s plenty of tribes in South Dakota, North Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico - some of the tribes that just don’t have strong health care systems on the reservation and are a commute away from the nearest hospital, they are at particular risk if the virus starts to spread. They just can’t afford to have it run through their populations. (:20)

Here in Minnesota, tribal casino heads say they will pay close attention to what’s happening and adjust as needed.

For Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.

HOST: And finally, The Leech Lake tribal newspaper, the Debahjimon [dih-BOJ-ih-mon] is reporting that the US Environmental Protection Agency has reached a decision on the Superfund site located within Leech Lake reservation boundaries. 

The agency has gone agains the wishes of the tribe and has decided to retain the contaminated soil on site rather than truck it off the reservation.

This decision comes after decades of consultation over the St. Regis Superfund site where the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe voiced opposition to this very plan. 

The Band is exploring their options for further action.

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