Eight years after leaving as head of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, Gerald "Butch" Brun has been re-elected to lead the state's second-largest American Indian band out of economic trouble.
"I'm ready to get up and running and do what we have to do to have good financial standing and a credible government," Brun said on Thursday, the morning after his victory over incumbent Chairman Bobby Whitefeather.
The Red Lake election board confirmed Brun received 57.4 percent of the votes cast, or 1,785 votes, to beat Whitefeather, who received 42.5 percent or 1,323 votes.
With the victory, Brun said the 9,400 members of Red Lake showed a change was needed to get the reservation out of "deep financial distress" caused by overspending at its three small casinos.
"They want solid government that works for them instead of the elected people who are just working for their own pocketbook," Brun said.
Whitefeather finished strong in his home Ponemah district, but Brun led in Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock and in off-reservation and absentee ballots.
Several messages left for Whitefeather were not returned. Next month, he will step down after eight years at the helm.
Red Lake has a closed reservation, which means the band limits who can visit or live on its land, which surrounds Red Lake, one of the state's largest.
Although the labor force on the reservation -- those who are working or are looking for work -- has doubled over the past decade, the median household income on the reservation was $22,813 in 1999, far below the $47,111 statewide median income.
The band's remote location in northwestern Minnesota, just an hour or so south of the Canadian border, has been blamed for some of its economic struggles, including an inability to produce income from gambling that other Indian bands have achieved.
And earlier this year, the Red Lake treasurer since 1998, Dan King, resigned after a recall election was scheduled for band members to decide whether to remove him.
King's uncle, who petitioned for his ouster, accused him of spending unauthorized money and failing to provide a monthly financial report. King has denied the allegations.
Lack of funding forced Red Lake last month to cancel its Fourth of July powwow for the first time since 1889.
The tribal council has projected the financial situation will be solved in the upcoming months as the band pays off money owed for slot machines, construction loans and past due bills. Still, Whitefeather was just one part of a political shift caused by Wednesday's vote.
Four new council members were elected to create nearly a clean sweep of offices on the ballot. Only Redby District Rep. Julius "Toady" Thunder won re-election, by a mere 22 votes. Thunder declined comment Thursday.
Brun said Whitefeather tried to the best of his ability and failed. "We have to get this community back going again," he said.
On the Net:
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.