Amid Opposition, Grand Forks, N.D., Casino Plans Arise

Jan. 22--A coercive treaty took land in Grand Forks away from the Chippewas, and it would be fair if the descendents of those that took the land helped the descendents of their victims - by letting them build a casino, chief Ken Davis said this week.

The chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is seeking the city's blessings for a casino south of town. He spoke Wednesday at a Grand Forks Lions Club luncheon.

The club says it neither endorses nor opposes the casino.

Bill Johnson, a casino consultant for the band, said he's seeking to meet with other service clubs in town.

A casino, Davis told the Lions, would give his impoverished tribe a shot at self-sufficiency. The tribe's members are the most numerous in North Dakota and yet reside on the smallest reservation in one of the most remote parts of the state.

That means its Sky Dancer Hotel and Casino near Belcourt, N.D., could never get as much traffic as tribes with casinos near major highways, though his tribe needs the money just as badly.

Davis' argument seems to be a direct challenge to the moral ground seized by local opponents to the casino who say more gambling will lead to more addiction and more crimes, poorer people and destroyed families.

Opposition

Jerry Hjelden, of Grand Forks, has led an effort - based largely in evangelical churches - to stop the casino plan. Citing facts provided by a church-sponsored national anti-gambling coalition, Hjelden says it will cost the community millions of dollars because of added social problems related to gambling addiction.

Hjelden is holding a meeting today in his home, seeking 14 volunteers to be trained to go door-to-door to get signatures on a petition opposing the casino. A church-related coalition of casino opponents is supporting Hjelden's effort, including providing information in the churches about the dangers of gambling.

In November, Hjelden brought in the Rev. Tom Grey, the retired Methodist clergyman from Illinois who is the nation's best known gambling opponent as the head of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

Grey urged church people to get politically active to oppose the casino plan because he said it will hurt most the people who can afford it the least. Johnson, the casino's representative, attended Grey's meeting in Grand Forks in late November. He didn't speak in the meeting but told the Herald afterward that as a Christian, he didn't appreciate the way some churches seemed to oppose Indians when they tried to improve things.

Davis sees it that way, too.

"We have a legitimate right to be in Grand Forks," Davis said after the luncheon last week. He said that Chief Red Bear of the Pembina Band of Chippewa, a predecessor of the Turtle Mountain Band, was forced into the 1863 treaty. He said Red Bear signed away much of the northern Red River Valley under U.S. military pressure, all the while protesting that his tribe had been friends of settlers and yet were treated worse than the Sioux who raided white settlements.

Davis also compared the tribe to charitable organizations that are the only ones allowed to sponsor gambling in Grand Forks.

"We've got a disadvantaged group. We've got a people in severe poverty," he said. "Where's the charitable heart of this community to a tribe that gave up the land?"

[Grand Forks Herald (ND) (KRT) -- 01/23/06]

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