Our friend Susan Bradford has the story on her Investigative Reports page:
Dennis Kequom campaigned for a seat on the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan’s Tribal Council on the platform of combating corruption. Many tribal leaders before him have made similar promises, but Kequom, who was elected Chairman, has been good on his word. Recently, the Kequom Council submitted a letter to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), the Chair of the House Resources Committee, requesting that Congress investigate the legitimacy of tribe’s constitution, which was rewritten in 1986 to accommodate economic development on the reservation and alter qualifications for tribal membership.
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe was formally established in 1937. The newly minted members – that is, the descendants of the Swan, Saginaw, and Black River Band of Chippewa Indians who populated the state over a century ago – appealed to the Indian Claims Commission for compensation for land the federal government had stripped from their ancestors.
The Original 39 have offered two plausible explanations for how the Tribal Council might have acquired the votes. Some Indians recall that random people were pulled off the street, many of whom were not Natives, and asked to support the new constitution through a show of hands. Others remember that a makeshift petition was circulated around the reservation. Once the tribal elite acquired the requisite number of signatures, tribal members said, the top portion of the petition was ripped off and replaced with a narrative alleging that the signatories endorsed it. Even though the petition received the appropriate number of signatures, Original 39 members point out that many who signed were not even qualified to participate in the vote. Once the BIA received the certification from the elites, the agency released $10 million in docket money to the Tribal Council.
The following year, a U.S. Supreme Court case, California v. the Cabazon Band of Indians, ruled that tribes could adopt any form of gambling allowed in the state in which they were federally recognized. In 1988, Sen. Ben Knighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Rep. Mo Udall, and Sen. John McCain sponsored the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which established new governmental structures to regulate gaming on reservations across the country.
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe was well on its way to establishing its lucrative Soaring Eagle Casino. However, as the Original 39 point out, the constitutional revision cleared the way for non-Indians to acquire tribal membership. These individuals have wielded an extraordinary amount of control on the Tribal Council and its finances ever since.
Undeterred, the Original 39 challenged the interlopers, who enjoyed the backing of the tribal gaming establishment and a number of influential legislators on Capitol Hill, including McCain. In an effort to secure their position as the undisputed leaders of the tribe, the elites proceeded to increase their own Native blood quantums while diluting the blood quantums of the genuine Indians.