Cass County: County, tribal officials celebrate cooperation in joint meeting

WALKER--It's comforting to know things are getting done. Things are running a lot smoother. This was the take Leech Lake Tribal Council Representative LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III had on the benefit of the tribal council and Cass County Board part...


WALKER-It's comforting to know things are getting done. Things are running a lot smoother.

This was the take Leech Lake Tribal Council Representative LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III had on the benefit of the tribal council and Cass County Board partaking in what have become annual joint meetings to try to work together on issues.

The tribal council and county board met Monday, Nov. 26, at Northern Lights Event Center south of Walker.

County and tribal government employees work together on joint projects to benefit the residents of their overlapping jurisdictions. The open dialogue has led to open trust between the two government bodies, Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson Sr. said.

That trust enabled the council and board to talk about issues upon which they have disagreed and to work out solutions both bodies feel comfortable about, Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk said. It also enabled the commissioners and council members to get to know each other personally, he added.


The two bodies have better represented their constituents and been more successful by jointly lobbying the state and federal governments, Tribal Secretary-Treasurer Arthur LaRose said.

Sheriff Tom Burch said his department and the tribal police department work together very productively. Tribal Police Chief Ken Washington noted his department had four or five officers when they first signed a cooperative agreement with the sheriff's department about 20 years ago. Today, there are over 20 tribal police officers. He said his department will work with the sheriff's department in 2019 to review whether updates are needed to the cooperative agreement.

Another cooperative project is to assign street addresses to every occupied dwelling on the reservation. This not only will help for responding to 911 emergency calls, but also will make it easier for Leech Lake band members to register to vote. An absentee voting site was set up this year at Cass Lake in the Leech Lake government center to make voting more convenient for band members.

County Probation Director Jim Schneider reported some state juvenile court cases are now at the tribal court building in Cass Lake, saving people the drive to county courtrooms at Walker. County probation also meets with clients weekly at Cass Lake.

These are some of the ways the county responded to the issue the tribal council raised at last year's meeting about the high percentage of tribal members who do not have a car available to them to get to Walker. The percentage of people now attending court hearings scheduled at Cass Lake has improved some over those scheduled at Walker, Schneider said. In 2019, the band and county will explore the possibility of hosting state traffic court at the Leech Lake Judicial Center.

Schneider praised the county board for its support for the 4-H program and the tribal council for its support for youth programs on the reservation. He especially praised the council's use of a $164,000 state grant to host a youth leadership conference and a summit on drugs.

These programs direct kids in the right direction, Schneider said.

County Engineer Darrick Anderson reported he has been working with tribal officials to implement a program to eliminate noxious and invasive weeds from county road ditches in the most effective and environmentally safe ways. There will be a pilot project on County Highway 13 (Onigum Road) in 2019.


Art Chase, tribal highway official, reported he continues to work with Minnesota Department of Transportation toward getting turn lanes on highways 371/200 at Shingobee Island, where the band owns a restaurant and casino. The county has supported that effort. The band also will work with MnDOT and the county on projects to repave streets and complete a second phase of a bike trail at Bena in 2019.

Gaalswyk invited U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives to Monday's meeting to enable them to talk with tribal officials about the Leech Lake Band's position on the Gull Dam Road. That road, originally built on Corps property about 100 years ago, is a city of East Gull Lake road. It was repaired due to a washout last year, but the question was raised then about whether it should continue to be maintained under the existing agreement or should be moved.

The county has supported leaving it in its present location.

However, others have suggested moving it, because there are believed to be Indian burial mounds there. Leech Lake tribal officials have not taken a formal position on the issue to this point. Army Corps representatives did talk informally with tribal council representatives before and after the meeting Monday.

Earl Robinson, Leech Lake Human Services division director, and Michele Piprude, Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services director, cited a shortage of social workers to staff their respective departments. Leech Lake Human Services took over management of programs for band children when it was first offered as a pilot program. Both governments report that shift in responsibility and funding has worked well. County Administrator Joshua Stevenson said Cass County is not in the financial crisis today some surrounding counties are experiencing because Cass made this change several years ago.

The band participates in the county's child protection screening team. It is expected also to have representation when the county forms an adult protection screening team in 2019 for elder and vulnerable adult cases. Cass employees see 250 social service clients a month at an office in a tribal government building at Cass Lake.

Ben Benoit, tribal environmental director, reported the band is close to getting funding for community wastewater systems for the Stony Point and Sugar Point areas by Leech Lake.

The two governments coordinate their solid waste programs.


The tribal council chairman said band members have told him they have a hard time getting to historic hunting land, because a lot of new land is posted "No Hunting." He asked whether more land is being sold for development. Leech Lake Reservation overlaps portions of two other counties along with being part of Cass. Stevenson, who was land commissioner before he was appointed county administrator, said Cass has a no net loss of land policy, so does not sell more land than it buys in any year. The county attempts to purchase land adjacent to areas it already owns and generally sells non-conservation land such as city lots and isolated acreage tracts.

All county managed land is open to hunters, Stevenson said, adding his staff generally collects a pickup truck load of illegally posted no hunting signs from county land each hunting season. He said he could provide the band with land ownership maps to determine whether new "No Hunting" postings are on private land or have been posted illegally on county land.

Land ownership maps also are posted on the county's website at .

A Cass and Leech Lake initiative started a few years ago is still working its way through the Minnesota Legislature. It is an effort to increase from the present 10 percent the portion Minnesota shares of sales taxes collected from Indian reservations the state pays back to the counties where Indian casinos are located. Last year it got a hearing, but did not pass. It will be on the Association of Minnesota Counties legislative agenda for lobbying in 2019.

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