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Fond du Lac tribal councilor accused of theft

Vanessa Northrup

A member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa's governing body is facing possible sanctions resulting from an alleged check theft.

Vanessa Northrup, District 1 representative on the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee (RBC), is the subject of an investigation by Carlton County as well as a reservation petition to have her removed from office.

RBC Secretary/Treasurer Ferdinand Martineau wrote about Northrup in his column in this month's Nahgahchiwanong Dibahjimowinnan band newspaper, stating that the Cloquet RBC representative allegedly converted a check written to the reservation to her personal bank account.

Martineau said staff in his department discovered the money hadn't been paid during an audit, checked with the vendor and ultimately found that Northrup cashed the check.

That was between six and eight weeks ago, Martineau told the Pine Journal.

The case was then turned over to the county attorney's office for possible charges. County Attorney Thom Pertler said the case is still under investigation.

Northrup declined an interview Monday, noting there was nothing she could say publicly at this point in the process.

"She chose to pay the money back, but the fact remains that the check was taken and cashed," Martineau wrote.

Martineau has recommended that band members circulate a petition to have Northrup removed from office. He said in his column that the constitution of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe states it's his responsibility to make a recommendation.

"The petition doesn't depend on charges being filed within the state court system; it's two different paths," Martineau said.

The process of gathering signatures has begun, Martineau confirmed Monday.

The longtime Fond du Lac tribal council member explained that the petition process is driven by band members, not the RBC. For the petition process to trigger an RBC hearing, band members must collect signatures of 20 percent of the resident eligible voters. That doesn't include band members who live outside the reservation boundaries, Martineau said.

Although the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has about 4,200 total members at any one time, as of last week there were 1,112 eligible voters who were enrolled and living on the reservation and who could sign the petition, Martineau said. Twenty percent is about 223 signatures.

Martineau explained that band members have 90 days (from Dec. 1) to collect and submit those signatures to the RBC. It would then have 15 days to verify signatures, membership and residence. After that, the RBC would schedule a hearing open to band members, but not the general public. Northrup would present her defense and any witnesses there, in front of her fellow RBC members.

"There is a judge and jury, but that's the tribal council, because we're the ones who hear the complaint," Martineau said. "The RBC makes the final decision."

Northrup was elected to her RBC seat in June 2016. She has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in tribal administration and governance. She has worked as a school resource officer, community officer and gang specialist, and investigated crimes against women and children, according to the candidate profile published in the Pine Journal in June 2016. She also has a business finance and management degree.

Any appeal of the RBC decision — should it get that far — would be to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Martineau said.

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