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Magazine: Fred Dakota gave birth to $30B tribal casino industry

Filed Under: Openings and Closings
More on: fred dakota, kbic, michigan
From the archive of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, comes this story about Fred Dakota, a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community leader whose casino helped jumpstart the $30 billion tribal gaming industry:
When Fred Dakota thinks back on his garage casino, and how it helped propel Native American gaming to the nearly $30 billion a year industry it is today, he thinks back to a moment during a tribal council meeting of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community that happened some time about 1980. The council was meeting to write rules for high-stakes bingo because the tribe, based in Baraga, a tiny Upper Peninsula village on the shores of Keweenaw Bay, needed money to finish a housing construction project that had run out of federal grants.

The meeting was important, so most, if not all, of the dozen council members were there in the tribal headquarters, a rambling, old brick building that had been a Catholic orphanage for Indians. On this particular night of talking bingo rules, elder Helene Walsh said in a casual way, why don’t we add casino gambling into the code too?

At the time, tribal members probably did not have a complete understanding of the implications of their decision to act on Walsh’s suggestion, but they went ahead and added rules that would regulate casino gaming on their reservation and in spring of 1981 submitted the document to the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Sault Ste. Marie.

“Back then, we used to joke that when something landed in a BIA in-box, it stayed in the in-box,” says Dakota, who wasadministrator of the tribe at the time. To avoid BIA delays, the tribe had included in its constitution a provision that said if the BIA doesn’t act upon something within two weeks, the request was automatically approved.

“So that’s what happened, no hearings, nothing. It got approved because there was zero action,” Dakota says.

Get the Story:
Fred Dakota Founded Native American Casinos—In A U.P. Garage (Traverse Magazine 2/17)

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