Secretary-Treasurer’s Report

Secretary/Treasurer’s Report

Secretary-Treasurer Leonard M. Fineday

Greetings Leech Lake Band members! It is my honor and privilege to provide you with this report regarding the activities undertaken in April, 2024.

FY 25 Budget & Audit Update

On April 5, 2024, the RBC adopted the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget, which runs from July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2025. This adoption was completed on time in accordance with the Leech Lake Budget Ordinance for the first time in memory. This is a testament to the hard and dedicated work of the Budget Team, Administration, Band members and the RBC. I am very thankful we were able to accomplish this task together and I am hopeful that moving forward our new normal will be open, transparent and timely completion of budgets.

As reported last month, work on our FY 2022 audit continues. We are hopeful this audit will be concluded by June and then work can immediately commence on the FY 2023 audit.

Election Update

On April 2, 2024, the Regular Primary Election was held for RBC Chairman and District III Representative. A total of 1,553 votes were cast in the election for Chairman and 1,080 votes were cast in the District III race. After the election, the Election Board received one recount request, but that request was denied by the Election Board for insufficient justification supporting the request. Furthermore, one election contest was filed, but that contest was dismissed due to a lack of supporting evidence. The election contest was not appealed to the Court of Appeals. This means that the results of the April 2, 2024 Primary Election are valid and the two prevailing candidates in both races move on to the Regular General Election on June 11, 2024.

Indian Gaming Update

During the week of April 8, I attended the Indian Gaming Association Annual Meeting, where we discussed a number of current topics including sports betting and iGaming, and had various meetings with vendors. At the Annual Meeting, the tribes represented re-elected IGA Vice Chairman David Bean from the Puyallup Tribe in Washington state and newly elected Treasurer Justin Barret from the Eastern Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma.

While we were gathered to discuss gaming issues, I met with various Minnesota tribal leaders regarding the status of the sports betting legislation currently under consideration by the Minnesota legislature. Leech Lake leadership also met with vendors regarding Class II gaming, in order to explore further opportunities as we fully exercise our exclusive jurisdiction within the boundaries of the Reservation. More information on these matters will be forthcoming.

Historic Horse Racing Update

On April 1, 2024, the Minnesota Horse Racing Commission approved Historic Horse Racing (“HHR”) machines in Minnesota’s two racetracks. HHR machines operate and function as slot machines, and the Horse Racing Commission’s action effectively grants the two racetracks in Minnesota the ability to become “racinos,” operating slot machines, table games and pari-mutuel wagering, all without any further approval or oversight from the Legislature.

The Commission took this action despite the Minnesota Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Director’s clear opinion that HHR machines are illegal slot machines and cannot be approved by the Horse Racing Commission. Furthermore, the Commission’s action failed to comply with Minnesota Statute Section 10.65, which requires the Commission to consult with tribes prior to taking any action which impacts a tribe.

After the Commission’s vote on April 1, 2024 to approve HHR machines, the Legislature acted quickly to introduce legislation banning HHR machines and overturning the administrative action of the Commission. This language looks very likely to pass this legislative session.  Furthermore, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community filed a lawsuit in the Minnesota Court of Appeals that will likely overturn the Commission’s approval.

On April 16, 2024, I attended an informal meeting between several Minnesota tribal leaders and the Chair of the Minnesota Horse Racing Commission. This meeting was not very productive and no meaningful answers or steps forward were provided. However, Leech Lake leadership will continue to work aggressively with other Minnesota tribes to ensure HHR machines are not allowed to be installed at the two racetracks.

Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Update

On April 17, 2024, I attended a strategic planning session at the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe headquarters with MCT staff and TEC leadership. This strategic planning will help guide the activities of the MCT for the next five years. Please watch for more information on this plan as it becomes available.

On April 22 and 23, 2024, I attended Subcommittee and TEC meetings in Grand Portage, Minnesota. At the Legislative Subcommittee, the topic of updating the personnel handbook was discussed, as well as implementing internal controls and best practices in accounting procedures. At the Tribal Executive Committee meeting, discussion centered around the Constitutional reform process and updating our enrollment requirements. The possibility of removing the requirement to hold a secretarial election to amend the constitution was discussed and will be discussed in more detail and future TEC meetings. I encourage all Band members to engage with the Constitutional Reform delegates on Leech Lake to help shape the future of our governance!

Land Update

Leech Lake leadership and staff continue to work diligently to implement the Leech Lake Reservation Restoration Act, which will restore almost 12,000 acres of stolen land back to the Leech Lake Reservation. Initially, we had been planning for a Land Back ceremony for May 29, 2024, but due to unforeseen circumstances with our federal partners in the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture, this date got pushed back. Throughout the month of April, I was involved in numerous meetings and conversations with these agencies in order to accomplish the land transfer. Finally, on April 30, 2024, Leech Lake hosted leadership from both federal agencies to finalize all outstanding issues and develop a plan to get these transfers done. We are hopeful that all parties are now at the table and on the same page, and that these transfers can be accomplished before the end of summer 2024. Please continue to watch for more updates.

Work also continues on enacting the Technical Corrections Amendment to the Restoration Act, which would allow for the return of an additional 4,000+ acres of land. I and others from Leech Lake attended meetings with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs staff to move the bill forward. The bill, S.616, is slated for a vote in the Indian Affairs Committee on May 1, 2024.

On April 23, 2024, I met with Leech Lake staff and MN DNR leadership to discuss the transfer of school trust land near the Bena Community Center, which would allow the Band to own lakeshore on Lake Winnibigoshish and expand community activities there. This meeting was productive, and resulted in a survey being commenced on April 29, 2024. On April 18, 2024, I and other Leech Lake leaders met with Representative Matt Bliss and Senator Steve Green to discuss this proposed transfer and the potential benefits to Leech Lake and the broader community as a whole.

The Leech Lake local property tax exemption bill for the Twin Cities Office has also advanced in the Legislature this session without controversy or issue. It appears slated to be part of the 2024 Tax Omnibus bill and we are hopeful it will be signed into law by the end of legislative session later in May.

Secretary/Treasurer Lenny Fineday meets with Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Vice Chairman Casey Lozar on April 24, 2024.

Federal Reserve Update

On April 24, 2024, I was invited to speak to the employees of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, regarding the Bank’s community engagement. I focused my talking points on the need for further development in Indian Country through increased access to capital, the need for increased housing opportunities, and developments in Tribal Court jurisdiction over financial transactions. The talk went well and I was thankful for the opportunity.

Tribal State Partnership Update

On April 26, 2024, I attended the Tribal State Partnership meeting, which was our first in person meeting of the whole team. Discussion at the meeting focused on strategies we can engage in to address the disparities facing indigenous youth in Minnesota’s child protection system. We discussed a number of specific items, including focusing on family preservation and pre-petition services as well as adopting more culturally appropriate solutions and plans in the state court system. These were initial conversations and the overall plan will develop as these conversations continue, but I was excited to see the commitment for change from so many stakeholders in the state and county system. I will continue to keep you updated as the work progresses.

This concludes my report for April 2024. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me at any time. It is a pleasure and an honor to serve each of you! Chi-Miigwech.

Leonard “Lenny” Fineday