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Tribe Says Move to Pine Island is a Must

July 09, 2019 10:56 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- The Prairie Island Indian Community has lived on their land in Welch, Minn., for generations; but they’re a growing community.

The tribe owns Treasure Island Resort and Casino, which has been hugely successful, but there are issues the tribe’s dealt with for decades, and with no more space to grow, they say the solution is in Pine Island.

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“Here in Prairie Island we deal with what we call the trifecta,” said Shelley Buck, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council.

The big three are the nuclear power plant, residual effects from the lock and dam which was put in in the 1930s, and limited points of entry in and out of the island.

“One reliable road we have, on and off, is blocked multiple times a day, is blocked by train tracks and trains coming through,” Buck said.

Combined with the tribe’s proximity to the nuclear power plant on the island and susceptibility to flooding, the tribe is in a less than ideal location.

“If there was any type of natural disaster, it could be catastrophic to their community,” said David Todd, Pine Island city administrator.

The solution came in January, when the tribe bought nearly 1,500 acres of the Elk Run Property in Pine Island.

“Pine Island fit the bill. We were close, we had – I should say Tower (Cos.) had – a multitude of land that they were trying to get rid of, and it was a natural fit,” Todd said.

“We need a safe place to live, a safe place for our people to move back here who want to be part of the community, who can’t,” Buck said.

Currently, the tribe has a list of close to 200 people who want housing assignments on the reservation, but there’s just no place for them to live.

“There’s a potential there to add another 2,000 to 3,000 people" to Pine Island, Todd said.

Buck said the number of new residents to the area would probably be in the low hundreds.

On Monday night, the tribe asked Rochester City Council to support its vision.

“Based on federal law, they can’t just add any new land to the reservation, and one of the cases they, the case they’re making is the current reservation property is land-locked and can’t accommodate the entirety of their population. Only about 30 percent, in fact,” said Randy Staver, Rochester City Council president.

The council decided to table the resolution for support to try and get more information about the tribe’s plans; specifically, about potential economic ventures for the property.

“It’s very important we’re good neighbors. We pride ourselves on being good neighbors; that’s what Dakota people are, we’re good neighbors. Dakota actually means allies,” Buck said.

The potential sovereignty of the new property is based on a land settlement claim, asking for compensation for land the tribe says was taken from them illegally.

“Until it gets into trust, we really have no timeline, so whenever it gets finished, it gets finished,” Buck said.

Until then, plans for the Pine Island property are minimal, but the goal is simple: to have a place their community can live.

“Any time tribes buy land, first thing [people think is] casino. You’re going to put a casino. Tribes are more than a casino, we’re a lot more than a casino,” Buck said.

Ultimately, it’s up to Congress to decide if the newly purchased property will be taken into sovereign trust; it’s part of the tribe’s claim against the U.S. government that their land was taken illegally.

Retiring the land into sovereign trust could be some relief.

The tribe hopes it’s an issue Congress takes up this session, but in reality, it could be years before there’s any decision.

The tribe said even though they plan to expand to Pine Island, they won’t be abandoning Prairie Island; they expect some residents will still choose to live there.

It’s also the location of Treasure Island Resort and Casino, which has been very successful for the community.

Credits

Alice Keefe

Copyright 2019 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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