The Miseducation of Jesse Ventura



Ventura's order represents major change on Indian issues

Oct. 24, 2002
Deborah Locke
Editorial Writer

A photograph in last week's Pioneer Press showed a smiling Gov. Jesse Ventura stepping into a dance arena with Audrey Bennett, Prairie Island Indian Community president. The ceremony, attended by representatives of the state's 11 reservations, celebrated Ventura's signing of an executive order reaffirming the government-to-government relationship between the state and American Indian nations.

The order also required state agencies to understand and respect the unique status of American Indians, and to further their goals of self-determination and self-government. That could affect the way federal dollars are allocated.

I doubt if there's a governor in the country who made so dramatic a turnaround on such complex issues during a single term of office. Not since the days of Rudy Perpich has a Minnesota governor traveled to so many distant reservations. In Ventura's case, he gained a first-hand perspective on what is meant by sovereignty, or self-government. This transformation shows what a difference some experience, education and an open mind can make.

Note, too, that Ventura didn't need to do this. He could have sat back to watch the wheels of state government turn in these final months without a peep about the significance of Indians to the state, or to him.

Instead, Ventura put Minnesota on a course for better understanding between groups of people who historically have differed � at times, to the point of all-out war. If the order's provisions are adopted and followed by future governors, they could prove to be one of Ventura's most valuable and lasting legacies.

In the early years, it looked as though Ventura's legacy on American Indians was headed in a far different direction. Three years ago, his comments on native people would have been typical of many state residents, but profoundly wrong. Consider the Ventura position on sovereignty from February 1999. At a National Governor's Association meeting, Ventura questioned whether Indian tribes could be sovereign yet dependent on federal funds.

That's a good question superficially, if you forget that Indians surrendered millions of acres of invaluable land in exchange for government promises to provide housing, education and health care for reservation Indians. The "dependency" is based on a black chapter of American history when land was stolen or swindled from its first occupants. The debt those actions created � the wholesale robbing a people of its culture and heritage � can never be repaid.

Ventura also misspoke on American Indian hunting and treaty rights that adhere to regulations set by the reservation's office of natural resources. If the Indians fish and hunt according to ancient customs and their own laws, they should do so in birch-bark canoes, he said.

If the governor reads the above paragraph, he might flinch or become angry that such ancient history was resurrected here. I know, however, that plenty of Minnesotans prefer the former Ventura version of Indian policy to his latter. I think the governor knows that, too, which makes the issuance of this order all the more meaningful. He understands now that many Indians freely adopt technological advances while, at the same time, preserving the best customs and values of the past.

One of those values is to treat a leader with respect. I have not been on the reservations when Ventura was visiting, but strongly suspect that he was received graciously and openly. That hospitality style is centuries old.

Old, too, are the federal treaties of the 1800s that formally recognized the tribes as separate governments. Ventura's executive order simply reaffirms that relationship, rather than changing it in any way.

Consequently, you might say that what the governor did last week was last-minute and merely symbolic. No policy of any substance reversed itself.

A symbol, on the other hand, carries a deep meaning. What Ventura expressed was an understanding of a complex and lengthy relationship that will continue well into the future, past his term and the next governor's term.

Historically, misunderstandings be-tween Indians and non-Indians have led to deep divisions in this state. Many of those are rooted in a fundamental ignorance about who Indians are, which is largely defined by their rich, complex history.

Our governor's eyes and heart opened quite a bit in the space of three years. It would behoove the next governor to follow suit. To re-issue the order.

And believe in it.

• Feb. 1999, The Miseducation of Jesse Ventura

Ventura comments on Indian sovereignty
Governor needs a lesson in American Indian history
Ventura remarks that got less press may have done more damage
Letter from Mille Lacs Chippewa Chair Marge Anderson to Gov.

Dec. 22, 2000, Ventura opposes Mdewakanton land trust push


Ventura comments on Indian sovereignty
He says tribes should `take care of yourselves'

Sunday, February 21, 1999
St. Paul Pioneer Press

By Philip Brasher
Associated Press, Washington

Gov. Jesse Ventura said Saturday it is an ``oxymoron'' for Indian tribes to claim to be sovereign at the same time they ask the government claims to fishing rights in Minnesota.

``Are you part of the United States or are you a sovereign nation? If you're your own sovereign nation, then take care of yourselves.'' He added, ``What's the definition of a sovereign nation? My definition means that you are your own nation.''

Pressed to elaborate, he said he didn't have an opinion on whether the federal government should cut aid to tribes.

Tribal governments have powers that are similar in some ways to states, counties and cities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs describes the concept of tribal sovereignty this way: ``Tribes enjoy a direct government-to-government relationship with the U.S. government wherein no decisions about their lands and people are made without their consent.''

Ventura, who is in Washington for the National Governors' Association winter meeting, was asked by reporters about a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Chippewa Indians are asserting their right to fish in Minnesota free of state regulations.

``If those rules apply, then they ought to be back in birch-bark canoes instead of 200-horsepower Yamaha engines with fish finders. . . . Then it comes back to this: How can one person be allowed to do this and another can't?''

He went on to describe how as a Navy SEAL in Southeast Asia he had caught fish by tossing a grenade into the water and then gathering them in after the explosion stunned them. The SEALs referred to it as ``DuPont fishing,'' a reference to the company that made the grenades, Ventura said. ``That's my natural heritage. . . . My heritage as a frogman is DuPont fishing. I would question why I can't DuPont fish.''


Governor needs a lesson in American Indian history

February 24, 1999 Duluth News-Tribune

It's back to the drawing boards. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, out pops a ferocious ``Seal'' waiting to tear down what has been built up.

I thought that when former Gov. Arne Carlson and his faux pas regarding American Indians left the governor's mansion, we were looking toward an insightful, new, gregarious head of the state who would have read up on his history and recent laws regarding treaty rights.

Gov. Jesse Ventura, in the Sunday Duluth News-Tribune, says he sometimes questions what Indians mean when they call themselves sovereign nations, while continuing to rely on federal and state handouts. ``What's the definition of sovereign nation?'' asked Ventura, adding that he sees sovereignty as taking care of oneself. ``Either you are or you're not.''

Hello? Jesse ``The Mind'' Ventura! Is anything in there? I hope that when he dined at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Washington he looked across the table at that Japanese man and a light turned on in his head. Does Ventura remember Nagasaki or Hiroshima, two cities of a country that were literally wiped off the map? Japan was a sovereign nation, ``taking care of oneself,''[JU] that was defeated during World War II, much like the American Indians were defeated in many battles against the U.S. government.

Japan was a sovereign nation, ``taking care of oneself,'' that was given millions of dollars in aid to rebuild its country. This was a sovereign nation whose Japanese American counterparts held in internment camps have or will be compensated for the way they were treated during World War II. How many other sovereign nations around the world have been getting billions of dollars from the United States?

Does this sound familiar Gov. Ventura? Do you remember people called American Indians, ``sovereign nations taking care of oneself,'' whose lifestyle the U.S. government is still trying to destroy? Do you ever remember reading about American Indians native to this country being given millions of dollars to rebuild their nations after the wars they fought on their own land? Do you remember these sovereign nations, decimated by the white man's diseases and wars, being interned on reservations after being stripped of their land? Have you read your history lesson?

Then again, that stuff wasn't written in history books in the past. It took American Indian authors to write about the pain that our forefathers had to suffer for fighting for our land. Yet, in the Civil War, World War I, the Spanish-American War and World War II, there were American Indians who were not yet even allowed to be citizens of the country that they were fighting for under the auspices of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

This was in the history books: ``We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.''

Apparently they didn't mean American Indians because we haven't had anywhere near the ``just compensation'' the Constitution talks about when taking someone's land. Ventura needs to think before he speaks.

He made the statement on the case before the Supreme Court in which the Chippewa Indians are asserting their right under an 1837 treaty to fish in Minnesota free of state regulations: ``If those rules apply, then they ought to be back in birchbark canoes instead of 200-horsepower Yamaha engines with fish finders.... Then it comes back to this: How can one person be allowed to do this and another can't?''

That has to be one of the most senseless, ignorant statements continuously used by treaty rights opponents. Let's ALL go back to using the means our forefathers did. How about everyone traveling on foot or horseback. How about non-Indians using the muskets and ball and powder weapons they used in the past to hunt? Would the Pilgrims have made it? Would Lewis and Clark have made it without Sacajawea? Would George Washington have defeated the British without Indian help?

Governor, that's like saying let's put the non-Indians on reservations and give the Indians back their 90,000,000 acres of land!

I think Ventura took one too many forearm smashes to the head by that Indian wrestler Wahoo McDaniel. Just when you think Jesse ``The Brain'' Ventura is coming in knowing what he is talking about, he comes in thinking he is Bud ``The Treaty Fighter'' Grant running the Vikings defense against the Washington Redskins (my own faux pas, but I hope you see my point).

Diver is an instructor at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College and a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa.


Ventura remarks that got less press may have done more damage

By Nick Coleman
St. Paul Pioneer Press Staff Columnist

The Irish weren't the only targets of Jesse Ventura's Don Rickles act this week. As a St. Paul native of Irish descent, I'm not worried about Jesse's sniping at my people. We can handle it. Heck, we invented the slogan Jesse is so fond of attributing to his Navy SEALs, the one that goes, ``Don't get mad; get even.'' (The Kennedys brought it to politics 40 years ago).

But before he got in Dutch with the Irish, there was a more troubling warning that Minnesota's chief executive has grown enamored with the sound of his own voice and has come to think of himself as a sort of stand-up comedian.

Minnesota's American Indian tribes aren't laughing. And the Irish -- now that we've had a taste of Jesse's medicine -- should be not laughing with them. In fact, we all should be not laughing.

Unlike Jesse's jokes on ``Letterman,'' his recent remarks about Indians were not meant in jest and they were not delivered on a late-night comedy program. Any offense they gave was not accidental.

Here's what you may have missed while everyone was talking about the streets of St. Paul: Last weekend, Mr. Ventura went to Washington and hypnotized the national press corps with a Wise Bumpkin combination of straight talk and barnyard bluster. Unfortunately, Jesse didn't stick to his practice of saying ``I don't know'' when asked about something he knew nothing about. When asked about Indian treaty rights, he opened his mouth and put his size fourteens in.

``On the one hand, they want to be a sovereign nation, and on the other hand, they don't,'' said the governor of a state with 11 Indian reservations, none of which he seems to have visited unless it was in a fishing boat. ``I'd look at it and say, `Are you part of the United States, or are you your own sovereign nation?' Because if you're your own sovereign nation, then take care of yourself, and it shouldn't even fall on us.''

Jesse also said Indians should go back to paddling birch-bark canoes if they want to fish under the terms of 19th century treaties, added a story about fishing with dynamite in the Navy, and concluded with an insulting flourish about Indians using fish-finders and 200-horsepower motors.

Apparently, Jesse thinks Indians all own boats like Bud Grant's. Jesse seems to have confused his former job as a talk-show knucklehead with the more responsible job of being governor of all the people, not just the ones who like ethnic jokes. In the process, he has offended some Irish, a lot of Indians, and many other Minnesotans, especially those who have an appreciation for how far the state has progressed in its relationships with tribes.

Threatening to do those relationships damage is no laughing matter.

``Indians have worked hard for the past 25 years to improve their place in Minnesota,'' says one Indian friend of mine. ``Jesse should understand that. Hard work and self-reliance are his values. But sometimes he doesn't listen. Sometimes he's too full of himself to listen to what other people think.'' My friend has worked with state government, so I agreed not to use his name here. When a governor frequently talks about ``getting even,'' he risks creating a climate where people don't want to speak publicly. But Jesse's Washington comments about tribal issues have caused concern throughout Indian country in Minnesota. What kind of person would compare tribal fishing -- a communal practice protected by treaties, and connected to religious and cultural rituals, to the hoo-yah grenade-fishing exploits of bored Navy SEALs?

``When Indians signed treaties, we gave up something, we gave up land,'' my friend said. ``We survive because we have preserved our culture and adapted it to the best of the dominant culture. So it's disheartening when people like Jesse come along and tell us go back to canoes. They want us to go backward. Maybe Jesse spent too much time in the SEALs: He only seems to know how to destroy things.''

Jesse Ventura's remarks about treaty rights, like his joke about Irishmen in St. Paul, proves either a) that Jesse remains a work-in-progress or b) that he remains willfully ignorant in some important areas.

I don't have room here to begin The Education of Jesse Ventura. It is enough to point out that his comment about Indian sovereignty was dead wrong. It wasn't Indians who decided they should be both sovereign and subject to the United States (much like each state is separate and still a part of the larger entity): It was the U.S. Constitution, which gives Indians a unique status. If Jesse doesn't like it, let him change the Constitution.

For two centuries, the government exploited the ``sovereign'' status of Indian tribes, forcing tribes to sign ``treaties'' between supposed equals that gave the government what it wanted -- land, mineral rights, resources. In the past 20 years or so, a handful of tribes have turned the (gaming) tables on the government, taking advantage of their special status to gain access to revenues, jobs, education, legal representation, and a way up.

Some folks who never seemed very interested when Indians lived in abject poverty and isolation, with no political clout or a place at the public table, suddenly seem very concerned about a few pockets of tribal prosperity.

Welcome to the J-Files: The ignorance is out there. But governors have a responsibility not to repeat talk-show tripe or barroom jokes in public. A joke told over the noise of the jukebox and a bellyful of beer is rarely funny in front of a TV camera, as Jesse learned on Letterman. Similarly, an ill-informed remark about Indian sovereignty that might go over well with the guys at the bait shop comes off as inflammatory and hurtful in public.

``Anyone as concerned about the marketing of his name as Jesse Ventura is should be able to understand what Indians are struggling to hold on to,'' says my friend. ``Treaty rights are property rights: Our property was taken and the government made us sovereign because it didn't want to give the impression that we were being conquered and wiped out. All we're doing now is trying to hold onto our rights.''

Jesse should be able to get that between his ears.

Minnesota has not lost its sense of humor, as Jesse moaned yesterday. Everybody likes to laugh. Nobody wants Jesse Ventura to lose his spontaneity, his directness, or, most of all, his sense of humor. God knows he'll need it over the next four years. But when we went to the polls last November, Minnesotans were picking a governor. We weren't choosing a comedian. It's time for Jesse's ``Hee-Haw'' act to close.

``Indians are going to be here long after Jesse Ventura is gone,'' my friend said.

There's no punch line there. Just reality.

Nick Coleman can be reached at or at (651) 228-5472.


Letter from Mille Lacs Chippewa Chair Marge Anderson
to Governor Jesse Ventura

March 2, 1999

The Honorable Jesse Ventura
130 Capitol Building
75 Constitution Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55155

Dear Governor Ventura,

Before deciding to write this letter, I put a great deal of thought into how to approach you and how to make sure I afford you and your office the appropriate respect. I also have attempted to set up a meeting with you, but was informed that you do not speak to anyone affiliated with special interest groups. As a result, I am sending this letter in hopes that you will provide me and my People the attention and respect we deserve.

In a few months, perhaps even a few weeks or days, the United States Supreme Court will issue its historic ruling on the Mille Lacs Band's treaty rights case. Yet according to you, the court needn't bother.

Recently, you railed against my People and our long battle to secure the rights which were guaranteed by the U.S. government. Although your lack of knowledge on the subject was almost amusing (I don't know any Band members with 200-horsepower Yamaha engines and fish finders, as you claimed), your attitude was definitely not.

It seems American Indians have joined working single mothers and struggling students as the latest targets for your verbal body slam. But your rejection of our legal battle, our heritage, and our sovereignty seemed especially ill-timed. Your harsh words opened old wounds at the very time when we should be working together to heal them.

Throughout this court case, I have urged members of the Mille Lacs Band to carry themselves with dignity regardless of the court's decision. If we win, I have encouraged them not to gloat, and instead be mindful of the very real anguish that some of our non-Indian neighbors have experienced. And if we lose, I have asked them to respect the law, the rights of our neighbors, and of course, the land and waters we all care about so much.

The Supreme Court's decision should mark the beginning of a new era of harmony for all Minnesotans, Indian and non-Indian alike. That is what you should be working for, instead of making comments intended to divide and inflame.

You could start by learning something about my People. In the newspaper, you were quoted as asking, "What's the definition of a sovereign nation?" Here's the answer: A sovereign nation has the authority to govern its own territory and its own affairs. Sovereignty has helped the Mille Lacs Band do exactly what you say we should do - take care of our own. We have provided homes, education, health care, and opportunities to our People.

But sovereignty is not the same as self-sufficiency. To become totally self- sufficient - and that is our goal - the Mille Lacs Band and other American Indians must overcome centuries of neglect and out-right abuse. Please understand that sovereignty is not a gift from the federal government, and it is certainly not a gift from the state of Minnesota. Sovereignty is the inherent right of every American Indian tribal government. It is a reflection of the indisputable fact that we lived on this land and governed ourselves hundreds of years before Europeans arrived.

We will keep working toward our goals, and we hope that other Minnesotans who are trying to improve their lives hold tight to their dreams as well. We hope, too, that you learn to favor leadership over sound bites.

Marge Anderson
Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians
Executive Branch of Tribal Government

Copyright 1999 Star Tribune. All rights reserved

Ventura opposes Mdewakanton land trust push


Rochelle Olson
December 22, 2000
Star Tribune

Gov. Jesse Ventura joined three local governments in asking the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to block a second attempt by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community to move land off the property-tax rolls and into trust.

The tribe wants to use the 776 acres, all of which it has bought since 1994, for housing for its members, who own Mystic Lake Casino. The BIA ruled against a similar request in 1998.

Putting the land into trust with the BIA would exempt the tribe from paying property taxes and adhering to local zoning laws.

"The state cannot encourage tribal activity that may harm local governments and other citizens," Ventura wrote in a letter released Thursday. "It is my belief that granting this trust request will harm the local governments and the citizens within those governmental jurisdictions."

Shakopee, Prior Lake and Scott County argued that they would lose millions of dollars in property-tax revenue in coming years.

Ventura's letter to Deputy BIA Commissioner Sharon Blackwell marked the governor's first public comments on the issue since he took office in January 1999. His position continues the strong opposition that his predecessor, Gov. Arne Carlson, had to putting the land in trust.

While the tribe's previous application talked of using the land for commercial purposes, the new application talks of the tribe's need for more space to house its members.

The Mdewakanton won't reveal the numbers, but tribal membership is estimated between 250 and 300 members. Some members say they receive a $36,000 check every two weeks.

Ventura didn't buy the housing argument, saying housing could be built on land already in trust. "There is no imminent or apparent future pressing need for additional lands to be placed into trust status," he wrote.

Furthermore, the state owns mineral rights below the land in question, and putting it in trust could limit the state's right to explore it, the governor wrote.

In addition, Ventura wants the matter to be decided by the BIA's area director, who ruled on the issue last time. This year, the tribe filed its request directly with the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

That led to accusations that the tribe, a substantial Democratic campaign contributor, was trying to get a favorable last-minute ruling from the Clinton administration. Tribe attorney William Hardacker has denied that.

He declined to comment on the governor's letter.

Ventura said the area director has the "greatest familiarity with the land in question and the effects the trust status would have on state and local governments."

If that request isn't granted, the governor asked that an "in-person meeting be held in Minnesota where state agency, local government and tribal officials can discuss the issues with the BIA decisionmakers."

The 776 acres are in four noncontiguous parcels, all near the tribe's casino. The largest, totaling 593 acres and in Shakopee, was the subject of the previous trust application. Three new ones, a 77-acre property also in Shakopee and two parcels totaling 106 acres in Prior Lake, are part of the new application.

If the application were approved, the tribe's total trust land would roughly double to 1,610 acres.

Rochelle Olson can be contacted at

Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.



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