Northrup removed from RBC seat
For perhaps the first time in the history of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, a member of the five-person governing body has been removed from office as the result of a petition submitted by band members and a subsequent vote by the Reservation Business Committee (RBC).
District 1 Cloquet RBC Representative Vanessa Northrup was accused of signing and depositing a check for $2,000 from the University of Minnesota into her personal bank account in August 2016 that was intended for a reservation project.
RBC Secretary and Treasurer Ferdinand Martineau previously said Northrup repaid the money after the check was discovered missing as part of a routine audit in 2017 and traced to her bank account.
The band members' petition — signed by more than 20 percent of resident eligible voters — asserted that Northrup had committed "malfeasance in the handling of tribal affairs" and requesting she be removed from office, as is outlined in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) Constitution.
In a statement sent to the Pine Journal on Monday, July 30, the RBC noted the vote was called after band members signed and submitted the petition, which required a review by the RBC.
It was the second petition submitted by band members; the RBC rejected the first because it was filed more than 90 days after the date of the first signature.
"The Fond du Lac membership has a right to sign a petition to remove an RBC member," RBC Chairman Kevin Dupuis said in the statement. "Once we receive a petition, the RBC has a process that it needs to follow. We followed that process and reached our decision."
Petition spokesperson Brian Bosto estimated there were close to 75 people at Northrup's hearing in the gymnasium. Band members watched as Dupuis explained the process and asked attendees to behave respectfully. Bosto read the petition and Northrup gave her statement. Although it would have been permitted, she did not call any witnesses.
Bosto called Northrup's actions "inexcusable" during the hearing, and pointed out the band had met the burden of proof of wrongdoing, including Northrup's signature on the back of the check, which was deposited into her personal bank account.
During the hearing, Northrup argued it wasn't a case of corruption, but rather a mistake she was truly sorry for.
After the hearing was held, the five RBC members — Dupuis, Northrup, Martineau, District II Rep. Bruce Savage and District III Rep. Roger Smith — went into executive session to deliberate. Bosto said four of them came out about 70 minutes later and announced Northrup had been removed from office by a vote of 4-1. Northrup voted "no."
After the hearing, Bosto said they had done what people thought was impossible.
"I feel we've been given justice today," Bosto told the Pine Journal. "For the first time in our history, we met the burden of proof to remove a sitting RBC member. For the first time in our history, we went through these proceedings from start to finish."
The MCT constitution requires a two-thirds vote of RBC members to remove any officer or RBC member. In addition to malfeasance, members may also be removed for dereliction of neglect of duty; unexcused failure to attend two regular meetings in succession; conviction of a felony in any county, state or federal court while serving on the RBC; and refusal to comply with any provisions of the constitution and bylaws of the tribe.
Felony theft charges against Northrup were filed in Sixth District Carlton County Court in December, but as long as Northrup completes a diversion program offered by the Carlton County Attorney's Office, those charges will be dismissed.
Northrup said she was surprised by the outcome of the vote because she didn't believe her actions met the definition of malfeasance.
"I never intended to deprive the band of a 'Bridge Project' between the Ojibway school and the Tribal Center," she said. "I've worked hard to build our community up. I treat people the way I want to be treated and believe mistakes can be forgiven. I can't imagine a world where we tell our people otherwise."
After the vote, Bosto thanked by name more than a dozen people who helped gather signatures for the petition, Martineau for his initial request for action, the 240 people who signed the petition and all the "mothers and grandmothers that stood up."
"The people spoke loudly and clearly," Bosto said.
Efforts to reach Dupuis or Martineau to answer procedural questions before press time were unsuccessful. However, Bosto said the RBC has until Thursday, Aug. 9, to make an election announcement to fill the District 1 seat, and they should have a seated winner by early December.
He didn't say if he would be running for that seat. However, Northrup confirmed she is going to run again.
"I promised Cloquet District 1 four years of my life and I plan on keeping that promise," she said.
Northrup was first elected to her seat in June 2016.