Similar to the issues faced by most tribal nations, the issue of sovereignty for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa continues to be challenged. On the national level, issues materialize in disagreements between tribes and federal officials over the extent of services and appropriations given to the tribes resulting from treaty agreements. These services are generally funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA has the fiduciary (holding something in trust) responsibility for overseeing tribal funds. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, as a monolithic agency, is cumbersome and must deal with more than 500 tribes nationally. As a result, this agency has difficulty carrying out some of its tasks. Tribes, on the one hand, are ambivalent about the role of the BIA. On the other hand, they fear loss of services so vital to tribal economic survival. States continue to challenge tribal sovereign rights, especially in light of an uncertain national economy.
Many tribes have entered into gaming as a remedy for economic woes. The impacts of these business ventures are, as yet, undetermined. Because many of these ventures are new, especially to North Dakota, they have not had the luxury of stabilizing. The potential impact of these ventures on the economic condition on the reservation could be extensive. However, with a country confronted with a staggering national debt, and downsizing of the federal government, and pressures applied by both states, individual and collective tribal members, and private interests, tribes will have difficulty in maintaining what little gains they may be seeing from gaming. The net effect of these ventures, both nationally and at the state level, have seen pressure applied to tribes over issues of accountability, jurisdiction, and tribal rights. In a time of dwindling federal resources, tribes will be faced with the challenge of assuming more federally administered programs.
Today, as in the past, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa continue to change and adapt to different social, cultural, and environmental influences. The Turtle Mountain Chippewa realize their greatest resource is the people. The Turtle Mountain Tribe has gone through considerable effort to develop a commercial economy. While the Tribe has several very successful business ventures, many are dependent upon federal contracts. An organization of local businessmen has focused their effort at building one of the most successful and thriving Indian-owned private sectors in the state. A high level of diversification and entrepreneurship has contributed to the reservation’s business sector.
The Turtle Mountain Tribe along with the State of North Dakota agreed on a gaming compact authorized in October of 1992. Tribal gaming was made possible through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Public Law 100-407. This legislation and Indian gaming, however, continues to be challenged by both private and state-level interests, both nationally and locally.
The economic growth of the community, while prosperous for an isolated part of the state, does not seem to keep pace with the population growth, around 40 percent of the population is under the age of l8, and the unemployment rate chronically remains around 42 percent. In spite of apparent success, the Turtle Mountain Reservation continues to be an economically depressed area. Complex social problems which continue to plague the community are substance abuse, domestic and child abuse, suicide, teenage pregnancy, and the growing concern of AIDS. The community has implemented numerous substance abuse prevention and day treatment programs, as well as day care centers. However, many of the social problems are by-products of a growing community.
Education has always been a priority concern for the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Providing sufficient services for one of the fastest growing tribal communities in the state is a concern for the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. With a growing population, the education community must not only address the issues of sufficient space, but are faced with the need to revive and maintain the languages and culture of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Faced with population growth, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa are only able to construct facilities on an as-needed basis. Long-range educational planning is direly needed to accommodate both present and future growth of learners to be educated.
Throughout the history of educating children at Turtle Mountain, the federal government has provided assistance through various programs and pieces of legislation. The Tribal Controlled Community Colleges Assistance Act was of major importance for implementing the Tribe’s higher educational goals. Turtle Mountain Community College, established in 1972, has since its inception, been singularly successful in addressing the long-term higher education needs of the Turtle Mountain community. Since its establishment nearly 40 years ago, the College has served as a direct community service to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa.
While Turtle Mountain Community College has been successful in its effort to serve as true college for the “community,” continual growth and use by not only Chippewa residents, but local non-native residents, presents Turtle Mountain Community College, and other tribal colleges within the state, with a formidable challenge.
Like most governments, growing pains result from an increase in population. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa must deal with the problems associated with continual growth, as well as issues of maintaining a semblance of traditional Turtle Mountain Chippewa culture. The Turtle Mountain Chippewa are currently plagued with political and tribal finance issues.
The stability of any government has been marked by consistent long-term leadership. With dwindling federal resources, governments at all levels—tribal, local, and state—are faced with assuming more responsibility for the administration of programs formerly supported by the federal government and are faced with doing so without funds attached. Faced with these challenges, tribes will be defined by their ability to meet these challenges. Ultimately the survival of the people, both culturally and economically will depend upon it.