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Primary elections set for Saturday for KBIC

BARAGA — The primary election for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s Tribal Council and Associate Judge is Saturday. Polls open at 10 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Voters in the Baraga District will vote at the Ojibwa Senior Citizens Center and L’Anse District voters can cast their ballot at the Zeba Community Hall.

Candidates in the Baraga District include incumbent Rodney Loonsfoot, Agatha M. Cardinal, Donald L. Chosa Jr., Larry Denomie III, Gerald H. Friisvall, Michael P. Lahti, Carole L. LaPointe, Jerry Magnant “Mayo”, Don Messer Jr., Debra L. Picciano, Jacqueline Swartz and Dianne M. Waara.

L’Anse District candidates include incumbent Gary Loonsfoot Jr., Joseph Dowd, Eddy Edwards, Lyndon Ekdahl, Dylan Friisvall, David Haataja, Jean Jokinen, Jennifer Misegan and Evelyn Ravindran.

Running for associate judge are incumbent Violet M. Friisvall Ayres, Tyler Larson and Corey R. Pietila.

Many of the candidates spoke briefly during a lunch at the Ojibwa Senior Citizens Center on Wednesday.

Baraga District

Rodney Loonsfoot is finishing his first term on the council. He started by thanking all the candidates, and encouraged everyone to vote who they think is best for the KBIC.

“Most of you all know me,” he said.

He said he believes he has created a movement toward cultural identity and will keep doing that if reelected.

Cardinal is running for the first time this year. She is active in the community and has raised five daughters as well as foster kids.

“I want to see things done for our seniors,” she said.

Ideas she wants to pursue include better transit options for activities and shopping areas as well as better emotional support. She also wants to find a solution to the drug epidemic.

Chosa is running for elected office for the first time since the 1980s when he ran for tribal judge. He is a culture and language teacher and is looking forward to devoting time to a council position now that he is retired. He worked as a teacher at NMU, a grant writer and administrator.

“I feel that with my life experiences I could serve the people in a meaningful way,” he said.

He is also interested in creating a transit system, which he thinks would be useful to the community and would provide more employment opportunities. He also favors the establishment of a heritage center or museum to preserve cultural artifacts and Ojibwa history.

Larry Denomie III was previously on the council from 2003-08, and is running again for the first time since then. He takes credit for beginning the movement to lowering the voting age and increasing the transparency of the council during his previous time in office. Currently the Casinos General Manager, he thinks it is an important time for the tribe’s investments and wants to help provide the stability needed for them to flourish.

Magnant “Mayo”, the former owner of Keweenaw Bay Outfitters, is running again, too. He thinks tribal members should be treated like shareholders.

“I see economic development as taking care of a lot of the problems,” he said.

He wants to set high goals for the community to reach toward, and wants to keep the tribe from settling for what they have.

Messer served a term on the council from 2013-15, and currently works as the casino manager in Baraga. During his previous term he was part of the groundbreaking for Zeba Hall and helped with the planning and construction of the Marquette gas station.

“I’m worried about our businesses,” he said.

Hiring staff has been an ongoing issue, and Messer is wondering if the staff is even available for the new casino. He pointed out a recently-contracted wage analysis for KBIC ventures, which he said is something the council has done before without taking action to raise wages.

“Why hasn’t anything been done about it?” he asked.

He wants to find out what it will take to reduce wait times for dentist and doctor appointments, too.

LaPointe said she is service oriented and wants to make sure people are informed about resources and opportunities in the KBIC.

Picciano said she would not only listen to those who speak, but ask after the opinions of people who are not speaking up.

Waara thinks her administration and accounting background would serve the community well, and wants to learn more about tribal politics and get her voice heard.

Gerald H. Friisvall, Lahti and Swartz did not speak at the lunch.

Zeba District

Gary Loonsfoot Jr. is finishing his freshman term on the council and is currently it’s vice-chair.

“I’m here to represent the people,” he said. “You tell us what to do.”

He works as the Director of Cannabis Development, and thinks advancing the venture stands to create 40-50 local jobs.

Dowd said he would like to introduce more Native culture to the council proceedings, like adding smudges and speaking more Ojibwa language.

Edwards said he wants to prioritize working Ojibwa values into their system of government.

Jokinen is a staunch supporter of the medical marijuana project and wants to work to grow the tribal trust fund and annual Christmas checks. She has been on the council once before, from 2012 to 2014. She said it is also vital that children in the tribe know they belong somewhere from the minute they are born.

Misegan has been on the council a total of 12 years, split in half. She is not on the council now, but is the chair of the tobacco company board.

“I think we need to focus on the casino project,” she said.

She said that the council should be focusing on the big picture and try to avoid micromanaging.

Ekdahl, Dylan Friisvall, Haataja, and Ravindran did not speak at the event.

Associate Judge

Ayres is working on her 20th year as Associate Judge.

“I have dedicated my life to serving my people,” she said.

She has a bachelor’s in pre-law and political science and a master’s in public administration. She has taught tribal law and government at Northern Michigan University for 15 years and at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College for 11.

She said it is important for people to be informed of court procedure and individual rights when they come into court, and that expectations should be clear. She said the agency needs to be just as accountable as the individual.

“There are no sides, there’s only KBIC,” Ayres said.

Larson is running for an elected position for the first time. He holds a degree in criminal justice from NMU and has served in various positions with tribal police, court, youth and is currently the Director of Tribal Social Service with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ child welfare division.

“I feel like I have the ability to carry the torch for those who have served before me,” he said.

He said the experience he has working with troubled families, often in court, gives him the familiarity needed to deal with the causes behind problem behaviour in the best possible manner.

“How do we dig into that to find the best solution for them?” he said.

He said he’s part of a younger generation and is ready to come forward with a different perspective and help “carry the torch.”

Pietila did not speak at the event.

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