Four Corners IV: NE bordering on tomorrow

9:57 PM, Feb 26, 2008   |    comments
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  • Grand Portage
  • Diane Moir is the kind of guest you'd love to have in your home. The kind of that stocks your refrigerator, makes your breakfast and then fills your car with gas - at least you might think so, upon seeing what this guest from Canada has helped pay for in the northeast corner of Minnesota. The signs of progress are everywhere on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation. There's a medical clinic, a fire and ambulance building and the $4 million tribal headquarters. A short distance away stands a $5 million community center - home to a school, library, youth center, gymnasium, fitness center and elder lunch center. All of it was paid for, in whole or in part, by people like Moir who play the slot machines at Grand Portage's casino, opened nearly 20 years ago. Tribal Chairman Norman Deschampe was new to the tribal council when the building boom started, but has been steadfast on one point through it all. "We want to do these things for the betterment of the community," he says. Situated at the edge of Lake Superior, on the tip of Minnesota's 'arrowhead,' the Grand Portage Reservation is home to 400 people. Though always rich in scenery, in the days before the casino, jobs were scarce and money tight. Plumbing was considered a luxury as recently as the 1960's. "There was just nothing to do. No work," says tribal member Bud Duhaine, who moved back to the reservation a few years ago after retiring. When the first slot machines arrived in 1989, a decision was made that shapes life on the reservation to this day. No direct payments would go to tribal members. Casino profits would instead be invested in the community. "It needed to be done," says Duhaine. Casino revenue helped send the tribe's elders on a trip to Washington D.C. and guarantees full-ride scholarships to any young person with the grades and desire to go to college. "Well, that's part of the principles of our people," says tribal member Vivian Carlson. With 240 hotel and casino jobs, everyone who wants a job has one. Teresa James and her husband both have jobs at the casino complex. "Aunts, uncles, cousins, my grandparents, pretty much my whole family," she says. But six miles north, at the entry point from Canada into northeastern Minnesota, Grand Portage Indians fear their luck is about to change. Most of Grand Portage Casino's customers - a full 90% - cross the border from Thunder Bay, Ontario, 45 miles away. But on June 1, 2009 all those Canadians will need passports for U.S. entry. A survey conducted at the casino revealed 40% of the tribe's Canadian customers don't have passports. Diane Moir is among the Canadians still putting it off. She says she will get a passport before the deadline, but knows several of her friends will not. "No, oh no, no, no," she says emphatically. "They said 'they will not do it. I said, 'well stay in Thunder Bay.'" Staying in Thunder Bay would mean saving roughly $100 on a Canadian passport, while still being able to gamble at Thunder Bay's government-run casino. It's a frightening notion for tribal chairman Deschampe. "The person who on impulse, 4 o'clock in the afternoon wants to drive down and frequent our casino, unless they have a passport, there is no fix for that," says Deschampe. But to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, homeland security is at stake. "This has been a security flaw for years and they're finally closing the gap," says Craig Kalar, acting port director at the border crossing. Deschampe favors a less rigid system. "We're not talking about crooks, we're talking about average Joe's coming and going," he says. He's still hoping for a change in policy after the U.S. presidential election. Yet his tribe is not taking chances. "This is the ad that we put in the local Thunder Bay newspaper," says Frank Vecchio from his office in Thunder Bay. Vecchio and Maria Hudolin are working on behalf of Grand Portage Indians. The pair is working on ways to help thousands of Canadian customers become passport compliant by next year's deadline. "We're going to have a sort of passport clinic one day a week," says Hudolin. Back on the reservation success will mean the building gets to continue. "We need a new daycare center," says Deschampe, "so, there's a list." Tucked in between the wooded hills of the reservation and the banks of Lake Superior, Grand Portage has always been a place of rare beauty. But in this corner of Minnesota it's Canadians and a casino that pay the bills. Related: Four Corners I - Kittson County
    Related: Four Corners II - Southwest
    Related: Four Corners III - Southeast
    Related: More KARE 11 News Extras

    By Boyd Huppert, KARE 11 News

    (Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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