Problems At Leech Lake Indian Reservation
This is the second in a series of three articles that deals with the issues of Indian Sovereignty and the deplorable living conditions on many of the reservations in the United States.
I make no judgments in writing these articles. I will leave it to you, the reader, to decide which issues are valid and which are sensationalist journalism. I would hope that you decide that there is nothing sensational regarding these stories, but that there is, indeed, something profoundly sad and disturbing about them.
My hope is to raise awareness about the social disease that runs unabated on many reservations in this country. What you are about to read refers to the Leech Lake Indian Reservation of northern Minnesota. This writer does not live there, but I have interviewed members of the Ojibwe Tribe who do live there. They have no reason to lie to me; they gain nothing by telling lies. Originally they contacted me after reading an article I wrote about Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota.
But I am getting ahead of myself. First some background on Leech Lake Reservation.
Leech Lake Reservation Overview
In the north-central Minnesota counties of Cass, Itasca, Beltrami, and Hubbard, lies the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. The reservation covers 972.517 square miles of land and 337.392 square miles of water, and it has, as of the 2010 Census, 10,660 residents.
Those residents are members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, one of six bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Leech Lake is the largest reservation in Minnesota in terms of total area, and it was established as part of the 1855 Treaty and Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
The reservation consists of eleven villages and two communities, the largest of which is Cass Lake, which sits on the shores of the lake of the same name. Because of the unique geography of the land, expansion of human settlements is difficult, so that most settlements consist of a row of homes on both sides of one road.
For more information
- Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
Official website of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
And still more information
- Indian Affairs - State of Minnesota :: Tribal Nations - Leech Lake
Indian Affairs: tribal information on the Leech Lake nation
Leech Lake Tribal Council
The Leech Lake Tribal Council consists of the following members:
· Carri Jones, Chairwoman
· Donald Finn, Sec/Treasurer
· Robbie Howe, District 1 Representative
· Steve White, District 2 Representative
· LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III, District 3 Representative
In addition, the Leech Lake Tribal Police Department consists of the following:
· 15 patrol officers
· 4 patrol sergeants
· 1 domestic violence investigator
· 1 criminal investigator
· 1 drug investigator
· 1 gang investigator
· 1 firearms investigator
The Tribal Police Department works in conjunction with the Cass Lake Police Department, Cass County Sheriff, Minnesota State BCA, several Federal Agencies and the Minnesota State Patrol.
There is also a Tribal Court which handles reservation cases not involving felonies. Felonies for the most part are handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The original determination regarding jurisdiction is determined by the investigator who first handles the crime investigation.
The Untold Story of Leech Lake
This writer has debated for some time now how to tell this story. After writing a story about Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota, and in particular about child abuse problems on that reservation, I was contacted by a former resident of Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota. Her claims of abuse on that reservation are indeed disturbing.
After some personal debate, I have decided to let her tell the story in her own words. I will not tell you her name because she fears for her own safety.
“To give you an understanding of how I am familiar with the "inside" information about what goes on at Leech Lake, I am including a synopsis of my personal story and anguish over a little girl that my partner and I were intending to adopt and provide a loving home for. It is a complicated, but 100% true story. I've left out names to protect the little girl, but we'd be happy to talk to you more about what my partner has witnessed in the 12 years he lived on Leech Lake. Our story follows, then I'm including some documents I have downloaded and some links to Internet sites. To sum everything up in a few sentences: By comparing notes and experiences, conducting my own research into the history ICWA and specifically child welfare on Leech Lake, and after having my partner's "traditionally adopted" daughter abducted from us this summer, we now have a very good idea about what the kids are being used for: money, money, money and sex, sex, sex. This money supports gangs, casinos, corrupt relatives, corrupt non-relatives, sex trafficking operations, sexual abuse/incest, tribal governments and political agendas. The kids on the rez have no say and no representation in their issues. They are slaves to the system, and they DO NOT RECEIVE EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW OR THE US CONSTITUTION. Furthermore, they are trapped. The kids in foster care are not permitted to leave the reservation for more than a month. This we did not know until our story happened. I sat and listened this summer while a former AIM member, who was also instrumental in having the ICWA law written, told me that "what we do with our children is no one else's business." This person has custody and receives payment for 3 grandchildren, 2 of which don't even live with her. Once they get custody, they ship them off to anyone who will have them (they call it "respite care,") even to other reservations. They do it without any intervention or checking up by social workers. This is why the problems can't be looked at as isolated to a particular reservation.
The law that makes all this possible is the ICWA. More and more tribes have total autonomy over their child welfare programs. This is the case with the Minnesota reservations. There are no checks and balances. It looks good on the web sites that say there are checks and balances, but in reality there is no oversight. The very people that run child welfare are on the take committing crimes and fraud. Those that allow this to happen include judges, lawyers, social workers, teachers, principals, mandated reporters of every kind, state officials, ICWA employees and proponents…the list goes on.
What happened on Spirit Lake are not isolated incidents. The very same things happen daily on other reservations and there are no consequences for the perpetrators, and no justice for the victims. We are trying to speak out on behalf of the little girl that we lost, and for many other children who have no voice. Even the children that are not in the foster care system are being abused (emotionally, physically, sexually, monetarily) by their own parents, grandparents and family members. Even if a family member wants to get help, there is no one to go to. If you speak up, you get punished, even killed and no one can do a damn thing about it. This is not hearsay, this is fact. We are happy to tell you all the stories we know if you know someone who would listen to them and open an investigation. Also spinning out of control are the abuses to the Food Stamp program and every other social welfare initiative meant to benefit the kids. The parents/guardians sell the food stamps for less than face value for drugs, alcohol and gambling. The kids go hungry. They also collect the free clothing, school supplies, drugs…that are handed out for the kids, then pawn or sell them for the same purpose. They steal Christmas presents from their own children and pawn them for the same thing. The stories and examples we can tell you are endless. I'm not basing this on hearsay, I'm telling you this because it has been witnessed firsthand, and to the adults on the reservation, all of these behaviors are TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE. Babies are fed energy drinks in their bottles, forced to smoke pot and given over-the-counter cold medications to get them stoned so that the parents can party. An 8-year-old boy was left to watch his sick baby sibling that was suffering from chicken pox. The baby died from dehydration and the little boy blamed himself. A baby girl was left in a swing in a yard across the street from Indian Health Services as the adults partied all day. They forgot the little girl until nightfall. She had fried to death in the sun. Nothing happened to the parents though because the father was the brother of the tribal chairman at the time. These are just a few examples.”
Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota
A plea for Spirit Lake Nation
True or Not?
Again, this woman has no reason to lie to me, at least none that I can think of. She is simply concerned and frustrated, and asked me to voice those concerns. Prior to investigating the allegations about Spirit Lake Nation, I would have rejected these claims as ridiculous. I no longer can do that!
I have heard from many residents of Spirit Lake since my article appears several months ago, and all of those residents corroborated the story of abuse. I cannot, in good conscience, ignore this latest plea for help from another reservation.
Do these types of crimes happen on all Indian reservations? Of course not, but that really isn’t the point now is it? If they are happening on only one reservation then it needs to be addressed, and it most certainly needs to be written about and awareness needs to be raised.
As mentioned in my earlier article, Sovereignty is an issue ripe for debate, and emotions run high with each discussion. Is the question regarding Leech Lake one of sovereignty or one of basic human rights?
Elections were recently held at Leech Lake Reservation, with a new Tribal Chairwoman elected in a hotly contested process. My hope is that this new chairwoman, Carri Jones, will respond immediately to these problems, and take whatever steps are necessary to insure that the children of Leech Lake Reservation receive the protection they deserve.
I have no personal feelings or opinions about sovereignty. I am a white man and as such my opinions are practically worthless regarding how Native Americans handle their political status. My only concern is for the children and women who are abused. Regarding that matter, my opinion does count, because we are all human beings and as such deserve to be treated with respect, free from such abuse.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)