I met with Rodney Loonsfoot at his home located on the KBIC reservation on the shores of Lake Superior. Rodney is in his 2nd term on the KBIC Tribal Council and was involved with the Fight For Justice takeover of the tribal government offices in 1995 as many in the community were upset about the many injustices they were witnessing within the Tribal Council. Experiencing powerlessness and over what they perceived to be injustices, many people took serious action. Rodney tells the story of the Fight For Justice and his experience in the movement. He then relates his present involvement on the Tribal Council, still seeking to address many of the same past issues that continue to affect the present life of KBIC.
Important Background Dates are presented here followed by Rodney's interview below.
1982: Fred Dakota begins the first casino
1985: Keweenaw Bay Tribal Council takes control of the casino and moves it to the Pressbox Bar and Bowling Alley
1988: Lac View Desert Band gained federal recognition of their separate tribal status. The land was turned over to LVD Reservation which was formerly held in trust for Keweenaw Bay. Congress took the cited statutory action to confirm Tribe's membership and voter eligibility decisions.
1994, December 17: Tribal Council Election (L'Anse District – Myrtle Tolonen, Robert Voakes; Baraga District – Charles Loonsfoot, Sr. and Jerry Lee Curtis), Tribal Court Judge Election – tie vote (Brad Dakota 224, Nancy Edwards 224), and referendum vote on a corporation to own and lease slot machines (defeated: for 166, No 272)
1995, March 18: Tribal Council nullifies election, nullifies 202 voting members and removes them from enrollment, commissioned an outside group to investigate and "audit" the membership rolls.
1995, August 18: Tribal Council votes to schedule a new election on September 16, 1995, 202 members final total removed from Tribal rolls. Robert Voakes disqualified to run in the election.
1995, August 21: Fight For Justice is organized and takeover of the governmental offices at Assinins begin
June 9, 1997: Federal Trial begins against Fred Dakota
June 27, 1997: U.S. District Court jury convicted Fred Dakota of all counts of accepting bribes from a New Jersey slot machine dealer and then evaded taxes of $127,000 in payments.
Mike: Rodney, I would like you to introduce yourself and let me know a little about who you are.
Rodney: I am Rodney Loonsfoot. I am from Baraga and my Keweenaw Bay Indian Community enrollment number is 625. I was born in Chicago. At the time I had three other brothers and one sister. There were five of us. My dad, through Indian Relocation, ended up in Chicago. We were born there and then we came back to Keweenaw Bay where we are at right now. I was born in 1964. I moved to the reservation when I was 10 or 11. I stayed until 1983 and 84 when I joined the Marine Corps. I stayed in the Marine Corps until 1993. Then in 1995, I came home, and this was when everything went south – the Fight For Justice and the takeover took place.
Mike: Are you a disabled Veteran?
Rodney: I am a 100% disabled Veteran, yes. Currently, I am on Tribal Council, the second term, elected by the people. Yes, I am glad you are covering this topic of the Fight For Justice. The questions you presented are really good questions. There are some issues that need to be laid out so that people can know exactly what happened. The rest of the story.
Mike: To begin, would you start off with the primary issues that were involved at the time that brought together the people in a group called The Fight For Justice.
Rodney: My dad was on the Tribal Council, along with a handful of others. My dad served four terms on the Tribal Council. The Tribal Council threw out the elections of 1994. But what led to this decision was the following. In 1982-83, Fred Dakota, who was Tribal Chairman at the time, decided to flex the muscle of sovereignty and address an economic development opportunity for the Tribe. This is where the casino began to exist, based upon the compacts. At the time, Fred had a vision that gaming was the way to go. He went on his own with some direction from the Council that he was part of from the beginning. Fred, over the years, had put this Tribal Council together with his people and how he wanted it to run at the time. Well, when the tactics changed and people saw the true nature of what the Federal Government and the tribal Council were, this was when many issues arose. These issues have continued on through the years, but this was the first big historical type of event that would rock the community.
The Council said that they were going to allow Fred, prior to the takeover, to do the contract negotiations with Spectrum who was leasing the slots to us.
Mike: I have a question at this point. Fred started the casino in 1982 in his garage. But the Tribe ended up building their own casino in 1985, correct? So how did this go from something that Fred did to the Tribe taking it and making it their own casino?
Rodney: The consequences of those actions of what Fred did as an individual trying to represent the Tribe, was turned over to the Council at the time from an individual venture to a Tribe venture and eventually to the larger casino operation, the Government Gaming Management that you see now.
Mike: Was Fred okay with that?
Rodney: Yes. He was because he was negotiating the Spectrum on the slot machines leases. It was proven in the federal district court where and what those exchanges were.
Mike: So, Fred was okay with the switch from private ownership to tribal ownership.
Rodney: Yes. Because it was told that the casino would be for the Tribe.
Mike: So, Fred continued his involvement when the Tribe began to get the casino going at the Pressbox Bar where the Tribe initially put in slot machines. Is this where Fred began to make the illegal negotiations with the slot machine group?
Rodney: Yes, this is why Fred went to prison. There were other issues before, but these are spots I don't know because I wasn't here at the time. The Council really didn't know how far they were in it. But where this changed was when Fred, with the power he controlled over the Tribal Council, right at this time when the casino was getting big, saw that he was going to lose the majority on Tribal Council in the election of 1994. My dad and Nancy Edwards and some others were beginning to challenge him. When Nancy Edwards tied for the Tribal Court's judgeship in the election and several others were elected to the Council in the election of 1994, these events were historical because there was enough change about to happen for Fred's faction to lose the majority on Tribal Council. Up till then, Fred had the majority. But my dad and several other council members, when Nancy Edwards tied for the judgeship, Mahoon, Bob Carlson and several others, Ginny Anne, Mary Kapola, Chis Sherman, Mrytle Tolonen, were all in this faction trying to gain control and shut Fred down because he had had the majority on the Council. But Fred lost his majority in this election. So, the best way to keep his control, the Tribal Council, under his leadership, didn't certify the election. The members who had won their seats got tossed off. The Tribal Council majority threw out the election. Later they claimed that there were 202 people that Mrytle Tolonen should never have allowed to vote. But this was completely wrong. It was a mistake. So, what did they do? They kicked out the 202, most of whom were FFJ supporters. They chose to have a new election and get their new Government back into the majority.
Mike: Okay, so I am of the understanding that at this point, that during this time that the Tribal Council hired a firm from Houghton to review the enrollment and the enrollment criteria. Who was that group?
Rodney: I don't know, but I know that my father would know, and I can get that information.
Mike: So, that group determined 202 people were not eligible for enrollment. Do you know the criteria that they used?
Rodney: No. Because they meant the membership that was established by the enrollment officer at the time which was Mrytle Tolonen. So, when they turned around and took 202 off the rolls, they rescheduled an election and ran all 202 out of there.
Mike: But how did they determine the 202? What were the criteria that they used? Or was it purely getting rid of political people?
Rodney: It was purely political from what I understand.
Mike: So, the criteria were not universally applied to the entire enrollment? It was only targeted to a group of people who opposed the power that was then in Government. I read the Constitution and, in the article dealing with membership, it appears that there is a criterion for membership. This criterion requires a person to be born on the reservation. Thus, if you were born off of the reservation you were not a member. Were you kicked out because you were born in Chicago?
Rodney: There were some who were kicked out for this reason, but then we were put back on, but the entire group was not put back on.
Mike: This is interesting because that is a whole history all on its own about how this determination was made. Where the 202 ever reinstated?
Rodney: No. Not all of them.
Mike: Of the 202, how many were reinstated?
Rodney: I don't know because by that time I had already left the area. I was taken off because I was born in Chicago. My dad was fine, but the 5 of us kids weren't as we were born in Chicago. But now we are members because that was fixed. But the ones that were politically inclined that were declined. I was told that they did their best to put them all back on.
Mike: So, were you here when the Fight For Justice was organized?
Rodney: Yes, I went to jail for my involvement. I got charged for rioting and things like that. Yes, my dad was "chief." They called him "ojema" because this was one fight he was taking for our community and what was going on. I feel like this is what I am doing today.
Mike: Two Major Issues Fight For Justice and Rodney made the center of their cause. There seemed to be three issues for the Fight For Justice in 1995. The first one seems to have been the people who were nullified for enrollment and thus disenfranchised to vote. Number two was the nullification of the election. Number three was a vote against whatever was the gaming referendum. The casino was already established at that time. What impact did this negative vote on the casino have and what really was the negative vote about, if you remember?
Rodney: One of the reasons for the negative vote was that the casino was too new, too green. We are talking about Indian gaming when it first started up here.
Mike: In 1994, when the election was held, which eventually was nullified, in that same vote, there was an overwhelming vote against (3-1) the gaming proposal at that point. Do you remember what that gaming proposal might have been?
Rodney: I don't remember, I would have to take a look at that.
Mike: So, the gaming scheme was not necessarily the fight that the FFJ was involved in?
Rodney: Right. There had to be accountability for the reckless behavior by the leaders and Fred cutting his own deal on the gaming proceeds. The issues concerned the trust and leadership of the Tribal Council. The membership had serious concerns regarding the control of the Council, which is the regulating body for our community, and the irresponsible decisions they were making. That was the issue right there and this is what fired up the members which lead to the takeover. When the Council threw the newly elected members off of the Council, my dad and others were already talking behind the scenes. Paul Halverson, my dad, Jerry Lee Curtis, and Nancy Edwards, and a handful of others, called for action and the Fight For Justice finally acted. I got a call.
So, the boiling point was when Fred and the Council kicked the 202 members off the enrollment rolls, and decided they were going to call for a new election. We already knew that this was their plan. We knew that it was coming.
Mike: How did you become embroiled in the Fight For Justice?
Rodney: I was the youth advisor/chaperon for the KBIC Youth Program – the Unity Program it was called. I was helping them plan their first sobriety prom at the pow-wow grounds in August 1995, the day that the Council removed 202 people. And so, these same 202 cultural elders and traditionalists came down to the pow-wow that we had. Just shortly after Grand Entry around 2-3 pm, they came in there. You could see all the numbers and that they had been at the Council meeting. I had wanted to be at the meeting, but I had the commitment at the pow-wow ground with the youth and thus wasn't at the meeting.
What happens? They come down, angry and saying, "We are going to take over." They were already talking about this. They ask the organizers of the pow-wow if they could talk. I told them that we were trying to have a pow-wow but now this whole event was unfolding. The question was "what should we do right there and then at the pow-wow?" I told them that we needed to keep everything as clean as could be done and have the MC make an announcement as to what they wanted to do. But they were all shy and didn't want to get up before everyone. They told me that they wanted me to make the announcement. So, we stopped the pow-wow. I asked all the elders to come to the center. My dad and other council members were there. This was the first time that I had ever spoken to the community for the elders. I told them that the pow-wow was going on, but I understood what was going on and that we wanted to be at the meeting, but our kids are putting on this pow-wow, which was supposed to be a good time. I told them, "This pow-wow is what we want to do so I am going to ask all of you to let them do this, and then later on during the dinner break let us do all the talking. So, I am going to kindly ask you not to disrupt the pow-wow." Afterward, many of the elders came up and shook my hand and said thank you for how you handled everything. We then went on to have a good pow-wow.
Sunday morning, these same 202 worked it out and physically went and took over the tribal center that very night. They sent the people home who worked at the tribal center. They locked everything down. They barricaded the doors and everything. Monday morning around 6 am, I got a call from my dad. He said, "Come on, we are going in." And I knew exactly what he was talking about. I was living in Marquette in housing. I had a family with 3 kids. I packed up the three kids and we came flying over here. We were part of that initial takeover up on the hill. We were fighting what was going on. We had our sticks, and logs and rocks and we were going to battle. My dad told me, "Go." And I was going to go. I believed in what was going on. I just wished it never would have gotten to this. But it was escalating quickly. No one knew what to do.
Mike: Did others became involved in attempts to negotiate between the two groups?
Rodney: Bart Stupak came in and others were willing to come in and talk with us to calm it down, but there were no more negotiations with Fred and those on the Council. When all negotiation attempts failed, Bart Stupak left.
It started in August and went on this way for months. We had a lot of people come. AIM (American Indian Movement) was there. Several musicians and native leaders also came during this time. All of them tried to move it along and draw attention to the problems.
Mike: What were they trying to move along?
Rodney: We were trying to move the agenda along to document all the things that were going on in the Tribal Council and with Fred. The group was working with the feds on getting what we were identifying as the cause. We were trying to overthrow the Government. The Bureau was watching what was going on and they did step in towards the end. During the following summer towards the end, right before winter, everybody went home. But Fight For Justice maintained the compound.
Mike: So, did all that evidence ever get put together into a presentation?
Rodney: I don't know how that was orchestrated, but I do know that within this time frame, the feds came out and indicted Fred on those federal charges. So, it was already in the works. This was just setting up the stage to draw attention to do something. The behind-the-scenes actions of what motivated the feds to do this are unclear. But this is what happened.
Mike: Are you seeing that the arrest of Fred Dakota at this point was an effort by the feds to change the wrong into being a right?
Rodney: There was some level of accountability and justice that was felt that he was being held accountable for what the people were suspicious about.
Mike: How did this arrest impact the Fight For Justice people?
Rodney: This proved the point that what the council members and everyone was saying was validated. Remember there were council members in the Fight For Justice. They knew the inner workings of the Tribal Council and had been involved in all the meetings. They knew. The inditement amplified what they knew and that they were right about from the beginning of all things that were going on.
Mike: So, the arrest gave validation to the group and their cause. What kind of impact did the arrest have in terminating the takeover?
Rodney: It didn't. The takeover continued for another two years. Finally, Fred was convicted, and he did the time.
Mike: Were there new elections?
Rodney: There were subsequent new tribal elections after this but still, the "Fred" faction maintained control and became cemented in there. They were almost impenetrable. Swartz, Dicky Shelifoe, Don LaPointe, Joe Shute, there was a lot of weight behind Fred. As if you were not for Fred, you were against him. Fred shed many people and destroyed people's relationships working for the Tribe which was controlled by the Fred faction. It helped, but they still voted him as chairman even after he was indicted on those charges. Eventually, he was put in prison and did lose his seat.
Mike: When did the Fight For Justice end their takeover and who was arrested? So how did the Fight For Justice finally say, "This is the end." And when was the end?
Rodney: I want to say it was 1997 when the members of Fight For Justice walked away from the compound. They had already cycled through KBIC's most wanted. There were four of us at the end. My dad, me, Jerry Curtis jr and Nancy Edwards. We were the last ones that they had arrest warrants for as a result of FFJ because we were the orchestrators. Mind you, I came out of the Marine Corps, they know my history of training and now I am part of the takeover with my dad. So, they came after me.
Mike: So, there were five of you that they eventually arrested?
Rodney: Paul Halverson, in the very beginning, within the first week, turned himself in to the police. He sat in jail for a couple of days, then he was bailed out, but then he couldn't come back to the compound. Whereas the rest of us remained and continued to fight. They were trying to say that we all did it. My dad called me, and I went in to help.
Mike: What happened as a result of the arrests? Were the charges eventually dropped?
Rodney: This ranged from 3 to 6 months in jail. But they suspended a lot of other jail time. There was residual fallout left of FFJ because it was already through the courts. The damage was already done. The action was already taken and now it was actually moving forward now to getting back to our normal experience. Gene Emery was the chairman after Fred was convicted. He stepped in as they didn't have anyone. He held the seat for a while. After him, the Tribal Council voted Chris Swartz in as chairman. He has been in there for quite some time.
Mike: Were there any positive outcomes, other than Fred's arrest?
Rodney: The Fight For Justice movement signified that there was unity in the community that would be a core group, that would be there to support the truth, honesty, and transparency. The goal that came out of it was that people now knew that speaking up means something. They know that they can actually take action against the Government, no matter what it is, the people will go to whatever lengths they need to do it.
Mike: So, do you see that the spirit of Fight For Justice still exists within the community?
Rodney: That spirit is always there. Now we need to see what side of the street people are going to stand on.
Mike: So how do the issues of the Fight For Justice – it seems that some of those issues were never resolved? Are they still issues in Tribal Council today? Such as who will be voting or who is going to be counted?
Rodney: Now we certify the election lists. There remain many constitutional nightmares that still have yet to happen. But, yeah, most are in place.
Mike: Can you identify those constitutional issues that remain?
Rodney: Right now, right off the bat, you need to take a look at the checkerboard situation our community is in. We have a community where members live in Baraga County, not on the reservation and they cannot vote. We have a tribal member that lives across the street that is on the reservation that can vote, and a member on the other side of the street that cannot vote just because of that lineal boundary that they made. We, as a people, have never been exclusive. This is our community, and we need to include everybody. The Tribal Council has failed us horribly.
Mike: Is this a Constitutional change that needs to be made?
Rodney: This is a continuation of what FFJ is all about for me because of that right for those seats and most importantly I need to get those term limits changed for all council members. This is the only way we will turn over and get back to a healthy way of Government.
Mike: Going back to who can vote and who cannot vote. The Constitution at this point says that only those that live on the reservation can vote. Do you believe that the people, who put the Constitution together, had this foresight with the future in mind, that people, who live off the reservation, would be excluded even though they were full native people according to the Constitution's criteria? Do you believe they chose to do this on purpose so to force people to live on the reservation if they wished to be part of the vote? What was the intention of the original founders of the Constitution?
Rodney: The intention of those boundaries which were established by the U.S. Government, which the Government classified as on the reservation, meant that the instant you stepped off they wanted people to step aside. That was designed to prevent diverting resources to people who lived off-reservation in Baraga County. This is the issue.
Mike: Let us just assume that you could expand, then what would be that expansion?
Rodney: Getting it back to the way it should be. The way that our culture, our tradition, looks at it. So, for instance
Mike: So, by culture, you are now talking culture prior to reservation life?
Rodney: Yes. We never were defined by boundaries in our culture. If you were part of our community, you were a member. If you had family, bloodlines, they just strengthened those ties to the community that much more. The issue was when there was nothing on the reservation, everyone was going off to find work and other resources and this was a problem. This caused all the damage that we are facing today. When our Government does not want to consider our vote or term limits by anybody, other than living on the reservation that is not, to me, leadership. Our local unit of Government is supposed to be looking out for all the community. We are supposed to be looking out for everyone, not just those who are defined by a government-imposed boundary.
Mike: In truth, this problem was been started by the Treaty of 1854, which established reservations and their boundaries. Because before that Treaty, the community was not defined by a boundary but rather defined by identity and association with the community.
Rodney: Yes, in whatever region you were at. Yes, we had bands in different places.
Mike: Explain bands, please.
Rodney: So, we have Marquette, Ontonagon that are two of the other bands that were a part of our original ceremonies. From years ago, there were all different band relations. We were all tied along those routes.
Mike: Lac View Desert was a part of that?
Mike: Was Hannahville part of that?
Rodney: No. They were Potawatomi. They were farther south.
Mike: Are you talking about different bands that were considered as one group?
Rodney: Yes. LVD eventually broke off in 1988 and became their own band over there in the Watersmeet, Michigan area.
Mike: It is interesting, when LVD broke off in 1988, the enrollment of our Indian Reservation at that point was certified by the federal Government's Secretary of the Interior which deals with Indian affairs. These people that were certified then were eventually nullified by the Council?
Mike: This is a serious discrepancy that probably needs to be revisited. Thus, the concept of community needs to be understood not by a reservation boundary but by the association of the bands united together. Would it be legitimate then to say that this quantum requirement which limits enrollment to a ¼ blood quantum should be expanded to a 1/32 or 1/64th or to any lineage? What is your thought on that?
Rodney: Why are we defined by blood quantum when no other race or community in the world is?
Mike: Actually, a race is different than a nation. There are lots of nations that have white people. So, the nation itself is comprised of its citizens of people who belong to that community. So, is it merely a cultural identity that establishes your identity, or is there actually a blood quantum level that defines the community? There are people who have distant ancestry but have almost zero quantum. You are now saying they are native people. Can they participate in the community, vote, and make decisions?
Rodney: Those descendants, those tribal members, I was taught that if you have one ounce of Indian or Native blood then you are Indian. So descendant is a term that can be used in several different ways. But instead of using the term descendants for my children because they don't meet a blood quantum, to me, I still believe them to be tribal members. The present council members don't see it that way because they going to put that white man "quantum" label on them when all my kids and grandkids should be considered, no matter what their blood quantum is because that bloodline is still there. Missy, my sister, traced our bloodline back all the way to our chief in the 1850s.
Mike: Who defines an Indian: an Indian, or the Government, or the church?
This is a problem as these are identity issues. I agree with you that what makes an American an American is not whether their race is white, red, or black. What makes an American an American is an identity of association with a community of people. So, in this sense, there is no bloodline issue, rather it is an identity issue. I hear you saying the same thing because you are talking about the association of community, cultural identity, and other things.
Rodney: A quote I have here from a person who was a director of one of the Indian Residential Schools as to what their goal was. It was to shame Indian children so bad that when they would leave the facility that they would have no trace of cultural identity, but they are good.
Mike: This is the crime wherever this takes place.
Rodney: That was the mission of the residential school movement. This is where communities live. This goes into how much this rattles a community because of all of the trauma and other things that have happened. Now take a look at this issue. Assinins Cemetery. Gary Loonsfoot, Sr., Gary's dad is the caretaker for the Cemetery. The Catholic Church mandates that everyone down there is to be buried in a vault that they have to pay for. Concrete casement instead of us being put down naturally into the ground. The church is denying us that opportunity on the church grounds to be put back to Mother Earth the way we were supposed to be. Amplifying again.
Mike: So, who owns that property?
Rodney: The Catholic Church owns Assinins.
Mike: That church is not owned by the Tribe? That ground is not owned by the Tribe. The Tribal Center was not owned by the Tribe?
Rodney: That immediate area of the past Tribal Center is owned by the Tribe – there is a real defined boundary line right there, but the majority of the area the church owns. The church defined all of that.
Mike: Even with this new concept of natural burial?
Rodney: The Church, they don't care about that. They proved it. This is one of my battles. I want to take on the church. There is a plan. I have a resolution to this that would work. Down where Assinins Cemetery is at, the church does all kinds of in-kind stuff. They had that old church in L'Anse that they own. They could have turned it back over to the Tribe. But because of Nick Linderman, they couldn't put the sales pitch together for us to buy that land back. We said "NO. We are not going to buy our land back. Give it to us." They didn't want to do it. They lost it in a tax foreclosure. It is now up for auction right now.The Church, they don't care about that. They proved it. This is one of my battles. I want to take on the church. There is a plan. I have a resolution to this that would work. Down where Assinins Cemetery is at, the church does all kinds of in-kind stuff. They had that old church in L'Anse that they own. They could have turned it back over to the Tribe. But because of Nick Linderman, they couldn't put the sales pitch together for us to buy that land back. We said "NO. We are not going to buy our land back. Give it to us." They didn't want to do it. They lost it in a tax foreclosure. It is now up for auction right now.
The idea would be to take the other end of where the cemetery is which not developed. It is the area from where the two roads (Old Mission Road and U.S Hwy 41) come together and where the present cemetery ends. I marked it and would clear it and push it all the way to the corner. You could fence all that off and then allow tribal members to have that green burial they want. This is my resolution. It is right there in the church. The church better say yes, or I am going to Marquette and show the atrocities that they did to our people, and our own people are doing it to us. It isn't going to be done anymore. If I have to, I will alert the media. I will blow this right up.
This is kind of off the track, but it gives you some idea of where the church is at.
Mike: Do the local churches play a role in KBIC politics?
There was another whole dimension of the Fight For Justice that we didn't cover, which was the role of the various churches. Apparently, the churches came in and attempted to mediate. I don't know which side the churches were on because the church on this side of the Bay is very different than the church on the other side of the Bay. Now I don't know how much that has an influence in the debate with the Council and the membership.
Rodney: Fr. John Haskel was the priest at the time, and he had his core support because of the work that he did here. It was that support that continued with the tribal members. My dad told me he didn't know any native culture when he was younger. There wasn't anybody he could go to. He needed to find that rescue, that comfort, that serenity in the faith. He said that he was able to find it in the church. That was why he stayed the way he did.
Mike: That was your father. My question then is, do Catholics on Council have difficulties with the other groups that were coming over from the Zeba Mission?
Rodney: No. It was more so from within. It started when the pipes were brought to a Tribal Council meeting to try to bring back the cultural identity of who we are. They completed dismissed all of that. That was when they went into their faction with Fred Dakota. This was prior to FFJ and the takeover. FFJ was trying to put this together with the right way and it went off the tracks.
Mike: Who was trying to put this together the right way?
Rodney: My dad, Mohoon, Myrtle, Kapala, Edwards. There was a crew, Helen Curtis, Grandma Curtis was on Council for years. And there were others that were trying at different times, but nothing worked.
Mike: We are coming to an end. I am sorry, I didn't give you much time to review the questions.
Rodney: No, that was fine
Mike: I believe we covered all the material I was interested in
Rodney: We still do say the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of our council meetings
As the above interview end, our discussion continued with the political climate and the thoughts of Rodney that are critical for the future of KBIC as a sovereign nation. I asked him if he would continue so that we could present his ideas. He agreed.
Current Tribal Council issues are a continuation of concerns from the 1995 fights.
This is a continuation of the interview with Rodney Loonsfoot regarding the current issues of the Tribal Council as related to the past issues about the Fight For Justice in 1995.
Mike: So, Rodney, you were talking about the current day issues that the Council is having that are somewhat related back to the days of 1995 and the Fight For Justice.
Rodney: Yes, and it comes to voting. This time it has to do with the voting within the boundaries of the reservation and the County of Baraga. For example, my brother, Andrew, lives in downtown L'Anse. Because it is not considered a reservation, he cannot vote. Council doesn't want to fix this and allow him to vote because then they would have to pay more in support services and benefits and things through the year. The tribal members, living on the reservation are going to lose out if they had to share with everybody living off the reservation. That is the key. But the larger picture has to do with term limits and that was an issue back then. This has always been an issue, all the way to today. Still today, there are no term limits for anybody. Thus, you can keep the status quo. That is not good enough for me and so I brought forth the resolution to allow all the tribal members in Baraga County to vote in the district they are in, either Baraga or L'Anse or Herman or Arvon. You live in Pelkie, you live in Baraga County, you are in Arnheim or anywhere else in Baraga County, or you live on the L'Anse side you should be able to vote. You should count. You can work for the Tribe; the kids go to the school. There is no reason other than pure greed and selfishness to not want to allow the off-reservation tribal members living in Baraga County to vote and be counted. This is not who we are. We are not exclusive. We are inclusive. Just because they live across the street. Term limits is that, maintaining the status quo which continues to cause this breakdown in our community.
Mike: Lack of term limits maintain the status quo and threatened the survival of KBIC
Rodney: Term Limits are the second issue. This also relates to who can vote. When you no longer have any tribal council candidates from within because of this status quo as in the last election. Nobody ran in the L'Anse primary. No one. If they ran and got 1 vote, they could have gotten into the election. Nobody ran. This status quo garbage exists because of the status quo of this tribal Council. The resolution that I put together and was voted upon by the people said that they wanted term limits. We went through the Constitutional Convention; we did all that. The recommendation and the next step were for the Council to pass the resolution that was presented to them by the Constitutional Community that was following the Constitution and also our Tribal Code. We were following what we were supposed to do.
Mike: When was this done?
Rodney: This was done prior to the pandemic. Wow, it was that long ago. And so, it was a big deal. This is what the people wanted; this is what I was going to do. The Council did not want retroactive term limits. So, the ballot question to support term limits passed 3 to 1. Then it came for the Constitutional language to be completed and then it was supposed to be voted on by the people for the Constitutional change. But the Council intercepted that resolution for that Constitutional change that was wanted by the people and discarded the resolution. Of the 12 people on Tribal Council, 4 of them would have been impacted directly - Doreen, Tony, Chris, and Susan. Those four were immediately impacted by the 4 three-year term limitation – a 12-year limit – which we wanted to go retroactive.
So those four were not going to vote on this resolution and cut their own throat and their own paychecks. They did not want to go with the retroactive limitation as they would be done. Chris Swartz and Susan LaFernier would not have been able to run this coming year if that would have gone through.
Mike: So, they purposefully chose to go against the peoples' vote?
Rodney: They sabotaged and killed that resolution and said, "It's done, and we don't have to bring it up again." Now, watch what will happen now when this comes back on them again.
Mike: How is it going to come back up again?
Rodney: I will bring that resolution back to Council. This time there is a whole different perspective and motivation to get this through. With the release of information yesterday of the mass graves of Indian children at the residential school in Canada, emotions with our people are very intense as many of the older people also had spent time at the residential schools. I want to work on these emotions and bring this back into the Tribe. Yesterday, was the affirmation that I need to do what I need to do.
Mike: So, what affirmed this?
Rodney: What affirmed this was when Chris repeated the disrespect, the lack of professional courtesy, his poor demeanor in meetings in how he runs the Council, trying to shut me down and not letting me put things on the agenda. We got the mass grave-Church issue which the Tribal Council is not going to want to look at. When it was brought up in Council there was not one thought given to it by the leadership, not one prayer was said in that meeting yesterday, except the one I said by myself when they learned about the information. How about the damage the Church did to us and now all the graves and everything else? All of these disrespectful actions as legislators and refusal to pass laws to help the people. They know that they cannot stop me. They play their games and for a little while I have put up with it. Now it has reached that boiling point just as in the past with FFJ. Now I am going to do something. Now, these issues will be large-scale marketing efforts for the new move that I am trying to launch. We need to dismantle Chris and all the other garbage, change the nature of how the tribal Council is run, and include the other people in the area. So, we need to reexamine the extent of the reservation boundary.
Mike: I am glad that you clarified the boundary issue to include all of Baraga County.
Rodney: Right now, it is Baraga County.
Mike: That is a very important distinction.
Third issue: How to have Marquette have its proper representation on Tribal Council
Rodney: Here is another part. So, you have Baraga and L'Anse Districts. We have a primary. So, everybody who wishes to run, they can run in L'Anse or in Baraga. These are the ones that are elected from here.
Marquette has 16-30 voters. They vote in the primary for the L'Anse side. So, what happens? Jennifer Misegan, that whole crew that wants re-election, they bank on those 16-18 voters to give them the numbers that they need for the primary that they didn't get from L'Anse. They inflate the numbers in L'Anse so that these people get in and make the primaries. It was proven that if Marquette only voted in the general election but not in the primary the outcome would be different in the primary. It is in the general election where you are going to vote for your candidates for Council. So, when I get to vote in the primary, I am only voting for two names out of everybody that is there. I am not voting for the primary people in L'Anse, just my district. Why should Marquette get to vote in L'Anse? If they didn't vote in the primary, then the L'Anse District would have the true number of the constituents of the L'Anse district. So, if you take Marquette out of the primary or better yet, if you wish to change the Constitution, give Marquette a seat on the Tribal Council. This is a no brainer.
Mike: I believe that is legitimate, a solution that is fair.
Rodney: So, the idea is that the present composition is 12. So, you would have to change all the Constitution and by-laws involved in such a change. I said last year, that if you want to change the Constitution, let's do it. I went through all their hoops and followed their rules. Now I got the data that I have. You proved that you were not going to vote for term limits because they were retroactive. And now my goal is to see if term limits will go through if you give everyone a fresh 12 years and then see if Council would pass that.
Presently, there is no accountability. There is no transparency. The qualities of leadership are lacking and what we expect of them to take care of our community. The community is not there anymore. Our people are saying that our Council is not meeting the cares of the community. This is coming from the constituents that I have been elected to represent and who are continuing to come to me every day about things. So, I am moving forward with the hopes to bring the light of this to the community. I want to make sure that we have the Government that we need that is going to take care of us for the next seven generations if we are still around. How do we know the future results of what we are doing? We are the present elders. We are quickly reaching that level of quantum where they will not be any community left.
Mike: 4th Issue: Blood Quantum criterion needs revision or KBIC will vanish, and will this happen fast if it stays the way it is?
Rodney: Our enrollment director has given no clue on what those numbers were from the beginning until the current number, where those changes and those waves occur. We need to know where we were at and where are and where we will be shortly and what will identify us in 50 years as a tribe.
Mike: This is a crucial question.
Rodney: Is the President of the United States going to come in and take away the status of tribal trust land from the people? What it says in the Constitution and Treaties is that trust property can be removed at the pleasure of the United States Government.
Mike: If the Tribe cannot meet the quantum level of the Constitution which the people created, then that is a mute question as there will be no people left who meet the quantum requirements. The Tribe will cease to exist by that definition. So, this question needs to be addressed today because in another 20 years if ¾ of the population dies. And this could be true as many of the current members are older and in 20 years, they will be dead. So, if 70% of them die, how many will be left. And then in another 10 years, it will be over. The numbers speak for themselves. So, the thought of what constitutes the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community needs to be re-thought. I like your understanding that it is a community where the identity of the community is based on association, cultural activities, and tribal Government.
Rodney: One of the bigger pieces to open up is Baraga County for the voting. Not only do you create more numbers –about 130 – and there isn't enough housing on the reservation, but of these 130-140, there is a chance you have potential council members who previously could not run for Council, like Lori Sherman who lives in Keweenaw Bay. She has a college degree and could contribute. Her education and her heart are there. She should be able to run, and she would do really well as a council member. But now, because she can't vote because she is not on the reservation, it creates this issue. So, you get more candidates, and you get more voters at the same time.
Mike: Yes. Do you believe you also need to reconsider the quantum requirement?
Rodney: Yes, we have and there is precedence within the country – that descendancy is being more and more looked at and it is my hope that one day we can come through Tribal Council with a resolution to include all the past descendants as tribal members. It's coming
Mike: It appears to be the only way for survival. Well, I need to let you go. I really appreciate your points and thoughts.