Feb. 1999, The
Miseducation of Jesse Ventura
on Indian sovereignty
Governor needs a lesson in American Indian history
Ventura remarks that got less press may have done
Letter from Mille Lacs Chippewa Chair Marge Anderson
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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