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Grand Portage update on COVID, closures and racism

As part of our ongoing coverage of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on North Shore, here is the latest update from Grand Portage. WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribal Chair Beth Drost Monday, June 8, about the community’s efforts to protect band members and residents.

The interview took place the day before the primary for Tribal Council, in which Robert “Bobby” Deschampe won over 50 percent of the ballots cast. Because Deschampe garnered 54.51 percent of the vote, he will be the new Tribal Chair when Drost’s term has been fulfilled.

The interview also took place two days before the announcement that Cook County has its first case of COVID-19. However, the discussion of the Grand Portage Band’s preparation for COVID19 is still relevant, as is the serious discussion of racism in the county.

In this interview, Chair Drost shared some thoughts on a Grand Portage Band member’s unpleasant encounter with someone questioning the closure of tribal lands and roads. Drost responded that these kinds of things have happened for decades, possibly forever. She said it is very unfortunate that the sovereignty of Grand Portage is questioned in this way.

Chairwoman Drost said, “We realize a lot of people find Grand Portage special and it’s unfortunate when they don’t agree on how we can assert our sovereignty. But, this is a fact. We have the right to protect our members and those in our community.”

Drost added that there are Grand Portage community members who work in essential services in Grand Marais, and there are community members with friends and relatives in Grand Marais. She said it concerning to have these kind of differences between communities.

Drost said in part, “We have tried to prepare our community members to protect themselves and to protect each other. And that carries on to Grand Marais, and the rest of Cook County as well.

“I hope we can move to a better place of understanding between Grand Portage and the rest of the county,” Drost said.

In light of the unrest in Minneapolis and the efforts to enact major changes in the policing of that community, Drost also answered a question about the relationship between the Grand Portage community and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

Finally, Chairwoman Drost made the Tribal Council official announcement that most of the Fourth of July festivities have been cancelled. As a cost-saving measure due to the closure of Band’s enterprises (the lodge and casino), the fireworks have been cancelled for 2020. The annual fishing derby that draws visitors from around the region has been cancelled.

Drost said those with family members in the community are welcome to come celebrate Independence Day, but to do so in compliance with the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.