Fond du Luth Casino: Following the Money

By KBJR News 1

November 22, 2011 Updated Nov 22, 2011 at 11:55 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Since its doors opened the Fond du Luth Casino in downtown Duluth has generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

In just over a generation, casino profits have helped changed the face of Duluth's old downtown and paved a path out of poverty for many.
Marvin Pellerin is an elder on the Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet. His memories of life on the reservation as a young boy are stark.

"We had to haul water and cut wood. It was really bad,” Pellerin said.
Since then, life has changed dramatically for Marvin and many others on the reservation.

In just twenty years the poverty rate on the reservation has gone from 26% to just 8.3 percent.

Unemployment has gone from a whopping 26% to 10.8%.

Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver says with 2,200 employees the band has become a major employer in the region second only to Essentia Health.

Chairwoman Diver says there has been an excess of five hundred million dollars of development on the reservation over the last two decades.

Revenue from the Fond du Luth Casino helped fund that dramatic transformation and served as seed money for Black Bear, a second and larger casino in Carlton.

Indian gaming proceeds have also attracted matching grants to fund housing, public safety and the management of natural resources.
Gaming proceeds are also invested in health care for band members.
Dr. Sue Miller has served as a dentist on the reservation for 28 years.
During that time she went from working in a tiny two bedroom trailer to a state–of–the–art 12 chair practice.

But perhaps the biggest change has been seen among her patients.
"We see more people now actually who don't need to come back for treatment, except for their preventative care. We see a lot less children with baby tooth decay... due to education and prevention in the schools," said Dr. Miller.

Services for band members also include a fully staffed pharmacy at the Clinic. Dr. Charles Kendall is the Clinic's Medical Director. He too has seen change during his 15 years on the reservation.

"From Prenatal Care, to deliveries to all the way through their life span we take care of them in a complete way," said Dr. Kendal the Medical Director of the Min No Aya Win Clinic.

Chairwoman Diver says perhaps the most startling and most clarifying statistic involves longevity of Band members.

“In the early 1970's the average age of death for a Native American person was 56 years of age.

The average age of death is now into the late to mid '70's,” said Chairwoman Diver.

As life expectancy has increased new programs have been developed to meet the needs of the band's most important resource. Its elders.

There are already plans to expand an assisted living facility which opened its doors in August. 80 year old Bea Huie was the first resident to move into the state of the art facility.

"I was in a senior Center home, first in Sawyer, that's when I could do everything. I can still do everything. I just can't make my bed or vacuum," said Huie.

A greater access to care allows elders like Bea to stay on the reservation near friends and family. Bea Huie said all of her children speak the Ojibway language. She also taught them Indian Culture including hunting for wild game and gathering native foods.

Staying on the reservation gives elders the opportunity to share their stories with a new generation. And that is something Chairwoman Diver said is difficult to put a price tag on.

“It's keeping families whole longer and keeping them healthier longer and giving them access to choices...where they can be themselves, self–determined and self–sufficient,” Said Diver.

In just one generation Indian gaming has given the Fond du Lac band the resources to affect dramatic change on its reservation.
And as the second largest employer in the Arrowhead region those changes go well beyond the Reservation borders.

Proceeds from the Fond Du Luth Casino have also brought big changes for the city of Duluth.

Wednesday night at 10 p.m., Barbara Reyelts will take a look at how the city has spent its share of gaming proceeds from the downtown casino.

Barbara Reyelts