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Sharing with the community

Saginaw Chippewa distributes $3M-plus to local governments, schools

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Local governments and school systems were enriched by more than $3 million from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe's semiannual 2 percent distributions in May.

The distributions from the tribe's Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort and the new Saganing Eagle's Landing Casino were announced at a press conferences May 20 and May 22 at the Tribal Operations Seniors' Room and the Saganing Community Center, respectively.

The tribe has been sharing 2 percent of its net revenues from its Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort since 1994, distributing more than $92.4 million over the years.

This spring, the first distributions were made from the tribe's new Saganing Eagle's Landing Casino, which opened last New Year's Eve. The 2 percent distribution of approximately $379,000 was collected from net winnings through March 31.

Events and speeches at the press conference are documented in videos and the tribe's newspaper, Tribal Observer, at www.sagchip.org.

In a speech at the press conference, Chief Fred Cantu Jr. noted that the tribal council had received 47 requests for funding, totaling $2.7 million, from the new casino.

''Today, for this spring 2008 distribution, we have $378,543.93 and we will distribute it all today. As we looked at these worthy requests, the needs of our community were at heart in these decisions. As you will see, we have a commitment to the youth and their families and we have allocated many of these dollars to impact those needs in a positive manner.''

Checks from the Saganing casino ranging from $4,575 to $90,000 were handed out to eight local government entities and five school districts or schools.

The community grants included, among other things, $23,000 to a local fire department for defibrillators and $90,000 to Arenac County for a geographic information system digital mapping device.

The GIS system will be used by the local fire departments, the 911 service and the equalization department.

The school community funding was earmarked for special programs, technology and advanced placement programs, among other things.

The tribe gave $373,189 to the Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team.

''This is a wonderful gift from the tribe,'' said state police Lt. Mel Matthews. ''It helps us to continue to fight the fight here in this community. We know that drug dealers do come here and prey on the community, and since we've been receiving gifts [from the tribe] since 2002 it's helped us put some of these people in jail.''

BAYANET is a multi-jurisdictional drug enforcement task force that operates in six counties and works in conjunction with the tribe's police department; so even though the funding came from the Soaring Eagle casino, it will also impact the Saganing community areas.

The tribe also distributed almost $47,000 to the Mount Pleasant Municipal Airport, which has been growing along with the tribal casinos, said airport manager John Benzinger.

''Because of the growth of the airport, which largely is a result of the donations by the tribe and the amount of traffic coming into the airport that supports the community and the tribal nation, this will provide us with a backup generator system where the lights will stay on in case of a power failure in our area, fuel can be pumped, hangar doors can be opened to take care of the aircraft and especially the corporate aircraft - those are the ones that seem to support us the most - and it takes us up one more notch that we need to offer a quality [service].''

The tribe has contributed almost $1 million to the municipal airport over the past six years.

''It's been an exiting time. Twenty years ago, it was like this little grass strip. Now we can accommodate corporate aircraft up to 30 passengers and 60,000 tons, and we have an on-demand charter business starting up.''

The tribe also distributed Soaring Eagle revenues of $793,079.94 to the Isabella County Commission; $304,625 to the city of Mount Pleasant; $127,319.73 to Chippewa Township; $63,500 to Deerfield, Denver and Nottawa townships; $74,700 to Wise Township; and $14,344 to a local school district for special education.