VERMILION RESERVATION- It was standing room only in the ballroom at Fortune Bay Resort Casino last Wednesday for the annual Bois Forte State of the Band event, and Chairperson Cathy Chavers saved the …
VERMILION RESERVATION- It was standing room only in the ballroom at Fortune Bay Resort Casino last Wednesday for the annual Bois Forte State of the Band event, and Chairperson Cathy Chavers saved the most anticipated news for last.
It was a simple eight-word statement that held the promise of a new revenue stream many in the Band have been clamoring for.
“We will be going into the cannabis industry,” Chavers said.
The announcement got an enthusiastic response from most of the crowd, although some who had opposed the idea held back on any demonstration of their feelings.
A survey of band members, commissioned by the tribal council, found substantial support for entering the cannabis business, and Chavers said it was a decision the council opted to leave up to the members.
“Tribal Council put into place a resolution that says you guys decide what businesses we want to do,” Chavers said. “I’m happy to say you passed it. We had approximately 700 responses from our survey. That’s a lot. We don’t even get that many voters during tribal elections.”
Beyond her basic statement about going into the cannabis business, Chavers provided no details as to what that business might look like or how quickly it might be up and running. She also didn’t provide a breakdown of the tribal survey.
As the keynote speaker for the event, Chavers responded to feedback from last year’s event by keeping her remarks relatively brief. She opened by recognizing Bois Forte employees.
“I want to take this opportunity to state that Bois Forte has great staff,” she said. “And I’m talking not just tribal government, but all businesses and everything. Their dedication and hard work to provide programs and services to our people here in the North, in Duluth, and in the Twin Cities. They are unsung heroes in my eyes. As an example of their great work, Bois Forte has received over $96 million in grants and other funding over the past three years.”
While most of her comments were Band-specific, Chavers also touted accomplishments of Minnesota tribes collectively.
“I see tremendous progress of Minnesota tribes regarding amending or changing laws and educating by telling our story over and over again,” she said. “This work is beginning to have an impact in various ways. One example in the new Minnesota state seal and flag. These were somewhat offensive to the tribes. Also, we worked on the memorandum of understanding signed between Grand Portage, Fond du Lac, and Bois Forte bands that reside in the 1854 treaty area and the U.S. Forest Service to work side by side. The Lutsen Mountain expansion of 600 acres did not happen. This area has the largest maple sugaring stand in the state of Minnesota, plus there’s other unique tribal medicines that are in certain areas in that Lutsen area that they wanted to use for a parking lot expansion. We stopped that. And the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the tribes and it solidified tribal sovereignty. Minnesota legislators did a great job of incorporating the act into the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act.”
Chavers also talked about the increased power the tribes have gained through the redistricting of the Eighth Congressional District, which put all seven Ojibwe tribes in the same district.
“Our Native vote is very influential in making decisions and helping elect the right leaders to get our laws passed and get that funding,” she said. “I challenge all of you tribal members here tonight and throughout the state to please get out and vote this fall. Tribes have been acknowledged and we can’t go backwards.”
Last year’s state budget surplus provided an unexpected windfall for Bois Forte and other tribes, Chavers said. “This has a total amount of $35 million that will go to tribes that want to participate annually and is comparable to the same aid money that has been distributed to counties and cities for many, many years. The best part of this money is that it has no restriction or ties to it.”
Chavers highlighted the Bois Forte high speed broadband project, noting that access is available in Nett Lake, Vermilion, and Indian Point.
“We are now expanding that access even further to incorporate our neighbors in Greenwood Township, Cook and Orr – neighbors helping neighbors.”
Chavers described work with legislative committees to increase the base payments for the 1854 treaty, noting that the payments have not been adjusted for inflation.
“We are very pleased that the Legislature passed a bill and we are working to negotiate with the DNR to fund future years out of their budget for this increase,” Chavers said. “You can make darn sure that we’re going to make sure that we get what’s coming to us.”
Other highlights of Chavers’ remarks include:
• The completion of the new Nett Lake Dam, remarking that the lake’s 2023 rice crop was one of the best in years.
• The tribe’s carbon credit program is moving forward, with the mild winter facilitating the assessment process.
• Other tribes have been calling about Bois Forte’s first-in-the-nation vending machines for easy access for Narcan, fentanyl test strips, pregnancy and HIV testing kits, socks, underwear, and nutritional items.
• The pursuit of additional tax-forfeited land within tribal boundaries.
• The implementation of an energy manager and energy ordinance to allow more access to infrastructure funds for climate resilience and green energy.
• Expanded elderly housing and mental health services.
• A renewed emphasis on cultural healing practices for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
• The need for family and cultural resource centers at Nett Lake and Vermilion.
Attendees also heard presentations by tribal council members and viewed video greetings and accomplishments of Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Minnesota’s congressional representatives.