Meet Native America: Richard W. McCloud, Tribal Chairman, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Richard W. McCloud, tribal chairman, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
Where is your community located?
The Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation is in Belcourt, North Dakota.
Where were the Turtle Mountain Chippewa originally from?
The origins of the Pembina Chippewa are associated with the trading post established at Pembina in the northeastern corner of North Dakota in 1801. For many years this post was the focal point for many Chippewa hunting and trading in the region. Anishinabe, meaning the first or original people, is our name for ourselves. The spelling of Anishinabe has many variants depending on whether the name is singular or plural, or which tribe or band is using it.
Richard W. McCloud, Tribal Chairman, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Photo courtesy of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?
To preside at all regular and special meetings of the Tribal Council. To vote only in the case of a tie. To see that all council resolutions and ordinances are carried into effect, or to veto any resolution and ordinance. To exercise general supervision of all other officers and employees and see that their respective duties are performed. To be the chief executive officer of the tribe and to give the State of the Tribe Address.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?
Sitting on local boards—the school board for 15 years, the gaming board, the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance (TERO) board—and the national board of the U.S. Postal Service showed me the path to successfully lead our tribe to the next level.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
My parents, who taught me to be the best I can be.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader?
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
The McCumber Agreement of 1892, also known as the Ten Cent Treaty. [This Act of Congress greatly reduced the lands and enrolled membership of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. It is called the Ten Cent Treaty because the U.S. government paid ten cents an acre for nearly one million acres of Chippewa land along the Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota.]
How is your tribal government set up?
The government of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians consists of a Tribal Council, chairman, and court system. The Tribal Council must meet at least once a month, and its meetings are constitutionally required to be open to the public unless council members are discussing protected personnel information or confidential business contracts. The tribe is supported by federal funds and by a percentage of profits of the SkyDancer Casino. The tribe also gains revenue from various tribal programs that charge fees and from interest on treaty funds. The constitution adopted in 1932, established the Tribal Council—then called the Turtle Mountain Advisory Committee—made up of eight enrolled tribal members.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
No. The concept of traditional government changed in 1891. A committee of 16 mixed bloods and 16 full bloods, called the Committee of 32, replaced the traditional Grand Council of 24 members under the hereditary leadership of Chief Little Shell.
How often are elected leaders chosen?
Every two years.
How often does your council meet?
Special Meetings are held weekly and a Regular Open Public Meeting is held monthly.
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
We have approximately 30,000 enrolled tribal members. Of those, 18,000 live on or near the Turtle Mountain Reservation.
What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?
Membership in the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa requires a one-quarter quantum of Indian blood. This is due to federal law and not the beliefs or traditions of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. The enrollment office of the Turtle Mountain Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Belcourt maintains the enrollment rolls for the tribe and is responsible for providing documentation of enrollment and issuing Indian tribal membership identification cards.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
The Anishinaabe language is still spoken. Approximately ten percent of the people are fluent speakers.
What economic enterprises do the Turtle Mountain Chippewa own?
The Sky Dancer Casino and Hotel, Chippewa Tribal Industries, Turtle Mountain Heritage Center, Center of the Earth/Eagle Heart Cultural Center, Veterans Memorial Park, and Turtle Mountain Tribal Arts Gallery.
What annual events does your community sponsor?
We hold the Little Shell Pow-wow, Turtle Mountain Days, Turtle Mountain Community College Spring Pow-wow, National Youth Sports Program activities, Chippewa Downs horse racing, Turtle Mountain Roping Arena, Turtle Mountain Wellness Conference, Sitting Eagle Unity Ride, Medicine Moon Run, and Family Week.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
The Anishinabe Learning, Cultural, and Wellness Center and, in addition to the events listed above, the St. Ann’s Novena and the Keplin Fest Métis music festival,
How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
Like family. From jigging to fiddle playing to dances, cultures are very diverse.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?
Always strive to be the best you can be! Bullying won’t get you far. Education will fulfill your dreams.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
As chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, I continue to work for all tribal members to create and improve manufacturing jobs, new projects, retail opportunities, a movie house, new casino expansion in the west, and education all around, from Head Start to college levels.
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All images used with permission.