Candidates square off Tuesday in Fond du Lac General ElectionFond du Lac Tribal Chairwoman Karen Diver will face her predecessor in next Tuesday’s General Election. Diver goes up against Peter J. Defoe, whom she replaced in February 2007.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Fond du Lac Tribal Chairwoman Karen Diver will face her predecessor in next Tuesday’s General Election. Diver goes up against Peter J. Defoe, whom she replaced in February 2007. Defoe had served as tribal chairman since 2004, stepping down for undisclosed reasons on Sept. 11, 2006. That left one unexpired year in his term that needed to be filled. In a subsequent special election, Diver won the mandate of the people to become the Band’s first female tribal chairperson.
In this year’s April 3 Primary Election, Diver garnered 47.28 percent of the overall vote among the field of 10 candidates, followed by top challenger Defoe at 21.23 percent, to earn the right to go on to next Tuesday’s General Election. The voter turnout was reportedly one of the highest levels seen in a primary as 36 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
Also seeking office in next Tuesday’s upcoming General Election are District I (Cloquet) representative Wally Dupuis (incumbent) and challenger Kelly Diver.
In District 3 (Brookston), Kevin Dupuis Sr. and Bryan “Bear” Bosto will vie for the position of district representative to replace the former incumbent Mary Northrup, who passed away last year.
Polls will be open on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Band enrollees interested in voting absentee are encouraged to contact the tribal election board as soon as possible for the appropriate form.
In her candidate statement following April’s Primary Election, Diver called attention to the fact that the Fond du Lac Band has had a period of considerable growth in nearly all areas.
“We built partnerships with allies and protected the Band’s interests when necessary,” she stated.
Diver also pointed out that since she took office, tribal governance is more efficient and professional.
“The Reservation Business Committee has worked hard to build its working relationships and the understanding that being a team among ourselves is important,” said Diver. “Our efforts are focused on effective management in cooperation with staff and planning for the future.”
Diver said she received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, adding that the focus of her studies while at Harvard was on best practices in tribal government.
“With 24 years of management experience, my skills and abilities have been proven in a professional environment,” Diver stated. “I have spent a considerable amount of time being a community volunteer on nonprofits boards, learning how to effectively manage a board of directors and a wide range of program activities. This background has helped the Reservation Business Committee to move significantly forward in its stewardship of Band resources and continued development of its service delivery and governance.”
Regarding her goals for the next four years if re-elected, Diver pledged continued hard work and putting in the time necessary to understand the issues facing the Band; advocating for the Band at the local, state and federal levels; and overseeing continued improvement in the management of Band services, management of the Band’s resources and communication with Band members on issues, concerns and solutions.
When questioned by the Pine Journal regarding her opinion on what the relationship should and/or could be between the reservation and the surrounding communities, Diver responded, “The health and well-being of the Fond du Lac Band is essential to the area. As the largest employer with 2,200 employees, the success of the Fond du Lac Band is crucial to the area economy.”
Challenger Peter Defoe had a slightly different take on that same question.
“I believe the reservation cannot isolate itself,” said Defoe. “We cannot afford to be poor partners in the community. I want the reservation to always associate with the people of Cloquet and Duluth. Those people are our customers. As far as the dispute [between the reservation and the city of Duluth over profit-sharing from the Fond du Luth Casino and related issues], some folks have said to me that until this dispute is solved they’re not going to go back to our casino – to eat or otherwise.”
Defoe said he is also disappointed that the reservation stopped contributing to the fireworks in Cloquet.
“I always thought that was a big plus for us, especially for how little it actually cost,” said Defoe.
Defoe said when he was tribal chairman, he tried to make it a point to pay regular visits to such people as the county attorney, sheriff, Cloquet city administrator and mayor. If elected, he said he would like to get back into that habit to help pave the way for better relationships with the community at large.
Regarding other issues, Defoe called for more disclosure on behalf of the reservation’s administration.
“Not enough information is shared with the people,” he said. “There is only a small group of people who are ‘in the know.’ They don’t seem to tell anything to the individual Band members. For one thing, they no longer give financial details and statements to the reservation,” he said.
Defoe said when he formerly held office, the RBC used to pass out copies of the reservation’s current financial statement at the open meetings that were held monthly or quarterly.
“There were no secrets,” he said.
In Defoe’s candidate statement, he called for a review of the election board and the activities of its members, saying he’s received numerous phone calls from individuals stating they were told by the election board that only Fond du Lac Band members living in Minnesota and Wisconsin could vote in the election, which he said is untrue.
Finally, Defoe cited the disparaging manner in which some enrollees are being treated by the RBC, such as lack of respect, intimidation and firing.
“It is time to stop this behavior and get back to having respectful, honest discussions about the reservation and our people,” said Defoe.
District I incumbent Wally Dupuis lobbied for the continuation of positive reservation growth, citing his strong working knowledge of each of the programs, entities, and enterprises.
“The Fond du Lac Band has successfully created short- and long-term employment opportunities, addressed our housing and program needs, streamlined our service delivery systems, created economic opportunities, and have implemented programs that reach out to our off-reservation members,” stated Dupuis.
He further pointed to the effort at building and maintaining safe and healthy communities and supporting and promoting programs specifically structured to involve the elders and youth.
Dupuis said he is committed to successfully building on the numerous positive accomplishments that the reservation has experienced over the past few years.
District I challenger Kelly Diver states he is running for the position to “advocate for fairness and equality for all band members.”
He proposed that salaries of tribal leaders be evaluated and adjusted, saying the reservation’s economy cannot sustain those amounts.
Diver went on address Minnesota Chippewa Tribe constitutional reform.
“We must abide by it before we can reform it,” he said. “Fond du Lac is the only reservation out of all six that has not abided by it for over 40 years.”
He believes the reservation election committee should not be appointed by its governing body and suggested a lottery system to provide fairness to all members who wish to participate in tribal elections.
District III candidate Bryan “Bear” Bosto cited his managerial experience at the Sawyer and Brookston community centers as best suiting the needs and demands of a district representative.
He added that if elected to office, it is his desire to reopen the Dottie Smith Center in Brookston, continue to work on the lacrosse camp and be an active mentor to youth by being involved in the Brookston Center 4-H Tribal Youth Mentorship Program.
District III challenger Kevin Dupuis stated he takes great pride in the fact he has educated himself over the last 19 years on tribal politics.
He stressed that during the time he served as the RBC’s secretary/treasurer from 2002-2006, he was not afraid to make important decisions and called for the restoration of relationships on the reservation and the elimination of intimidation that he said currently exists on the reservation.