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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Last update: September 03, 2006 9:03 PM

Reservation battle fuels Mille Lacs hostility

A leaked county memo and a jeering of Indian veterans at a July parade have raised tensions between the Ojibwe band and neighbors.

Larry Oakes, Star Tribune

Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Kolb says it was a private memo to department heads and not meant for public consumption. But someone leaked it, and officials of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe were alarmed about what ended up in their hands.

"This is just a reminder to make sure all of your staff know that there is no longer a reservation in [the] county," Kolb's memo stated. "... Please make sure that none of your literature, contracts, web sites or any other documents in your department refer to a 'reservation' in any way."

It was the latest chafe point between the band and some neighbors over whether the original 61,000-acre Mille Lacs Reservation still exists and who's in charge there on the central Minnesota land.

Both sides say the dispute has created tension that probably fed into a July incident in which a small number of spectators at the Isle Days Parade booed, jeered and made disrespectful gestures toward Indian war veterans on a float.

That incident drew an strong response from the Mille Lacs Messenger, in Isle, (population 710) on the southeast shore of Lake Mille Lacs.

Editor Mike Kallok said he normally walks a neutral line between the band and its detractors but felt that booing veterans went way over the line.

"I am truly disgusted!" Kallok wrote in the Messenger a few days after the parade.

" ... What ... prompted this disgraceful display, and why was it tolerated? It seems that the actions were motivated purely by race."

Melanie Benjamin, chairwoman of the Mille Lacs Band, said the Isle Days incident and county memo confirm that "racism is alive and well around Mille Lacs Lake. Our people have experienced it many times as individuals, but I'm somewhat appalled that people would show disrespect to veterans."

City Council Member Lowell Hillbrand, who was in charge of Isle Days this year, said he suspects that what occurred is being blown out of proportion.

"From what I understand, this involved a very small number of people who were standing outside a bar they'd been in all afternoon," he said.

Kolb said her memo had nothing to do with race. She said it was simply a legal position in the county's disagreement with the band over how much authority each has within the disputed boundaries.

"The reservation was long ago disestablished, and what exists now are lands held in trust for the [band]," her memo argued.

It continued: "The county has to be consistent in their references to trust lands in the county. This is even more important now, as we have had several challenges to the county's jurisdiction in both criminal matters and zoning matters."

In 2003, the county and a bank asked the U.S. court system to declare whether the reservation still exists, but the suit and an appeal were dismissed on technical grounds.

That left both sides in limbo and did nothing to alleviate tensions from a previous court case the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the band still has treaty privileges to take and regulate fish and game.

"I think it's fair to say there is resentment around Mille Lacs over tribal netting," Kallok wrote in an e-mail. "... Have there been hard feelings? Without a doubt. Have they been expressed in the wrong way at times? Yes."

Vets felt unwelcome

Ojibwe leaders, while acknowledging that their relatively newfound casino wealth and legal assertiveness may be changing the balance of power in the region, say no amount of tension excuses what occurred in Isle.

Mary Sam, who was riding in the truck pulling the float full of veterans and their wives, said many people refused to stand as is customary, a group of older women jeered them with "thumbs down" and someone threw "something dark," striking the truck's windshield hard enough to make it crack the next day.

The float is a 30-foot trailer with banners that said, "American Indian Veterans and Ladies Auxiliary." It has the U.S. flag and flags honoring Minnesota, POWs and the band. A sound system plays an Ojibwe honor song.

In a letter to the Messenger, American Veterans Post 53 commander Kenneth Weyaus Sr. said the reception the float gets in Isle each year is drastically different than in other area towns, where "we have been greeted with a warm welcome, honor and plenty of cheering."

The veterans have vowed to not return to Isle until town leaders apologize and assure them that disrespect won't be tolerated. The Ojibwe applauded Kallok but say they wonder why no town official has condemned what happened.

Mayor Mike DeCoursey said he wasn't aware of the controversy because he doesn't read the paper. "That's a terrible thing to say, but I don't like what they've written about me," he said.

Hillbrand said that while the Mille Lacs veterans are welcome back any time, the city has no plans to apologize. "The people who should apologize are the two people out of 500 who acted out of line," he said. "We have no reason to apologize or not apologize."

Hillbrand said he believes "99 percent" of Isle residents have no prejudice against the Ojibwe. But many do disagree with them politically, he said.

"The Mille Lacs Band is pushing to get control over a nonexistent reservation," he said. "We're saying that if we're all American, everyone should be treated equal, and that goes both ways."

The Rev. Chris Hill of Light of Cross Lutheran Church in Garrison said both cultures have racism but often don't admit it.

"When I'm among Native Americans, I sometimes feel that I'm being judged differently because I'm white," Hill said. "Likewise, I can hear [racism] in private conversations with non-natives.

"That's where you find a lot of it, below the surface."

2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.


Reaction Grows to Anti-indian Spitting Incident

Recent media coverage shows growing reaction to a July incident in which Mille Lacs Band veterans riding on a float in the Isle Days Parade were booed, jeered and spit upon.

A July 19 editorial in the Mille Lacs Messenger by Mike Kallok expressed disgust at the incident.

Rob's comment
The stereotype here is the notion that someone can deny the existence of an Indian reservation even though the courts have affirmed it. The booing of the Mille Lacs veterans is simply disgraceful, as editor Kallok notes. It confirms that the reservation question is about race, not some technical point about jurisdictional boundaries.

Related links
Indian rights = special rights
The facts about tribal sovereignty

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