Standoff at Lac du Flambeau reservation ends peacefully

By Robert Imrie
Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin (AP) 4-08

Members of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa locked themselves in a tribal center during late March for at least 14 hours, refusing to come out until federal officials agreed to investigate allegations of corruption among tribal leaders.

The Vilas County Sheriff’s Department said the standoff ended peacefully. Ten members of the group were arrested on tentative charges of criminal trespass, Chief Deputy Joe Fath said. All 10 were expected to make initial court appearances.

About 75 people outside the center cheered when Fath announced that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. attorney’s office agreed to look into the complaints. There was no immediate response after The Associated Press left a phone message with the FBI field office in Milwaukee seeking comment from federal agency officials.

Tribal Vice President Dee Mayo said she welcomed the scrutiny, promising no money was missing and all the tribe’s spending was properly approved.

The protesters won’t be happy until a new tribal council is elected, she said. “It is tearing the community apart. There is no trust on either side.”

Tribal Police Chief Elliott Rising Sun said the protesters inside the tribal center broke windows, moved desks and damaged locks during the standoff.

Police found a container with about nine gallons of gasoline but no fires were set inside the center, he said.

Tribal police received a report about 1:30 a.m.That people had entered the William Wildcat Tribal Center without permission, according to the sheriff’s department. When tribal police and sheriff’s deputies went to the center, several people chained the doors and glued locks to prevent them from entering, the sheriff’s department said.

The group initially told authorities they intended to complete a religious ceremony at sunrise and resolve the situation peacefully. They said they had tribal elders and children with them.

Several law enforcement agencies and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs sent people to the reservation.

By the afternoon, at least two dozen firefighters and law enforcement agents mingled in front of the center as about 50 people gathered around a bonfire, singing on a drum and chanting. Another 40 people watched the activity from the parking lot at a casino across the street.

Tribe member Marla Eades said police used pepper spray on two of her nieces, ages 18 and 19, after one walked up to the doors of the center. Some of the spray hit Eades, who was standing nearby but not taking part in the protest.

“I got so scared. I just grabbed the kids, got them home and threw them in the shower,” said Eades, 36.

Tribal member Bill Poupart, who was not among those in the center, said the protesters were angry about alleged fraud by at least five members of the tribal council, claiming they had engaged in spurious investments and scams and repeatedly resisted efforts to open the books.

“They (the protesters) want the removal of the tribal government that exists, they want a complete audit and they want all tribal assets frozen,” said Poupart, whose 72-year-old aunt was part of the protest group. “We know there’s crimes being committed there, but we can’t get anyone to look into it, even within our own police department.”

Tribal president Vicki Doud, one of the leaders the protesters wanted removed, accused them of committing acts of vandalism that were particularly damaging given the tribe’s cash-flow problems.

Doud said council member Tom Maulson, a longtime activist on the reservation, was attempting to mastermind her overthrow.

“I guess Tom Maulson wants to be president so bad that he’ll go to any length to do it,” she said. “My term will end this fall and he’s starting his campaign early, I guess.”

Maulson said he supported the protest. He said he has not been able to get answers about how the tribe’s money has been spent even though he is on the council.

“They could have given it to the mafia for all we know,” Maulson said.

The tribe said during February that it may mortgage part of its reservation to combat a cash crunch caused by several multimillion-dollar investments.

The tribe has poured $8 million into an unfinished project to launch a casino boat in Natchez, Miss. It also owes millions on another project in Mississippi and the Lake of the Torches Resort Casino on its reservation about 220 miles north of Madison.

Previously, it lost more than $3 million on a gambling boat project in Cancun, Mexico.

The problems have been angering members. In early February, about 70 members had a heated argument over the tribe’s problems and local authorities were called. The crowd dispersed without problems, and no one was arrested.

The property being considered for a mortgage is known as fee lands – property once owned by tribal members, sold decades ago and repurchased in recent years with casino profits.

The tribe has about 3,000 members, about half of whom live on the reservation.

Associated Press writers Emily Fredrix, Dinesh Ramde and James Carlson contributed to this report from Milwaukee.

Link to audio interview with LDF elders Goldie Larson & Mike Chosa