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Cass County, Leech Lake tribe sign 5-year cooperation agreement

CASS LAKE — The Cass County Board and Leech Lake Tribal Council capped a two-hour joint meeting Friday at the newly opened tribal government office building in Cass Lake by signing a five-year memorandum of understanding to cooperate.

County Board Chairman Bob Kangas, Administrator Robert Yochum, Tribal Chairwoman Carri Jones and Tribal Secretary Treasurer Donald Finn signed the document. The board and council earlier voted separately to support it.

The focus will be for the two governments to cooperate on “natural resource management, community development, economic development and maintaining Ojibwe cultural lifeways.”

Where the county and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe do not reach a consensus, their respective staffs are instructed to try to resolve differences.

Further, failure to reach agreement on one issue will not prevent the two governments from working together on other issues, it states.

Before signing the agreement, staff from each government spoke on potential ways they could cooperate and ways they have done so in the past.

They also shared names of contact people within their governments to begin new discussions.

On the topic of joint facilities, Yochum noted Cass has worked with other government bodies such as the state of Minnesota to try to co-locate public service buildings.

He cited Cass’s present proposal to add a county highway garage addition to the state highway garage in Remer.

Noting Leech Lake is planning a new judicial center, Yochum suggested Leech Lake might consider a way to provide space for state district court services in the potential tribal building.

Jones was open to the idea, noting many tribal members living at Cass Lake have a hard time finding transportation to services in Walker — both for court and human services.

Currently, tribal courts hear more minor infraction offenses, while state district court in the county courthouse hears higher level criminal cases.

Tribal and county representatives noted the success they see in the joint Wellness Court for offenders charged for driving while impaired.

They also agreed making judicial services available in both Walker and Cass Lake will partially be dependent upon permission from tribal and district court judges.

Sheriff Tom Burch and Tribal Police Chief Ken Washington were also asked Friday to begin a discussion on how far such cooperation might extend, how the existing mutual aid law enforcement agreement might be updated and whether the county and band might look at a future shared new detention center building.

Jointly, Cass and Leech Lake expect to complete a new bridge with pedestrian/fishing lane on County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 8 by July, pave County Road 143 by June, finish a pedestrian trail and resurface CSAH 75 (Bingo Palace Drive), improve County Road 150 to the tribal college and have finished two years ago improving County Road 136. The rest of County Road 136 will be improved in the near future, Enblom said.

Tribal Councilor Steve White suggested the highway departments look at developing a walking/biking trail parallel to Highway 2, going west from Bena, as a future safety project.


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