Fight For Justice

On the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Reservation

KBIC Happenings

FFJ Beginings

Hello, my name is Rose Edwards, my Indian names are Wau-wau-shk-aesh Deer which was given to me by my Grandfather when I was a child, my other/adult Ojibwa name is Migadideekwe (mih-gah-dee-day-ay-kway) Fighting/Strong Heart Women.

I am a ½ Indian from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). My mother is a full blooded tribal member who was born here on the reservation. During the government's of plan of relocation ( to move Indians off the reservation into the cities to assimilate them into the 'melting pot' of America) my mother was relocated to Los Angeles where she met my father who was a non-Indian... and thus I was born in Los Angeles. Our family has always had a 'connection' to the land here on the reservation. For as long as I can remember we would travel back to the rez every year to get in touch with our native side and visit family. After living and working in the city for far too long I, along with my son was moved back to the reservation for good.

My family has always been active in tribal politics, my grandfather won a land mark case in the Michigan Supreme Court on hunting and fishing rights for Native Americans called the "Jondreau Decision". Other family members have served on the Tribal Council, in the tribal court as Judges, etc... So what happened in January of 1995 was so devastating.

I am a member of a group called "Fight For Justice". This is a grass roots organization, it consists of elders, men, women, and children of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and other Native Americans and Non-Native Americans. Our aim is to reverse the illegal actions that Fred Dakota and his illegally elected council members perpetrated in eliminating tribal members who disagree with their policies, which include, but not limited to denying people their basic civil rights of voting, the right to free speech, the right to gather and have meetings, harassment from the Tribal Police, etc.... So far 202 people have been striped of their birth rights. We've held weekly meetings since January 1995 which consisted of fundraisers which included cake walks, bake sales, pop can drive, donated items for raffles, potluck, and donations of monies. Auctions, fish dinners and numerous generous donations have been given for "Fight For Justice".

Here is some background on the events that led to the takeover of the my tribal center.


Election Nullification

We recognize that under the general law, the results of an election are subject to contest for irregularities in the election procedures. We have no quarrel with such a principle. That is not what is at issue here.

Prior to an election the governing body, or an Election Board to whom authority is delegated, make various decisions regarding the procedures, format, rolls of eligible voters, place and hours of voting. Those decisions are made by political bodies, whose deliberations are subject to objection, debate and appeal, if necessary.

On election day, and thereafter, various regularities may occur: unregistered voters may vote, improper ballots may be counted, pollwatchers may be absent or act improperly, etc. These are the unforeseeable - they cannot be prevented by prior objection, and are proper grounds for post-election challenge where the outcome is provably affected by the irregularities.

We itemize such irregularities to make the point that no such election or post-election irregularities are at issue here. The only irregularity is the attempt of a rump council to nullify the unpalatable result of a duly conducted election.

The sole ground suggested for nullification is that various persons on an approved roll of members and eligible voters may not have records demonstrating that they meet an unprecedented, rigid interpretation of a membership clause in the tribal constitution.

This is not a case where a novel class of persons is suddenly and by stealth imported into an election. The enrollment of these persons conformed with policies and interpretations (a) approved by a unanimous tribal council vote in 1976, presided over by Fred Dakota, the present leader of the rump majority; (b) resulting in a tribal membership roll whose acceptance was mandated by the Congress in 1988: 25 USC 1300h-6; (c) determining subsequent eligible voter rolls including the roll for the election of the current rump majority; and (d) securing a congressional mandate that such voters be eligible, not only for tribal elections, but secretarial elections as well: 25 USC 1300h-7.

Neither the roll of eligible voters, nor the policies and tribal/federal precedents which had resulted in such roll, nor the fact that such rolls had been utilized in their own elections, were a secret to the rump majority. Their attack on the election and the eligible voters who participated is neither a matter of discovery nor a matter of principle.

If, notwithstanding the body of tribal/federal precedent supporting the existing enrollment policies, principled Council members believe that a new, more rigid interpretation ought to govern, it is reasonable to bring such change into public debate. If, after due deliberation, a responsible governing body deemed it wise to change its membership policies and interpretation, it might do so, but common decency would dictate that it do so prospectively, without prejudice to the persons, of its own blood, who have ordered their lives on existing policies and precedent.

But this is not the way of the rump majority. They not only seek to apply such decision retroactively, to the disruption of hundreds of lives - they seek to do so to reverse a decided election, including an important referendum decision. If there is precedent for such unprincipled action, we have not found it anywhere in a search of federal and state law.

The Congressional Role: The Lac Vieux Desert Act and the Keweenaw Bay Electorate

The purpose of this section is to make clear that the subject of membership eligibility in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community has not been a subject foreign to the Congress. The Congress has participated in a significant degree in recognizing the fact that the Tribal Council has taken a liberal approach to applying its membership standards, and approving the results of such policies. It is against that background that we turn to the Congress at this juncture.

After years of petition, the Lac Vieux Desert Band gained federal recognition of their separate tribal status in 1988. The vehicle for this was the Lac Vieux Desert Act, 25 USC 1300h. Many of the LVD members had formerly been Keweenaw Bay members; and the land to be turned over as the LVD Reservation was land formerly held in trust for Keweenaw Bay. See 25 USC 1300h-5.

It was in that context that Congress dealt with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and took the previously cited statutory action to confirm the Tribe's membership and voter eligibility decisions.

Since the Takeover

The following was taken from a press release by the American Indian Movement:

KEWEENAW BAY INDIAN COMMUNITY (KBIC) is a duly recognized Indian Reservation under the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934, "48 Stat.984", as amended by the Act of June 15, 1935 "49 Stat.378",

KBIC Constitution and By-laws were approved December 17, 1936,

KBIC is organized under a corporate charter for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of the L'Anse Reservation, ratified July 17, 1937,

KBIC is situated and located on the southern shore of Lake Superior, the Northern Peninsula of Michigan.

On October 6,7 and 8, 1995, the Grand Council of the American Indian Movement (AIM) convened a special session at KBIC, Baraga, Michigan.

The purpose of this session was to hear testimony from members of the KBIC regarding previous KBIC elections of September 16, 1995 and December 17, 1994.

During the Council session panel members heard testimony from 33 tribal members, tribal council members, a former chair, tribal employees, as well as, former tribal employees, election committee members and a former enrollment clerk. In addition, non-Indian spouses and employees came forward and offered statements. What we heard, deeply troubled us.

  1. Removal of Tribal Members on a previously approved list:

    • Testimony and documentation submitted to the panel revealed 2 lists, an official KBIC voting list and a non-voting list.
    • Included in the non-voting list were individuals who were descendants of allottees and classified as full-bloods. One individual was Kenneth Eugene Bressette. Mr. Bressette's ancestors are well documented to be bonafide members of KBIC.
    • On or about September 16, 1995, Mr. Kenneth Eugene Bressette, whose date of birth, February 16, 1941, approached the polling place where he came to vote. Mr. Bressette has never been notified that his name was stricken from the eligible voters list. He was told that he could not vote because his name was not on the eligible voters list. Similarly, all who testified stated that they were denied their rights to vote.
    • In addition, other enrolled members testified of their fears of being arrested if they went to vote. Instances of actual arrests and brutality painted a virtual climate of fear.
    • It appears that Article IV of KBIC's constitution provides for the tribal council or an election board, the authority to determine rules and regulations governing elections, and the tribal council or a Board has authority to certify such elections, the arbitrary removal from membership rolls by the tribal attorney or the tribal chair constitutes a departure from KBIC's constitution and by-laws.

  2. Election Committee Testimony

    • Election Committee Members and former members made sworn testimony that suggests unauthorized intervention in a disputed judges race by the tribal chair. When the election in question resulted in a tie, election committee members were told to invalidate the tie.
    • When election committee members refused this course of action, the Chair telephonically polled the tribal council who voted to over turn the tie.

  3. Misuse of Power

    • Following the December 17, 1994 election, resulted in members being elected to the council who did not share the tribal chair's political views; many employees were terminated from their positions either by the tribal chair or the tribal attorney. Terminated employees stated, to the panel, that they received termination notices because of their active or inactive support of actions opposed to the chair's political belief.

    • The chair made known that he was upset and displeased with the results of the December 17, 1994 election of which his entire ticket failed to win any seats on the tribal council. The chair vowed that he would review the approved voter list and remove those voters who did not meat the "residency" requirements. Additionally, the "94 election carried a referendum to create and approve a charter for a new economic development, that the chair was supporting. (This corporation was be constituted of 2 tribal members, 2 non-Indians, and 1 attorney). Voters rejected this proposed referendum by a margin of 70 percent. Immediately following the election, employees who supported his defeat were summarily dismissed from their positions with no due process and programs closed.

    • Upon hearing that a tie resulted between his son and another duly enrolled member, the tribal chair told a member of the election committee, "you will throw out the election" and slammed his fist on her table. When community members collected the required 50 signatures to file a complaint, charging misuse of power, the chair threw out the petition and refused to recognize it.

  4. Favored Status to Selected Employees

    • Under his authority a discretionary fund of 250 dollars is provided for the chair to disburse to needy families. Testimony and statements reveal amounts of 800 - 2,200 dollars were given to employees who shared the tribal chair's views. In another matter, tribal employees who share the chair views, are renters in tribally approved HUD homes are often many dollars in arrears without fear of penalty. One such employee is 8,000 dollars in arrears. When a tribal employee questioned the practice of allowing favorable status to delinquent accounts such as the 8,000 dollar debt, she was summarily dismissed.

    • Documents revealed to the panel, uncovered a number of employees living in the HUD homes with falsified records or falsified monthly rental amounts. A deliberate pattern exists of violations of Federal Policies and Laws governing accounts. It was further learned that the tribal chair was aware of the discrepancies and is allowing it to continue.

    • The employee who testified to this with supporting documentation has also been fired from her position.

On or about August 22, 1995, due to the misuse of power and denial of rights to vote, by the current tribal chair, members staged a takeover of the tribal center building.

Tribal employees fear loss of livelihood if they speak or visit family members who are participating in the occupation. In addition, tribal members fear reprisals for attending ceremonial or church services, both of which are held on lands adjacent to the tribal center.

This fear extends beyond the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community affecting tribal youth. The arbitrary detention of school buses, resulting in Indian children as young as Kindergarten and First Grade, being scanned with metal detectors.

The oppression and intimidation of tribal members, at their jobs, homes and schools creates a climate of fear and trepidation. The denial of citizenship would result in the extinction of a People.

To read a brief summary of FFJ and it's begining read Tina Lam's Detorit Free Press article

Copyright 2001 by Rose Edwards. All Rights Reserved.