Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Bois Forte Chair: ‘Last year was tough financially’

Chavers offers sober assessment of challenges facing the Bois Forte

Jodi Summit
Posted 1/31/18

VERMILION RESERVATION- Bois Forte Tribal Chairman Cathy Chavers talked about the tough decisions made by the tribal council this past year at the 2018 State of the Band Address, held Jan. 25 at …

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Bois Forte Chair: ‘Last year was tough financially’

Chavers offers sober assessment of challenges facing the Bois Forte

Posted

VERMILION RESERVATION- Bois Forte Tribal Chairman Cathy Chavers talked about the tough decisions made by the tribal council this past year at the 2018 State of the Band Address, held Jan. 25 at Fortune Bay.

“Our overall mission is to preserve and promote our quality of life,” she said, but noted that financial responsibility is one of the tribal council’s top priorities.

“This is the first year we presented our budgets and the Fortune Bay budgets on live stream during our tribal meeting,” she said. “We want to insure our tribal members have more openness.” Bois Forte tribal meetings can now be viewed on youtube.com (search for Bois Forte Tribal Council).

“Last year was tough financially,” she said. “I am sure you heard the rumors.”

Chavers explained that the financial bind did not happen overnight. With gaming revenues lower than expected, and the need to reinvest some of these revenues in the Fortune Bay facility with both exterior projects such as the new roof, and interior renovations such as new carpeting, which are essential to compete with other larger casinos, the “big boys.”

Chavers said the band is attempting to sell the WELY radio station in Ely. She said daily operating cost losses at the convenience store in Nett Lake are a major concern to the council, and said the store needs more customer traffic to be successful. The store is operating at a significant financial loss on a daily basis, she said.

“The store is a big benefit for the community,” she said. A community meeting is being planned to discuss the issue of the Nett Lake Store.

The tribal council voted to cut their salaries by 8.5 percent, and they froze other salaries and cost of living increases for other tribal employees.

On a positive note, she said, they did create a “Christmas fund” to assist tribal members.

Chavers said a talk by Lenny Fineday, at the Leech Lake State of the Band, inspired her to think about the culture of dependency.

“This was instilled in us when the federal government took over. We Anishinabe didn’t use to depend on anyone else,” she said. “Today we are still dependent on the federal and state government. We need to end this cycle of dependency. We can be more creative in our economy.”

Favoritism also needs to be addressed, she noted. Chavers said a new tribal council policy no longer allows council members to interfere in the collection of fees for services or rents, something that had led to a million dollar debt in the past.

Increasing the safety and health of tribal members is also a priority. The drug epidemic is a major concern. The tribal council is working with other agencies, including other law enforcement agencies and the border patrol. The tribe is nearing an agreement with St. Louis County to house prisoners in county jails, instead of having to bring them to Sherburne County, a four-hour drive, which leaves the reservation without law enforcement coverage for extended periods.

She said Bois Forte is working with other tribes across the state to form a general council to address the opioid crisis, and to seek funding as a group.

“We need to take our communities back,” she said. “This epidemic is affecting our families and our children.”

Language and culture

“We need to do a lot more to preserve and teach our language,” Chavers said. “We only have three fluent speakers left at Bois Forte.”

The work being done by KBFT Radio, 89.9 FM, has been fabulous she said, and there is a smartphone app to teach the Ojibwe language. The radio station not only produces programming featuring the language, culture and arts, but also sponsors and publicizes community events throughout the year.

Chavers said the tribe needs to get more elders involved in teaching language and culture to the next generation. She said there is a group of young people and elders who get together at Nett Lake for language lessons, which is a start.

Last year, she said, the tribal council ended funding for the tribal-sponsored elders committee.

“We want them to develop their own committee without government involvement,” she said. “We need to make sure our elders can do what they need to do to teach us.”

Two Bois Forte youth, Sasha Strong from Nett Lake, and Reyna Davila-Day from the Twin Cities, were selected to represent Bois Forte on a new statewide committee that is planning the 2018 Minnesota Tribal Youth Gathering Conference in July.

Job training is also important, Chavers said, and the tribe has been sponsoring job/skill training classes through the TERO program, and is starting a new internship program for area youth to provide an introduction to careers in natural resources, accounting, and health services.

Good news

Chavers had some good news to report on several fronts. The tribe has received six million dollars in funding for new housing units, and an Indian-owned contractor will be overseeing the construction project. The tribe has been awarded another $15 million in grants this year, and is working on receiving 501c3 (non-profit) status for the heritage center and youth centers, something that will assist in future grant funding.

A report detailing the funding the tribe has received from Fortune Bay over the years, which totals $58 million, will be released soon. The report will show how that money has been spent and distributed.

The Northern Eagle Credit Union received a grant that will allow them to offer new services such as online banking, debit cards, and checking accounts.

She noted that the tribe is reaching out to state leaders on the wild rice sulfate issue.

“There needs to be more scientific data,” she said. “We have been dealing with wild rice for years, and we do have data. It is a staple of our economy and our meals.”

Chavers spent a few minutes recognizing Edith Villebrun, who recently retired after working for 45 years in the tribal accounting office. “She is a true role model,” Chavers said. “She battled many health problems but kept working.”

Chavers talked about the importance of building strong relationships with state and federal legislators. Minn. Rep. Rob Ecklund attended the State of the Band, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Rick Nolan sent video remarks which were played at the start of the event. Chavers thanked Sen. Al Franken. “He was our friend in D.C.,” she said. And she welcomed Minnesota’s new Senator Tina Smith.

Chavers ended her talk by asking everyone to “be respectful, honest, and patient.”

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