Fond du Lac Band to choose leader amid legal battleVoting members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa on Tuesday will choose the next head of their Reservation Business Committee: a high-profile position that oversees a budget of about $180 million and businesses that employ 2,200 people, including two casinos — one of which is entangled in a legal fight with the city of Duluth.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Voting members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa on Tuesday will choose the next head of their Reservation Business Committee: a high-profile position that oversees a budget of about $180 million and businesses that employ 2,200 people, including two casinos — one of which is entangled in a legal fight with the city of Duluth.
Challenging incumbent Karen Diver for a four-year term as chairman or chairwoman of the RBC, the band’s governing body, is Pete DeFoe, who served in that position from 2004 to 2006. Diver was elected to finish DeFoe’s term when he resigned for personal reasons, and she was elected again the following year.
The band chairwoman’s spot pays $145,000 a year.
In other Fond du Lac races, RBC Representative Wally DuPuis faces Kelly Diver in the reservation’s Cloquet-area District 1, and Bryan Bosto and Kevin Dupuis are running for the Brookston representative position in District 3.
The News Tribune talked with Diver and DeFoe last week; following are excerpts of those conversations.
Q. Why are you running?
Diver: We have made great progress in the band in terms of long-range planning and really stabilizing our work force and our economy. I would like to continue with the priorities band members have identified in our strategic plan.
DeFoe: I am running because I don’t like the way things are on the reservation. (The Reservation Business Committee) doesn’t publish financials. I think it’s wrong to do that. … I am willing to go back and do everything I can to solve problems. I got a lot of satisfaction from that. The reservation is very important to me.
Q. What are the top issues facing band members today?
DeFoe: I think … all (band members) should be treated fairly, and there shouldn’t be nepotism getting in the way. There isn’t any transparency. It’s a negative situation as far as enrollees are concerned. This is all of our reservation. It doesn’t just belong to the RBC.
Diver: Continuing to look at ways to grow the reservation economy and provide opportunities for employment for our band members. We continue to struggle with housing needs and building capacity to meet the needs of our waiting list.
Q. How do you view the band’s relationship with Duluth?
Diver: It is regretful that the city of Duluth has chosen to be antagonistic rather than cooperative in resolving this (Fond-du-Luth Casino) matter. Now that the band has prevailed in so many venues, finding a way to move past the city’s hostilities toward understanding that we will be generational neighbors would be more fruitful.
It has been the desire of the Fond du Lac Band since the beginning to resolve these matters through dialogue. And we’ve been consistently rejected in favor of using legal methods.
The band will be there and will be operating its enterprise there for quite a long time. It would be nice to have the recognition of the city of Duluth as the band being an employer and an economic entity that’s operating in its downtown.
DeFoe: It’s not any different than the relationship with residents and governments of Cloquet or the government offices of Carlton. The people in Duluth and Cloquet off the reservation are important to the reservation because, in fact, they are our customers.
Q. What do you think of the band/city of Duluth legal tangles?
DeFoe: This disagreement between the reservation and the city of Duluth is not constructive at all. They’ve got to meet with each other to work things out, and it doesn’t seem like they are doing that. I am really disappointed with that relationship. They are going to court and fighting with each other and none of that is beneficial to anybody. If you have differences, you don’t go to court; you have to figure a sensible way to resolve your differences. I’m not in favor of that situation at all.
Diver: It would be preferable not to resolve things in court and (instead) rely on an ongoing relationship, but that ongoing relationship just isn’t there. And it’s never been there despite any of the rhetoric out of the city of Duluth. We have not had a relationship.
From what we’re finding out from the administrative agencies and the court, the band has had a prevailing legal position, and I would prefer not to continue to spend Fond du Lac resources in litigating it, but that money will always be well-spent if necessary to protect the band’s interests.
Q. How would you address the need for job growth within the band?
Diver: We went from 1,800 to 2,200 employees during the biggest economic downturn that the country has seen since the Great Depression, and we have had growth. I would expect that it will be a little bit more challenging in the period going forward because we still see great volatility in the world markets that is affecting the U.S. market. So we’ll be careful about job growth. …
We would like to take advantage of some of the opportunities out there for green energy development. It meets multiple goals of the band in terms of environmental stewardship, job creation and economic development. So most of the ideas we’re looking at have been in that area.
DeFoe: We have a construction company that was quite efficient but seems to be on a downslide. The economy is part of that, but you have to go off the reservation and bid on jobs. I don’t think that’s happening. I would pursue those jobs.
We’ve got to have more employment on the reservation. One time we had a relationship with Honeywell, making parts for them. A new group of people were elected on the reservation. … They ended that. That was a counterproductive thing to do. You need to get established businesses to come here and work with them.
Q. How would you address housing needs?
DeFoe: Housing is a complicated situation. When you have houses available, you are going to have a constant stream of people coming here. Although we have a lot of jobs for people, you don’t want to have more people than your economy on the reservation can support.
I am not in favor of these multiple buildings for 10 to 12 rentals. I think they should be made to have individual houses separated by a bit of land. Apartment buildings aren’t beneficial to the reservation. You’ve got to have a little space.
Diver: We have made tremendous progress already in the last five years in meeting the housing need. Normally we would have created about 20 units of housing in the last five years and we’ve created 94 units of housing. So we’re greatly outpacing our average. Partly because we’re implementing different housing models and leveraging our housing grant money with other sources.
We’ll continue to try to diversify the different models of housing available … from supportive housing to rentals to home ownership.
Q. Which regional and statewide environmental issues do you think are most pressing and what role should Fond du Lac have in resolving them?
Diver: One of the first things that was an official action of the government of Fond du Lac after I was elected was ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. We continue to have great pride in looking at the band’s environmental stewardship responsibilities as well as regulatory capacity.
The most important activities around economic development and water quality right now are mining. And the band has been firm in its position that it is not anti-mining, but it is important to regulate the activities so we can balance economic development with health and safety concerns. We are quite worried about the health and safety of water resources. There are lessons to be learned from past behaviors around the degradation of water resources and the impacts it has on habitat and health.
DeFoe: The reservation has a natural resources department that probably knows more about the environment than the people employed by the state.
I think the mining question probably is the most current, and that’s a difficult thing to answer. Environmentalists believe this will ruin the water system, which includes wild rice, which is not owned by the reservation but it’s (used) by Indians in a big way. Both sides are bringing information forward. We’re talking about a lot of people possibly being hired (through mining.) On the other hand, you have environmentalists who oppose any runoff, and it will be a stalemate. I think maybe jobs will win out. That’s not my wish, but I think that’s the way it will be.
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