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Protesting tribal government

A number of white earth members protested outside of the Shooting Star Event Center Wednesday before chairwoman Erma Vizenor's annual State of the Tribe address in Mahnomen. Harvey Bunga, left, holds a sign asking to bring back the status of the band. (Riham Feshir / Record)

As White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor got ready to give her annual State of the Nation address Wednesday, a number of tribal members protested outside of the Shooting Star Event Center in Mahnomen.

They continue to voice concerns over how their government is run by Vizenor and others on the Tribal Council.

"She's acting like a dictator," Leonard Thompson said. "She's passing resolutions that go against the grain."

Their main concern is how government officials are violating the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution.

Members must be at least one-fourth degree Minnesota Chippewa Indian blood born to enroll, according to the constitution.

But the White Earth Reservation Business Committee passed a resolution in 1997 allowing children and grandchildren of enrolled members with full benefits to participate in rights of members.

White Earth member Marvin Manypenny claims that Vizenor is handpicking who gets to enroll and therefore "using them in the election."

"There is always been this controversy of who's Indian and who's not Indian," he said, adding that members who shouldn't be enrolled are depriving Native Americans of the services they deserve.

When Ray Bellcourt tried speaking to the issue at a public meeting, he said none of the public officials addressed his question.

"I had the police surrounding me and ready to escort me out," he said.

A number of the protesters said whoever needs to bring up an issue at a public meeting is now asked to contact the officials beforehand and sometimes the issues are not even addressed.

"She's taking away our rights to participate in our affairs," Bellcourt said.

Vizenor isn't the only one who's not receiving constituent support.

Former chairman Eugene "Bugger" McArthur is running for the office of secretary treasurer this year. He's also general manager of the Shooting Star Casino.

He was reportedly ousted in the late 1990s and a memo dated June 1, 1998 by Vizenor - then secretary treasurer - said he attempted to discredit and blame the tribal council and "other innocent people for his political demise."

The memo adds that McArthur "tried to intimidate and control the council with his anger, abuse, and manipulation."

Former Shooting Star Casino employee Jeff Thompson said he was let go from his job in January and was treated unfairly and still doesn't know the reason for his termination.

"I just want to get rid of him (McArthur)," he said. "I feel that he's wrongfully there and should be removed."

What's frustrating to White Earth members is how Vizenor condemned Arthur in 1998, but she's now supporting his campaign.

A letter sent to Vizenor last month from various reservation members stated complaints in regards to favoritism in hiring, ignoring Native American preferences and unfair treatment by the casino management.

"Threats and intimidation by management, name-calling and bullying," were some of the complaints stated in the letter.

White Earth member Lucille Silk said after various attempts to contact Vizenor about members' concerns, they received a response that Vizenor will address those issues at the next Reservation Business Committee meeting at 9 a.m. April 15.

Vizenor could not be reached for comment.