BIG BAY, Mich. – The defenders of Eagle Rock stood in stunned silence as colorful, controversial and once powerful Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council member Fred Dakota suggested it was time to stop fighting a proposed nickel and copper mine at one of the tribe’s most cherished spots and instead try to secure jobs with Kennecott Eagle Minerals.
After receiving encouragement from several tribal council members – including the council president – to continue their opposition to the mine – those camping for the third week in the shadow of Eagle Rock were dismayed to hear Dakota’s ideas to give-in and instead keep watch from the inside.
Citing the more than $4 million the council has spent from tribal coffers on attorneys over the past six years, Dakota said continuing the fight against the mine might be spending good money after bad.
“We have a decision to make, how much more (money will KBIC spend) – are we going say we are going to do another five (million dollars), are we going to do another four, are we going to do another two?”
An eclectic mix of traditional American Indian wearing a long pony tail and the consummate modern politician, Dakota walked respectfully around the “sacred fire” while beginning his remarks and then followed the meeting by walking a wider circle glad-handing the same Eagle Rock defenders who he had angered moments earlier.
Dakota is known locally as a businessman, one of the grandfathers of tribal gaming, a former powerful council chairman turned opposition leader, and a convicted felon.
The once-popular Dakota brought millions of dollars to the KBIC reservation after opening one of the first tribal casinos in 1984 – reportedly inspired by a Vegas vacation. But that cash, his detractors say, turned a proud Indian into a greedy heavy-handed politician.
Dakota was convicted in 1997 on federal bribery and tax evasion charges for receiving $125,000 in kickbacks in the early ’90s from a Minnesota-based slot machine company investigated for alleged ties to the New York Gambino and Genovese mafia families. He was fined $30,000 and served time in federal prison.
He served as chairman of the KBIC council for 21 years but was ousted by Fight For Justice and others who took over the tribal headquarters accusing Dakota and his supporters of corruption that eventually led to his indictment. The standoff included gunshots and bombs going off – but there were no serious injuries.
Dakota had angered many by reducing the tribal voting rolls based on blood and for living off-reservation – and for his alleged vindictive ways against political opponents.
Dakota regained a seat on the tribal council by 30 votes in January 2008 in a runoff.
As snow-covered Eagle Rock glimmered in the sun May 8 Dakota said it may be time to get KBIC members hired by the Eagle Project mine.
“We have got to make up our mind how far are we going to go – we haven’t won anything yet,” Dakota said.
“Maybe it’s time to keep our eye on them to see what they are doing and sue them in federal court over the properties they are destroying that the federal government is supposed to be taking care of for us because of our treaties. We just cannot continue throwing money at our lawyers and at the judicial system.
“You don’t have to give them your blessing but maybe it’s best to get back at them once they get going. Because I don’t know that we are going to stop them outside of somebody getting hurt.
“They (Kennecott Minerals) are a foreign corporation, they are going to leave here when they are done, hopefully it (Eagle Rock) won’t be destroyed but we are really not doing much good doing what we are doing – it’s all really very bureaucratic,” said Dakota, who then sat down to let others speak.