Allen Pemberton

Honoring Nations: Kristi Coker-Bias and Allen Pemberton: The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program (Q&A)

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Honoring Nations symposium presenters Kristi Coker-Bias and Allen Pemberton field questions from the audience about the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program.

Resource Type

Coker-Bias, Kristi and Allen Pemberton. "The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program (Q&A)." Harvard Project on American Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Alfreda Mitre:

"The next question is from Ben Nuvamsa, chairman from the Hopi Tribe."

Ben Nuvamsa:

"Thank you. I just wanted to thank you for all the good work that you're doing out there for Indian Country, all of you. I just have a question for Kristi Coker on your program. Most of our reservations are isolated out there and we typically have a difficult time attracting businesses, or at least the financial, the banks and so on, out on our reservations. My question to you is, your population, was that a deterrent in trying to get the banks or that kind of financial [institution]? Maybe you took the matter into your own hands, but it seems like that's something that may be a challenge for most of us. And how did you overcome that obstacle? Because we are faced with that -- we would like to have some banking institution out there, but it's because of our isolation it's often difficult for us to do that. By the way, we're Hopi, we may be short but we walk tall."

Kristi Coker:

"Well, we did take matters into our own hands. In 1994, we bought a struggling bank, a national bank, the tribe did. And why we started the Community Development Corporation in 2003 is that traditional financing, traditional financial institutions, just weren't the answer for the Native American community. It was a great enterprise for the tribe and it's a great financial institution, but so many people just needed the handholding and just were leery of banks still. And so even though we have our own bank there, there was a need for a non-traditional, flexible, self-regulated financial institution that is geared toward your mission, geared toward your market.

There's a lot you can do with a CDFI [Community Development Financial Institution]. You can do a credit union, and a credit union is the answer for a lot of Native communities. Oweesta even has some upcoming training. I'm on the Oweesta board, if you couldn't tell. But Oweesta has some upcoming training on ‘does your native community need a credit union?' And it's actually online and over the phone and so that might be something you want to get involved with. But a CDFI can do a lot, as you see. We're doing financial education, we're doing credit counseling, we're doing commercial lending, micro loans, larger loans. So we're doing loans from $2,000 up to $750,000. So we have a wide range of loans.

And we have had a tremendous amount of interest from private foundations, from the large national banks. They don't understand how to do lending in Indian Country and a lot of them, through the Community Reinvestment Act, have incentives to do this type of work. So one of the things they can do is they can fund CDFIs in Indian Country to do this work for them. If they're not interested in doing that, you could at least engage the local institutions in financial education as trainers and curriculum they may have.

I think what's so neat about the CDFI -- and the Treasury Department has been an amazing department, as far as a partnership with tribes. They have set up very comprehensive, coordinated programs and actually give you the training and technical assistance along with the money. And one of the things about being a CDFI, for those of you that don't know, our incentive, one of our incentives was for every non-federal dollar you can raise, you get that matched dollar for dollar from the Treasury. So a lot of my time goes to fundraising efforts and those sorts of things.

But I think what's so neat is the flexibility of it. It's regulated by the tribe, by the board of directors of your community development financial institution, and that it meets the needs of your people. You design it around your people. It looks many different ways. Some CDFIs are doing housing, some CDFIs are just doing IDAs [Individual Development Account] or just micro loans. You gear it toward your mission and your market, which is kind of driven by a study. It all kind of starts with a market study to determine what the needs are. Is there a housing need? Is there a business loan need? Do we have a gap?

Another thing that we're doing is even helping with gap financing for banks. A lot of the times even existing businesses that have assets, that have collateral, that have financial records, and those types of things, most of the time you can only get 80 percent financing at a bank and they just don't have 20 percent cash to inject at that time. So we're able to come in and it would actually be a bankable project through a bank and we're actually able to come and do the 20 percent.

So I think there's lots of creative things you can do and lots of opportunities and I would recommend exploring developing your private sector."


"Next question is from JoAnn Chase."

JoAnn Chase:

"I have a question for Red Lake. Obviously, so many of the stories that we have heard, they're very moving components to how initiatives and programs came to be. And one of the most moving ones for me, during my involvement with this program, was the fact that your own fishermen chose, they voted actually to vote themselves out of a job in economic situations which were absolutely dire. And so that told me that you obviously spent some significant time with your own community and working with the community. I'm wondering if you might just talk just a little bit more about what went into engaging folks, to the point that they would take a very deeply sacrificial decision in order to replenish the lake, and some of the aspects of the dialogue or the efforts that you, as a program, had to undertake in order to get the community to really buy and support and ultimately make very deeply sacrificial decisions."

Allen Pemberton:

"I wasn't actually at the meeting, but there was a lot of talk. Some people didn't want to do it, but I think the majority of the people seen that they just weren't getting the catches that they were in years past, and if they didn't do something now it would never come back.

I think looking at the records and some of the stuff that happened years before -- like about six years earlier we had a really big year class of female walleyes. And, as we all know, we have to have females to keep moving in this life. And there was -- the fishery guys that I talked to, they did the spawn nets every year and there was like -- they'd get like 100 males in the net and no female. And what happened was that -- If they would have just stopped like five years before, which is pretty hard for them to do because they were really catching the walleyes that year, and if they would have just stopped then, knowing what they know now, maybe we wouldn't have to quit for ten years [because] there was that nucleus of fish out there at that time, but they got hit pretty hard by the nets and stuff. And I think a lot of the people back home now, they're worried about -- that's why they told us to take a cautious look at what we do from now on. We've go to protect that resource.

One of the things the old people, the chiefs, and people called it, that lake was our freezer. As long as you have fish in there we're never going to starve. There are so many things that move to these days. Like my grandpa, he told me, there's another -- I have a hard time talking about him because I loved him. He told me, 'There's another lake under this lake.' That was one of the kind of -- the fish will come back, there's another lake under here. And a lot of people to this day still think that there is one there, but I don't know. It's kind of hard to -- it's in my heart to take care of our land. The fishermen are -- right now, they're looking at a different way of taking fish because a lot this, what happened was -- they all know it. All of them were older guys and now there's ten years of people, almost a generation of people, that didn't go out into the lake and do any fishing.

So the lake, our lake is -- I always remember what Pat Brown said, our fishery biologist, when he first came to Red Lake just before they started the recovery. He came from Wisconsin (another Packer fan), but he says to me, he said, ‘Man, I walked up to...I got to DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and I looked out on that lake and said, ‘Oh, man, how am I ever going to bring this thing back? I can't even see the other side of the lake. It's just monstrous.'' It's the sixth largest fresh water lake in the United States. He just said, ‘Oh, man, are we ever going to be able to bring it back?' It was a big initiative. And actually, the DNR took a big step forward in that. And really, Dave Connors, and there's a lot of people to thank that were non-members, but they were hired by the tribe to help us bring this lake back and it's back bigger than it ever was. The numbers show that there's more fish in our lake than there ever was.

And I think one of the things that happened throughout -- when I first got on the council we went to a game one time. I always like to tell this story. Red Lake was playing in Grand Forks, which is about 90 miles away. Basketball -- it's a big thing on our reservation. So everybody went. And we were coming home, and my wife -- we were riding down the road between Red Lake and Redbye coming home -- and I said, ‘Man, what is that on that truck?' We seen these red lights coming and I said, ‘What is that?' It's almost covering the road. And we got closer and there was a plane, there was a plane on the back of this truck. These non-members came and they flew up and down Redby, which is the district I live in and represent, and they landed on the lake and started fishing, which is -- the fishing, you can come buy a permit on our reservation to fish the small lake but the big lake is only for [band] members; only members fish that lake. So we guard that with our lives. So people are calling the cops. I suppose these guys thought, ‘Oh, these Indian tribes they don't have no game wardens. They ain't going to care if we go fish on their lake.' They knew where they were. And what they did was they landed and started fishing. And game wardens went out and arrested them, took their plane away.

They were coming down -- Then when I come home, it was like my first year on the council and we were getting bombarded, the council was, with ‘What are you going to do with this?' Because we really can' our laws -- it's one of the things we've been working on now -- that we can't do anything to non-members. If a non-member comes [and] punches me, we can't take him to court. The federal government would probably slap his hand and, ‘Go ahead. Go ahead and land on the lake some more if you want. It's only Indians that live down there.' But one of the things that I said at that time, I said, 'We should just keep that plane because there's going to be more people coming, thinking that they can trespass on our land.' But we said, ‘Well, we'll be good neighbors and give it back to them.' Like we've been catching heck over that for the last -- I think at the Honoring Nations deal I was telling them, I said, ‘If we would have kept that plane I could have flew out here to Sacramento. I would have been a pilot by now.' One of the things that happened after that, they did get fined a lot. It wasn't the best plane in the world. But you have to, as Indian people, you have to stand up for your rights.

We own that land in Red Lake. It's all owned in common. It's a closed reservation. We own all the land there. We have hunting and fishing rights and we never ceded our lands to the federal government. I'll just let you know that they had a game warden that was for the State of Minnesota, and it seemed like we have a pretty good relationship with them now, but this guy kind of threw like a wrench in it last spring. They didn't care about our lake before, but now that the walleyes are back, ‘Okay,' they said, ‘All right, Red Lake, you don't own that lake. You own the land under the lake.' Uh, okay? Well, they were citing some kind of court case in Montana, but those people in Montana they allotted their land. So it was more of a waterways issue. We talked about it and we said, ‘Well, Red Lake's totally different than that tribe. We own our land. And they said, ‘Well, I'm going to bring a bunch of people over there and we're going to fish on your lake.' I'll tell you, a lot of people at home said, ‘Well, bring it on.' There's going to be -- we're going to fight for our land again. If it comes to that, that's what's going to happen. But it never did. But just that part of it, we have to always be on our toes as Indian people because there's always somebody out there that wants our land. They put us on land that they didn't think anybody wanted. But it's our land and we've got to take care of it.

This guy -- I had an old man call me one time, he was an older fellow, a white gentleman and he said -- I got this call at my office --and he said, ‘Yeah, you know, I don't like that that you guys took this boat away from this guy 'cause he went across the line and then you guys had machine guns in there. The game wardens had machine guns.' And I said, ‘Well, they weren't machine guns. They were issued arms for their work. You guys were a mile onto our land. You knew where the -- we put GPS -- they had GPS ratings with the state and all this stuff. And they knew where they were at, but yet they came on to Red Lake to fish. So our game wardens had time to go all the way to Red Lake, which is about 40 miles away from the Upper Red Lake, get their boat, come back and them guys were still fishing on our side of the lake.' And this old guy tells me, he says, ‘Oh, I don't think -- then that plane. You guys kept that plane.' I said, ‘Well, we didn't keep the plane. We gave the plane back.' I said, ‘I just want to say something to you.' I said -- I was trying to do it in kind of laymen's terms and be nice to him too, but I said, ‘If you owned 100 acres and you had four or five really nice bucks on your land and I knew about it. And just before deer season I came over and shot all four of those deer...' I said, ‘How would you like it?' ‘Well, I wouldn't like it,' he said. ‘Well,' I said, ‘it's the same thing here.' I said, ‘We own this land. It's not owned by the state. It's not owned by the government. It's owned by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.' I said, ‘We all own it in common.' He said, ‘Well, I kind of understand now.' I said, ‘But one of the things that I think a lot of people don't understand is that they think that no matter what it's everybody's land, but it's not.' That's one of the things that's unique about Red Lake. And like I said, the chiefs for -- they had some real good insight to keep that land for us. And we have to -- we, as a council and people, have to protect that [because] that's our land.

I think one of the things I forgot to say earlier was that the tribe recently served notice to the Secretary of the Interior that they will no longer abide by the federal regulations governing the fishery. We are going forward and determine our own quotas. Every year it'll change depending on how many fish we have in the lake. It'll no longer be -- we won't have to go see Big Brother to say, ‘Hey, is it all right to go and take some of our own fish? Can you guys sign off on this?' I think one of the things I always laugh about, at the DNR when we went Self-Governance, they kept one person there to sign off on things. The guy didn't, the guy really didn't like what I said to him, but I always told him, ‘Oh, yeah, we better get our Indian agent in here so we can make sure that we're doing things the right way.' He didn't like that. That's about all I've got to say. Thanks."

Alfreda Mitre:

"Thanks, Al. One of the recurring themes that you're going to see throughout the symposium here is -- that's going to make this symposium a little bit different is -- the love of the land. We are who we are because of the land. The only thing American about America is us. Everything else was imported into this country and I think that's important. You can see, and you'll probably see throughout the symposium, the love for the land inspires the programs that are put forth to Honoring Nations. No one can tell our story better than we can. When westerners do something in their neighborhood that they don't like, they can move to another city, they can move to another town, they can move to another neighborhood. We are truly connected to the land and therefore no one could love the land or protect it better than we can. So that's going to be a recurring theme, and I want to again thank you all."

Honoring Nations: Allen Pemberton: The Red Lake Walleye Recovery Project

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Red Lake Chippewa Natural Resources Director Allen Pemberton provides an overview of the Honoring Nations award-winning Red Lake Walleye Recovery Project, and illustrates how the program reflects the benefits of Native nations taking over control of their own affairs from the federal government.

Resource Type

Pemberton, Allen. "The Red Lake Walleye Recovery Project." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Alfreda Mitre:

"Our first panelist is Al Pemberton, Director of Natural Resources for Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program. He is a 2006 honoree."

Allen Pemberton:

"Thank you. It's pretty hard to get up here after all the good speeches everybody gave today and yesterday. I'm just a person that worked in forestry, pretty much most of my career. And I'm probably used to talking to trees more than I am people. You talk about the strength of Honoring Nations. It's a real good program. I'm very honored that we won that award. And just the family that comes along with it is spectacular. I brought my mother along. We had some friends down here where I worked for the IHS [Indian Health Service] years ago, a doctor, and we sat down and had supper with them yesterday; [I] hadn't seen them for about 30 years. I just want to let you know -- I forgot to tell you my name. My name's Allen Duane Pemberton. My Indian name is Coming Down to Earth Thunderbird.

I work for the -- When you talk about self-governance and stuff like that, I worked for the Bureau [of Indian Affairs] for 15 years, almost 15 years, when the tribe took over the self-governance program. I was kind of a skeptic to begin with. I was one of the ones, you know, ‘Geez, I'm losing my job.' But the tribe took a big step there and looking back on it now, I'm very glad they did that. To me, working as a Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] employee -- you've got one of them Bureau people sitting right over here -- and one of the things that, to me, as an employee of the Bureau, I was really, I was young then and I was really energetic about what I was going to do. I was in forestry and I seen some of the problems that were happening on our reservation and I wanted to make it better for the timber and stuff like that.

And one of the things, I started a program with all the young students on planting trees. I seen a need for that, that we had a problem with fires and stuff on our reservation. And I was just trying to start at the bottom with all the young ones so they would work their way up to knowing about -- there's actually trees out in those fields and it takes awhile for them to get up to where they're growing. I guess I'm going off on a tangent here, but what happened was I did that for about five years in the tribe. I went to them and asked them for money every year and they'd give us money and the kids came out and we fed them, they planted trees; it was a real good project. One of the things that I feel, in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, looking back on my career, is that the people that work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, not all of them but a big part of them, they don't care. They don't care about us. We're Indian people, this is our land. There was a lot of them that did care but a lot of them didn't. They didn't say, ‘Hey, Al. Good job here. You started a program and it's really working.' Every year I'd have to go to the tribal council and ask for money when the [BIA] Forestry Department had enough money to take care of that. But my supervisors at that time, ‘Al Pemberton?' You know, ‘Pfft! Who cares you're doing that?' But it's just kind of -- I just kind of wanted to start that way.

The self-governance program, looking back on it now, is the best thing the tribe ever did. We're going to do things better than the Bureau would ever have done because we care for our land. We want to be, like Oren Lyons says, the seventh generation. I'm not going to see what happens to our trees and our fish. Our fish, they came back. That's something we can see and it happened. Just miraculously, they came back. But you're looking down as a leader of your tribe; you're looking to your grandkids, your great grandkids. And if you stick around long enough to see some of that, that's the best thing that could probably ever happen to you.

In the walleye recovery, one of the things that me, as a Red Lake member -- we never ceded our lands to the government. We're a closed reservation. And one of the things that happened, my great grandfather, Peter Graves, was asked by the chiefs to come help them because they were having such trouble with negotiations with the government. They wanted to allot our land and the chiefs said, ‘No, we're not allotting our land.' And when they negotiated with them, they were so mad at them. And they had the foresight to, back then, to know that we should keep our land. And they did it in a way that got the government agent mad at them. This walleye recovery process, it's kind of hard for us as Indian people to -- when they went back to Washington, they were so mad at Red Lake. The Red Lake, the chiefs told them that, ‘We want the whole of the lake,' and when it came back later on, they'd cut part of the lake off. The reason, I was told, that some of that happened because there was non-members living up there. And at that time you -- back in them days, you didn't get around. They didn't have very many cars, so they probably didn't even know there was people living up there. And it was hard for us to negotiate with the State of Minnesota. Because why should you negotiate for something they stole from us? That's our land. And to this day, we still think that's our land. There's an imaginary line there. But no matter what you do, as Indian people, we have to, we have to fight for what we have. You have to keep it. It's hard. The Bureau throws stuff out to us and let's the tribes fight for it and I don't think that's right. We should be nation to nation. We're Indian tribes. We're a nation. Give us our money that -- you stole land from us through the centuries and what do we get back for it? A slap in the face. I'm just going to get back to our walleye recovery process. I could go on all day on that but...

The Red Lake walleye Initiative was our -- in 1997, was the first year of the self-governance program and we reached out to the State of Minnesota to explore a partnership to recover the famous Red Lake walleye. One of the things that happened was, the Red Lake fishermen, they voted -- they were at a co-op and they voted their self out of a job. There was over two to three hundred fishermen at the time and they voted to stop fishing because they knew the walleyes were down and we needed to -- they needed to do something. And they sat there and voted themselves out of a job. And we have 70-80 percent unemployment on our reservation. This was a thing that people had done for years. It was in their families, the fishing, the netting, the people made money, the kids helped, the whole family, so it was kind of a culture in our tribe. And these guys voted their self out of a job. They knew it would take -- we said ten years and it ended up eight years. And what happened was some of the council people, at that time, went and asked the government -- some of the fisheries in other places, when they go down, they give them help, as stipends, to go to school or find a different job or anything like that. But, 'No, the Red Lake people, no. We don't have nothing for you. You're just going to have to suck it up and have unemployment on your reservation, more than what it was before.' And that's one of the things that bothers me. They could have come out and tried to help us out a little bit but no, they didn't. Red Lake did it pretty much on their own.

When we negotiated with the State of Minnesota, prior to that, there was no contact or cooperation with the state fisheries on any issues. Essentially, one hand didn't know what the other hand was doing. And Red Lake was the first one to put a moratorium on the walleye fish harvest. It took the State of Minnesota two more years to do a similar moratorium, when Red Lake had already quit two years before that. Red Lake worked with the State of Minnesota and other technical committees to restore the Red Lake walleye, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And through this -- I remember when we sat down, some of the guys said when they first sat down, I wasn't there at that time, but -- when they first sat down they were, all the different divisions sat in separate tables, but after the years went on, we began to trust one another. And I think there was -- we fostered some cooperation and trust between the programs and the Red Lake walleye recovery was a success because of this partnership. We're going forward, we'll be managing using state of the art science, where we have -- every year the catch is going to be measured by what the -- they'll go out and do their test netting every year and find out how many fish we can take in the following year. And Red Lake has a top-notch science team. I think talking about some of the stuff earlier that Red Lake has a real good group of people now that care about our resources, and then that way we pick the people -- through self-governance -- we pick the people that we want, not who the Bureau of Indian Affairs wants. Going forward, I think this whole thing really worked out pretty good.

And in the past, the Red Lake fishery was governed by the Secretary of the Interior using outdated quota systems. Every year it was 650,000 pounds of fish no matter whether the walleyes were low or not. They'd just sign off on 650,000 pounds. Now we're going to, if it's 800,000 pounds this year, next year it might be 600,000 pounds. That's what we're going to go by. We're not going to -- once it gets to that point it just stops. Before, it was kind of driven economically by the fishery people and the cooperative asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for -- say they got into July and they already hit their quota, well, they just asked the Bureau for another 650,000 pounds and they'd sign off on it. But the tribe is not going to do that anymore. You're borrowing on your next year's catch, and the years to come, and we can't do that anymore and we know that. The tribe will -- we sent out letters to the members and they told us different things that they wanted, more rules and regulations, and it's really worked out pretty good.

The fishery is opening up again, but we're going to use hook and line from now on. We're going to try that. It's kind of a culture shock for everybody [because] a lot of them are used to using the nets and stuff. But we thought that we're going to try it this way and it seems to -- what's going to happen is there [is] going to be a lot of walleyes taken during the wintertime. [Because] as you know, Minnesota's a pretty cold place. So during the winter, you can go out and fish quite a few months without having any problems. So last year the fishing resumed on Red Lake. And we caught a little slack over it because the State, their portion of the lake, they had two walleyes, just a two-walleye limit. So the Red Lake DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and the tribal council set the limits at 10 walleyes for Red Lake members. So we heard about that on the new things that everybody looks at, computers and emails. There's a lot of things people say about, ‘Oh, Red Lake's got ten fish, why do we get two?' But they have a lot more people than we do. And when they go and fish on their side of the lake it's, it looks like a city up there. When they fish on our side of the lake, if you go out on the lake you're lucky to see 200 or 300 people out there. On that side of the lake it looks like a city up there in the winter. It's like a little city there. So we're going hook and line right now, and taking a cautious approach to commercial fishing.

The Red Lake Fishery has completed a $1 million state-of-the-art renovation. This is thanks to a grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community tribe. We got a grant from them to refurbish our fishery and we are getting another grant to get some other equipment that is needed. The biggest test for the fishery will be the ice-fishing season. The fish sales will be through the Red Lake Foods. Red Lake Foods -- they're a promising tribal business. We [have] a goal to maximize by selling fully processed products and fillets. Where before, when we used nets, we made a company south of our reservation pretty rich because we sold everything to them in the round, almost everything. Where now we're going to do all of the processing on our own and sell them right from Red Lake. I think that's going to work out better. It'll create more jobs for everybody. We're currently working with a Canadian tribe -- not tribe, there's like seven of them -- and they want a better price for their fish and they're looking at us to get that. That might be another thing that happens to us, where they said they could give us like a million pounds of fish every year, where we would process those and sell them through our fishery.

So that's some of the stuff I have to say. I don't know if I went on a tangent sometimes, but you've got to bear with me. I'm just a guy that works out in the woods. So thanks."