Ojibwe family fights land sale for tribal casinoby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Bemidji, Minn. — Some members of an Ojibwe family in Warroad say the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe is evicting them from land they've lived on for generations, so the tribe can use the property for its casino.
The way Warroad resident Donald Kakaygeesick explains things, it's a case of David versus Goliath.
Kakaygeesick said Red Lake leaders have told him and his mother to be off the Lake of the Woods lakeshore property by Oct 15. But he refuses to leave, claiming the land is being stolen from them.
"I think there's fraud committed here," he said. "I think there's something really wrong here, and a crime has been committed."
That's one opinion of a complicated story that began more than 100 years ago. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt granted about 100 acres to Kakaygeesick's great-grandfather, a locally renowned Ojibwe chief named Everlasting Sky.
Kakaygeesick said his great-grandfather lived to the age of 124. He claims that before he died in 1968, Everlasting Sky used his thumbprint to sign his last will and testament, giving the Lake of the Woods property to Kakaygeesick's father -- and that the will was later changed without Everlasting Sky's consent. Instead, the land went to the chief's oldest daughter, Mary Angus.
Kakaygeesick also claims that a descendant of Mary Angus left behind a will that returned the land to his family. Kakaygeesick said he's seen copies of that will, but he can't find the original.
The living descendents of Mary Angus say they were the rightful owners of the property.
"I feel no sympathy or guilt towards that, I'll tell you right now," said Jean Shipley, the chief's great-granddaughter.
Shipley said she and about half dozen other family members were recognized as the legal owners of the land. They sold it to Red Lake two years ago for $1 million.
Shipley said her side of the family moved away from Warroad years ago. She said they offered to share the proceeds with their Kakaygeesick cousins.
"We said, 'we would include you,' but they didn't want that," she said. "He went to court and he wanted all of it. They were our family at one time, but somehow things got lost along the way. But I just know our side of the story is, the land is ours. Legally, that was proved."
Red Lake Tribal officials say Kakaygeesick has tried to portray them as bullies. But they say the law is on their side.
"We did the legitimate processes that were available, and we did our business in a fair manner as far as we're concerned," said Harlan Beaulieu, the tribe's realty officer. "We dealt with legitimate owners, and not somebody claiming to be an owner."
Though well known in Warroad, members of the Kakaygeesick family are not Red Lake band members. Their family is not part of a recognized tribe, but they've long been part of local history. People have written articles about Chief Everlasting Sky and painted his portrait. His face still appears on postcards.
Cynthia Baker, who grew up in Warroad, said most people in town are confused by the complicated land issues. But Baker said some locals support the family's efforts to stay on the property.
"The Kakaygeesick family is very integral to the history and present of the Warroad community," she said. "It's always been understood that that's their land, and I don't think that was ever questioned until casino interests entered into the equation."
Red Lake tribal officials say they may build a new casino on the property within a few years. Meanwhile, Kakaygeesick said he and his mother will stay there until they are physically removed.
- All Things Considered, 11/04/2010, 5:54 p.m.