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Tribal panel votes against censure of two Fond du Lac leaders

Jana Hollingsworth

Forum News Service

Jana Peterson

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Allegations against two Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribal leaders were dismissed Tuesday during a special meeting held by executive members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT).

Fond du Lac Band Chairwoman Karen Diver and Secretary/Treasurer Ferdinand Martineau were accused by fellow Reservation Business Council (RBC) member Kevin Dupuis Sr. of violating the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe constitution, which triggered a special meeting on the Bois Forte Reservation in Tower.

Dupuis alleged that Diver failed to follow constitutional voting requirements in regard to ethics complaints the council investigated and voted to dismiss in recent months, and that Martineau — as treasurer — failed to “prepare an annual budget” for the Band’s expenditures, according to tribal documents.

Dupuis asked that Diver and Martineau be censured by the MCT’s Tribal Executive Committee (TEC), which is made up of the chair and secretary/treasurer of each tribal council from the six Bands included in the MCT.

If the committee had found either official guilty of violating the constitution it would have allowed the Fond du Lac tribal council to do one of three things: nothing; remove either or both from office; or hold a recall election by its membership, explained Gary Frazer, executive director of the MCT.

The committee voted 8-0 in closed session to dismiss the allegations.

Diver and Martineau, while part of the executive committee, did not participate in the vote and were not in the room during discussion of the charges, Frazer said. Non-tribal members were not allowed in the hearing, and the closed session was open to only executive committee members.

Diver disagreed that the allegation against her was a constitutional issue, noting that the Fond du Lac council, in its decisions with the ethics complaints, was governing locally by consensus, which it has the right to do.

“This is taking time and attention from what we are supposed to be doing, which is governing and looking forward,” she said in an interview with the Duluth News Tribune. “I hope the community members involved in this … find more positive ways to contribute rather than ways that are destructive.”

Martineau said he failed to prepare a development budget for one year, which is a portion of the Band’s overall budget and support money for programs.

“We have a $200 million budget and this is probably one-tenth of that,” he said. “In eight years if that’s the only violation that they could find I feel pretty good about that.”

About 60 people waited for the decision following the 9 a.m. hearing. Dupuis said he was too upset to elaborate on his allegations, once he heard the outcome.

Fond du Lac Band “concerned Band member” Lynn Olson, who attended the meeting and who has been part of a group trying to “watchdog” the RBC, said Martineau admitted during the open hearing that he had violated his job description.

“So when they went into closed session and voted not to censure him, everyone’s jaws dropped when they announced their decision,” Olson said.

While waiting an hour for the committee to deliberate, a handful of supporters had huddled with Dupuis. Some questioned why he wasn’t allowed to join in the committee discussion. Frazer later said it was because he isn’t part of the executive committee.

Kevin Dupuis Sr. did not return numerous calls seeking comment for this story.

Tuesday’s hearing wasn’t the first complaint about members of the Fond du Lac RBC. The RBC has in recent months dealt with dozens of ethics complaints, Diver said, with the majority aimed at Martineau, herself and council member Wally Dupuis. The RBC decided the ethics complaints were all unfounded.

“At least [Kevin Dupuis Sr.] was allowed to have his own table and present evidence against Karen and Ferd,” Olson said, comparing the MCT hearing to a Fond du Lac hearing on Wally Dupuis held earlier this month, at which Wally Dupuis was allowed to present evidence and speak but his accusers were not. The allegations against Dupuis at the FDL hearing were dismissed by the RBC in closed session as well.

Petitions aimed at ousting Diver and Martineau were also circulated on the reservation earlier this year, but both were dismissed because the RBC found they didn’t have enough signatures. The signatures of 20 percent of on-reservation residents — a little over 200 — are needed to gain a hearing for allegations, and only enough signatures for Wally Dupuis were obtained.

Diver claimed much of the petitions and complaints are part of the upcoming election season, “but the level of rhetoric and vitriol has grown to a point where we are really worried about people having appropriate boundaries,” she said, citing shouting matches in public meetings, harassment and intimidation.

“It was reaching a crisis point,” Diver said, referring to the level of vitriol expressed at meetings, “where I was starting to worry not only about my personal safety but the personal safety of other Band members.”

But it’s begun to taper off, she said, and Band members are expressing “displeasure” about what they’re hearing.

Olson said her group has not threatened anyone — “All we’ve done is put information out there and asked questions,” she said — and noted that RBC members make allegations about being harassed or threatened in columns in the tribal newspaper, but don’t allow regular Band members to express opinion in the same newspaper.

Martineau, who is up for re-election, said he’s been involved in reservation politics since 1977, “and this is probably the worst I have ever seen it,” with regard to what he calls “election positioning.”

Primary elections for the secretary/treasurer position and Sawyer RBC Representative are set for April 1 on the Fond du Lac Reservation, when multiple candidates will be winnowed down to two for a June 10 election.

Fond du Lac member Pete DeFoe also attended Tuesday’s meeting. DeFoe, a current candidate for the secretary/treasurer position and a former chairman who ran against Diver in the last election, said he disagreed with the decision.

“I don’t think the TEC is going to go against their own,” he said, noting both governmental bodies are flawed. “I don’t think you should have a government like that, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I am running.”

He said Kevin Dupuis should have been given a chance to respond to the Tuesday decision.

Fond du Lac member Sharon Schuck has started a petition to remove Kevin Dupuis.

His allegations against Diver and Martineau, she said, are false.

“He’s taken things out of context and twisted information,” Schuck said. “[Diver, Martineau and Wally Dupuis] are doing a terrific job. They have done so much for this reservation; we’ve seen more programs, housing and employment. I have nothing negative to say about them.”

Olson said she’s waiting to see if Shuck’s petition is supported by enough Band members to get a hearing, because she’s seen no supporting evidence with the petition.