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Red Lake Band of Ojibwe opens casino, hotel and conference center

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RED LAKE, Minn. – The Red Lake Band of Ojibwe opened a new casino, hotel and conference center on the reservation just north of Bemidji Jan. 21. Grand opening events were held Jan. 21 through 23.

This is the second casino in the state (after Upper Sioux), and one of the few in the nation, to be built with all Indian funds. Instead of going to a non-Indian banker for construction loans, the Red Lake Band borrowed money from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community, which runs Mystic Lake Casino.

This is Minnesota’s first inter-tribal loan, with Dakota loaning to Ojibwe, and it highlights progress tribes are making toward self-sufficiency that allows Indian communities to be more equal partners in local and regional economic development. The $31 million loan, in addition to funding the hotel, casino and conference center, has also helped expand the law enforcement center, start a propane business to power the casino and tribal homes, and build a forestry greenhouse. The hotel and casino will be run by the Red Lake Band, with no non-Indian management company in charge of the operation and taking a large management fee, as was often the case in the earlier days of Indian gaming.

The Seven Clans Casino was one of the few major construction projects in northern Minnesota in the depths of a terrible economic recession, creating more than 100 construction jobs, about half held by tribal members and half by people from across Minnesota. In addition, the complex is bringing 100 new full-time and part-time jobs to one of the poorest areas in Minnesota, with most of those jobs held by tribal members. Since a “soft opening” just before Christmas, the restaurant and conference center are already being patronized more than projected, with new visitors coming from the region surrounding the reservation, allowing more people to be hired to meet the demand.

As part of ongoing economic development, as required by the tribe, contractors working on the project are helping Indian workers learn construction trades and professions, and some Indian workers are staying with the contractors on projects off the reservation. The general contractor and architectural firm – Woodstone Builders of Minneapolis and DSGW Architects of Duluth – led the way, each hiring Indian people to oversee the project.

The Red Lake Band of Ojibwe is providing the area with a stunning new attraction for tourists, joining the Garrison giant walleye statue and nearby Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues as a Minnesota icon – a swooping eagle sculpture with a 30-foot wingspan that flies in front of the casino and that Minnesotans are already taking photographs in front of.

The new hotel will have 40 rooms, with master suites including balconies, fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.

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The hotel has a swimming pool carved in the shape of Upper and Lower Red Lake. The restaurant will seat 75, and, in good weather, will seat 25 more on an outdoor patio, serving Red Lake walleye and a full menu. The event center will seat between 350 and 800 people, depending on the seating configuration. The gaming hall has 300 slot machines, four blackjack tables and two poker tables. The hotel and restaurant are separate from the gaming floor, so people wanting to come only for recreation or conventions don’t have to pass through the gaming area, as is the case in most Las Vegas casino hotels.

The design of the complex draws on Red Lake culture. Wood paneling, field stone, and images of a rippled blue lake reflect themes of the area. Woodland floral patterns permeate the carpeting throughout, while rooms are named for the seven major clans of Red Lake. Seven Clans Casino and Hotel will add hotel and conference space to the Bemidji area, which may help the region attract and serve more visitors and conventions. Bemidji is building a new regional events center that will attract events and conferences to north-central Minnesota, and the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe believe their new casino and hotel can work in harmony with Bemidji’s hospitality offerings.

“This will be another link to the entertainment hub of Bemidji,” said Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr.

In addition, Ojibwe people from the Twin Cities and Duluth visiting their home reservation and families will have additional options for overnight stays. The motel nearest to Red Lake is now 30 minutes away. Reservation tribal members, and off reservation members from Bemidji, Duluth and the Twin Cities, were all part of the process to build. That included taking part of deciding whether to borrow the money to build the casino and hotel and part of deciding on the design – receiving briefings on the project and voting overwhelmingly in favor of it.

Indian gaming is controversial – it will come under attack again in the Minnesota Legislature this session as former senate minority leader Dick Day and others look to fund a Vikings stadium with gaming revenue. What is undeniable is that Indian gaming has been an engine of economic development for tribes – where nothing else has worked in two centuries. And now, in addition to schools and water treatment plants being built with gaming revenue on reservations, careers and businesses are being developed by Indian people as well.

The new development is inviting Minnesota, Dakota and Canadian tourists to visit the reservation and the Seven Clans casino and hotel. Where once non-Indians were not always welcome or comfortable traveling on the Red Lake reservation, a broader integration of Indian and non-Indian communities is shown by the new casino and hotel and by the simple fact that 80 businesses in Bemidji now include bi-lingual signage in Ojibwe and English in recognition of their neighbors.

“This project shows how tribes can work together to capitalize and grow our own businesses, increasing employment and opportunity on the reservations and in the surrounding communities,” Jourdain said. “It’s all about economic development.”